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Video by Clara Pak and Casey Wood
Ask the average American what he or she believes to be the most important issue in this upcoming presidential election, and what will he or she say? Do you even have to ask? Watch the news, read the headlines, tune into the presidential candidates' speeches and you'll know. The economy. The economy. The economy.
To confirm this with polling of our own, my partner Casey Wood and I walked over to the White House one Sunday afternoon and asked people, ignoring age, gender, race, or political affiliation, this question: "What national issue is our country's top priority?" "Economy and unemployment," each replied. No surprise there. In this recent Yale/George Mason University study, the economy emerged as Americans' top priority for the new president and Congress with 76% saying it was a very high priority. All other issues such as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care, and education were considerably lower than the economy in terms of priority. Alas, climate change placed 10th out of 11 national issues with 21% regarding global warming to be a very high priority. The study and our personal interviews do show global warming to be a national priority - but when compared to the economy, it is viewed to be less of a concern. Those we interviewed acknowledged that global warming was an existing issue for the country, but that they would not place it above certain other issues such as health care, the two current wars, and yes: the economy. The challenge, therefore, is no longer convince people that global warming is actually taking place. (Besides, how can you argue against the U.S.'s recent historic drought, the country having just endured the hottest July ever, or the massive hurricane the East Coast is still recovering from?) But it is crucial now to open up the discussion to everyone--regardless of age, gender, race, or political affiliation--and to discuss complex questions like "How will the country take the proper and necessary steps to curb carbon dioxide emissions and to invest in renewable energy sources?" Or start to try at least. But will we only begin to engage in real discussion after November 6, Election Day? Climate change essentially has been pushed out of the conversation this election season. The issue was barely discussed at both national conventions: Romney used climate change to direct derisive laughter toward Obama in his speech while Obama fought back in his speech with his defense of climate action. This election, Romney and the GOP have adopted the role of climate change skeptics. With President Obama, it's been a guessing game for Democrats and journalists as to what Obama will say about climate change, if anything at all. I concede I understand why climate change has taken a back seat to the economy and unemployment in this election. If I put myself in the shoes of a young father who just got laid off from his job due to his company's downsizing or a recent college graduate burdened with $50,000+ in student loans entering into a dismal 8.1% unemployment job environment, it's hard to say climate change still wins out in importance. Then again, juxtaposing our climate change problem--which is seemingly abstract in nature--with these unfortunate, very real situations is also unfair. I don't think it's smart for our species, or for our politics. - Clara Pak