Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaking in front of closed Solyndra plant.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has offered few details about how he would run the U.S. government, but he has made clear one thing about his environmental views: he has contempt for President Barack Obama's efforts to promote alternative energy and combat global warming.
Fitting with the new Republican orthodoxy that climate-change science is either a hoax or hysteria, Romney has incorporated into his speeches a joke about Obama's interest in protecting the environment, a sure-fire laugh line for the GOP faithful.
Romney apparently was so thrilled with the success of his new "joke" that he repeated it while on a post-convention campaign swing. In Cincinnati, Ohio, on Saturday, he elicited more laughs from the crowd when he claimed Obama "famously said he was going to slow the rise of the oceans." Romney added, "Our promise to you is this: we're going to help the American people."
Not surprisingly, Romney's recitation of what Obama said isn't correct. Obama never said "he was going to slow the rise of the oceans," but rather he said -- in his June 4, 2008, victory speech after clinching the Democratic nomination -- that "the American people," i.e., by changing policies and leaders, would look back at this moment as the time "the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
But more important than Romney's rhetorical exaggeration is that his ridicule of global-warming again counterpoises that longer-term existential threat against the short-term interests of today's voters, suggesting that President Romney would ignore the former in favor of the latter.
Yes, it's true that playing off the environment against jobs has been a common political tactic on the American Right since the days of Ronald Reagan, who once blamed trees for pollution. Those Reagan years also saw the repudiation of earlier bipartisan efforts to invest in alternative energy sources.
President Reagan's disdain for that research led to symbolic gestures, like removing solar panels that President Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House roof, but more substantively, Reagan savaged federal funding for renewable energy while enacting massive tax cuts favoring the rich and encouraging more reliance on fossil fuels.
A Lost Opportunity
In a commentary earlier this year about a documentary, "A Road Not Taken," which traced the fate of Carter's solar panels, Sam Parry wrote that a major environmental impact from Election 1980 was Reagan's decimation of alternative-energy research.
"For Carter, the dual causes of renewable energy and energy independence were always high on his agenda," Sam Parry wrote...
"In early February 1977, just two weeks into his presidency, Carter gave a national televised fireside chat, wearing a yellow wool sweater and promoting a national energy policy as a top priority for his administration.
"Over the next four years, Carter turned this commitment into a multitude of programs and initiatives. Carter created the Department of Energy, taxed oil company profits, improved automobile fuel efficiency, invested heavily in the Solar Energy Research Institute (the precursor to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory), cut America's oil imports in half, and increased U.S. use of renewable energy like solar power with a goal of generating 20 percent of all energy consumed in America from renewable sources by 2000.
"Carter laid out a route for America's energy future that -- while still needing traditional fossil fuels -- promoted cleaner alternatives and conservation. In his last State of the Union address, given just days before President Reagan's inauguration, President Carter reflected on what he hoped his legacy would be on this crucial issue of energy."
In that speech, Carter said:
"The Administration's 1977 National Energy Plan marked an historic departure from the policies of previous Administrations. The plan stressed the importance of both energy production and conservation to achieving our ultimate national goal of relying primarily on secure sources of energy.
"In 1978, I initiated the Administration's Solar Domestic Policy Review. This represented the first step towards widespread introduction of renewable energy sources into the Nation's economy. As a result of the Review, I issued the 1979 Solar Message to Congress, the first such message in the Nation's history. The Message outlined the Administration's solar program and established an ambitious national goal for the year 2000 of obtaining 20 percent of this Nation's energy from solar and renewable sources.
"The thrust of the federal solar program is to help industry develop solar energy sources by emphasizing basic research and development of solar technologies which are not currently economic, such as photovoltaics, which generate energy directly from the sun. At the same time, through tax incentives, education, and the Solar Energy and Energy Conservation Bank, the solar program seeks to encourage state and local governments, industry, and our citizens to expand their use of solar and renewable resource technologies currently available.
"As a result of these policies and programs, the energy efficiency of the American economy has improved markedly and investments in renewable energy sources have grown significantly. It now takes 3 1/2 percent less energy to produce a constant dollar of GNP than it did in January 1977. This increase in efficiency represents a savings of over 1.3 million barrels per day of oil equivalent, about the level of total oil production now occurring in Alaska."