At the first debate of the 2012 presidential election on Wednesday, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney took to the stage to battle it out over matters of domestic policy. The two candidates tackled important topics such as the economy and healthcare. Missing from the debate, however, was a discussion of environmental issues.
Last night in a continuation of the Political Science Department’s Faithful Citizenship Series, the Iona community gathered to address the absence of environmental concerns in the 2012 election and the political sphere at large. The event, "Sustainability Roundtable: The Environment in the Political Discourse of the Presidential Campaign," featured a panel of three commentators who examined the factors that contribute to a lack of environmental concern as prompted by the discussion’s moderator, Associate Professor of Biology Yourha Kang.
Participants included Professor of Marketing and Chair of Iona’s Environmental Concerns Committee Fredrica Rudell, Director of the Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona Kevin Cawley, CFC and Convener of the Berry Forum and Director of The Art of Working With Life Daniel Martin.
Martin, the first to speak, expressed that the environment does not seem to be a high priority in politics. But the question remains: why does this issue fail to be seriously recognized in the political realm and why is it not considered important? Perhaps it’s a matter of public concern.
“Politicians reflect the complexity of the populace,” said Martin. “They mirror our internal conversations and attitudes.”
From this perspective, it is the responsibility of citizens to become more informed and call for more action to address contemporary environmental issues. The commentators turned this topic over to the student audience.
While some students strongly affirmed that environmental issues were of extreme importance and that we must work towards change, there were also students who were unsure of their position on the topic or who did not consider the environment as a high priority.
Frequently cited as high priority issues were the concerns of daily college life such as getting good grades and finding a job after graduation in today’s shaky economy. Some students also expressed skepticism in regard to the role of the individual citizen in making a change.
For the lack of awareness and coverage on the topic, Rudell blamed the media. Politicians and the media do not consider environmental concerns as hot button issues and corporations have the most control, tailoring the news to the interests of big business, she explained.
Blame was also placed on the mediator of the Oct. 3 debates, PBS’ Jim Lehrer. According to Grist, an online environmental news magazine, Lehrer failed to address the topic even after the National Wildlife Federation delivered over 160,000 petition signatures urging him to ask the candidates about climate change policy.
The ills that harm the environment today are largely a result of industrialization and over-consumption. These issues are especially relevant to Americans, considering the U.S. represents only 4 percent of the world population yet consumes 25 percent of the world’s energy and emits 20 percent of the global CO2 emissions. Cawley asserts that each citizen has a personal responsibility to step up and address these problems.
All three commentators made it clear that this is “our conversation.” Citizens have the power to become informed about issues and pressure local, state and federal officials to do more for the environment.