The 2012 presidential election debates are over. Perplexingly, climate change wasn’t a focus in any of them. Addressing climate change, and other important issues of our day, requires strong scientific and technical information to make well-informed policy decisions. Yet, the positions and strategies of our potential leaders on important science and technological topics have not been in evidence during the campaigns. But there is a means to read the candidates’ views online. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney supplied written answers to 14 questions on current scientific and technological challenges, questions posed by major scientific and engineering organizations
Given that the United States experienced record-breaking heat and wide-spread drought in 2012—extreme weather that is widely attributed to climate change—the absence of climate change from campaign dialogue is disturbing. Responsibility for the omission can be assigned to many—to the candidates, to the debate moderators, and to the American people. The omission is another example of the numerous ways in which our country continues to drop the ball in keeping strong science at the forefront of decision-making and public education. America’s position as a world leader in science and technology has slipped.
While the economy and jobs are pressing concerns, to the many people this year who lost property to wildfires, loved ones to heat-related illness, and crops to drought, the economic and emotional consequences of climate change have been all-consuming. Beyond climate, science and technology pervade every aspect of society, including medical care, energy development, transportation, and food production. This, and the prevalence of computers and electronic devices in our daily lives, underscores the need for potential leaders to articulate clear positions on the role that science and technology will play in their policy making.
In addition, most decision making benefits from an evidence-based, scientific approach. In the September 27 issue of the journal Nature, U.S. Representative Rush Holt makes a compelling case for applying the rigors of scientific thinking to an array of issues.
Though the debates neglected the importance of climate change and science to the future of our nation, we all still have the opportunity to operate a little more scientifically for this election. By taking a look at the candidates’ answers to the science and technology questions, voters can gather the data, and use it to inform voting decisions.