With the quadrennial presidential election extravaganza reaching its peak, it's useful to ask how the political campaigns are dealing with the most crucial issues we face. The simple answer is: badly, or not at all. If so, some important questions arise: why, and what can we do about it? There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war. The former is regularly on the front pages. On Sept. 19, for example, Justin Gillis reported in The New York Times that the melting of Arctic sea ice had ended for the year,"but not before demolishing the previous record, and setting off new warnings about the rapid pace of change in the region." The melting is much faster than predicted by sophisticated computer models and the most recent U.N. report on global warming. New data indicate that summer ice might be gone by 2020, with severe consequences. Previous estimates had summer ice disappearing by 2050. "But governments have not responded to the change with any greater urgency about limiting greenhouse emissions," Gillis writes. "To the contrary, their main response has been to plan for exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the Arctic, including drilling for more oil" that is, to accelerate the catastrophe. This reaction demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain. Or, perhaps, an equally remarkable willingness to shut
our eyes so as not to see the impending peril. That's hardly all. A new study from the Climate Vulnerability Monitor has found that "climate change caused by global warming is slowing down world economic output by 1.6 percent a year and will lead to a doubling of costs in the nect two decades." The study was widely reported elsewhere but Americans have been spared the disturbing news. The official Democratic and Republican platforms on climate matters are reviewed in Science magazine's Sept. 14 issue. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both parties demand that we make the problem worse. In 2008, both party platforms had devoted some attention to how the government should address climate change. Today, the issue has almost disappeared from the Republican platform
which does, however, demand that Congress"take quick action" to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency, established by former Republican President Richard Nixon in saner days, from regulating greenhouse gases. And we must open Alaska's Arctic refuge to drilling to take "advantage of all our American God-given resources." We cannot disobey the Lord, after all. The platform also states that "We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political
incentives from publicly funded research" code words for climate science. The Republican candidate Mitt Romney, seeking to escape from the stigma of what he understood a few years ago about climate change, has declared that there is no scientific consensus, so we should support more debate and investigation, but not action, except to make the problems more serious.