J500 Media and the Environment

Election 2008: Framing environmentalism by rarab
February 4, 2008, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Business + Politics

Do you visit the presidential candidates’ Web sites much? I usually avoid them at all costs. They’re typically nothing more than public relations fluff pieces, featuring the safest, most watered-down language on the issues. Still, after reading Gavin Hudson’s interesting assessment of their proposed environmental policies, I decided to do some “research” of my own, and check out the candidates’ sites to see exactly how they choose to frame environmental issues.


1) I’m a bleeding-heart Liberal (with a capital L). Not ashamed of it; I don’t expect everyone to follow the same views, either, but this is simply my frame of reference. Having said that, I was educated in a private school that considered Milton Friedman a prophet (of profit), and I understand–and even respect–fiscal conservatism and free market principles. But I also feel that government can–and should–play a key role in regulating pollution among industries, while also providing important financial support for environmentally-innovative research.

2) I’m an Obama supporter. Actually, John Edwards was the one who impressed me most on environmental issues (he said some things in the Nevada debate that really made him stand out from the other two, namely on the issue of curbing coal production)…but, of course, he got an expensive haircut so he had to go bye-bye.

3) I consider climate change to be a major issue–something no longer up for debate. I’m all for creating “Green” jobs, breaking a reliance on foreign oil, providing incentives to corporations that behave…but ultimately, to me, a candidate must acknowledge this is a serious global problem that needs immediate attention.

With that brief manifesto out of the way, here are some of my impressions:

Barack Obama leads his page with a quote calling climate change “one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation.” That’s what I want to hear.

Obama’s site features some interesting video clips (documentary-style stump pieces) and a place for readers to articulate their most important environmental concerns.

(And it also features some nifty art of a compact flourescent lightbulb suspended over a lake, so you KNOW he means business.)

Hillary Clinton’s site features many of the same policy points as Obama’s, but her approach is quite different. She chooses to emphasize the economic value behind green innovation (the top of the page screams: POWERING AMERICA’S FUTURE: NEW ENERGY, NEW JOBS). She makes only passing reference to the climate change crisis.

Clearly, she’s taking the route mapped out in The Death of Environmentalism where you must emphasize the positives, and show what’s in it for the average Joe (new jobs). She doesn’t frame the issue as a “moral challenge,” but rather as an economic opportunity. Hillary’s site, meanwhile, has no art whatsoever…all text–too wonkish, even for my standards!

Meanwhile, things get really interesting on the GOP side…

John McCain starts off great. He says “global warming” is an issue we can no longer afford to ignore. He proudly mentions his help in passing clean air and water legislation…but McCain has been hounded by members of his own party for being too liberal, so just when it looks like he’s about to hit you up for a tax increase to fund a Communist abortion clinic, he drops this bomb:

As John McCain said, “Americans solve problems. We don’t run from them.” He believes that ignoring the problem reflects a “liberal live for today” attitude unworthy of our great country, and poses a serious and unacceptable threat to our environment, our economy, and U.S. national security.

Yep, it’s all those tree-hugging, recycling, bike-riding hippy liberals that are ruining the environment! Whatever. Why use such divisive language on an issue that should bridge our current political divide?

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, makes no mention of climate change/global warming. He, too, frames the issue according to economic opportunity, but in his view it’s mostly about ending dependence on foreign oil…by drilling in ANWR (although he doesn’t say what we do after that well runs dry…).

Romney also makes a questionable decision in comparing his energy plan to The Manhattan Project. Someone might want to remind him that the project didn’t exactly end in the most environment-friendly of ways.

Since the other two candidates (Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul) aren’t really contenders, I’ll dedicate even less to their Web pages.

Huckabee’s is noteworthy for this passage alone:

None of us would write a check to Osama bin Laden, slip it in a Hallmark card and send it off to him. But that’s what we’re doing every time we pull into a gas station. We’re paying for both sides in the war on terror – our side with our tax dollars, the terrorists’ side with our gas dollars.

Wait, what if we pull into the gas station just for directions–does he still get a Hallmark card? Follow-up question: Is this what happens when I fill up with my Dillon’s card?!! Also, are we supposed to be sending terrorists Hallmark cards because I haven’t been doing that…does Hallmark even make a “Thanks for the gas, Terrorist” card? Great, now there’s another sappy card I have to pick out…

Check out Paul’s site, meanwhile, and click on the video clip of him speaking at the top of the page. You’ll hear him support both sides of the global warming debate–the science shows dramatic changes, yet there’s no reason to get worried…sounds kind of flip-flopperish to me.

So there it is…a brief rundown of the candidates and their wacky Web sites. I have no intention of telling you how to vote, but hopefully this will encourage you to follow up on the links and read their plans for yourself…now, let’s do something about this Terrorist-Gas Holiday that Hallmark is trying to foist on us…Secretary’s Day is bad enough!



7 Comments so far
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This post made me laugh out loud, which always scares the dog when I’ve been home alone for awhile. Meaning- good post.

As empowering as that cartoon light bulb is, does Obama have a plan for change that differs from Hillary’s or just a different face for it? And I’m not sure why I think I’m on a first name basis with them, no. I did just spend five minutes of my life watching a sweet music video made to an Obama speech from his website off of your link, though.

Sonya E

Comment by sonyae

Were I to count myself among the eligible electorate, who didn’t have the time nor the inclination to explore the respective stances of the presidential candidates on environmental issues, I’d say thank you Ranjit for the onerous task of trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Of course, the self-confessed liberal that you are, there’s no bias in your final choice right? I can’t imagine anything so rewarding (perhaps watching grass grow,yes), as reading through such grand accounts of how the contestants are going to change the world, what their visions are for combating terrorism, for improving welfare benefits and a whole host goals dressed up with well-chosen phrases and sprinkled with catchy adjectives designed to make you the voter cast your ballot for the most convincing candidate. I wonder in this growing environmentally-conscious landscape how Ralph Nader might have fared? If he were thrown into the equation, do you think he would have come out head and shoulders above Obama on consumer rights and environmental issues? Well these are rhetorical questions, so don’t trouble yourself submitting a response. You’ve come through quite an ordeal – a feat deserving of a greeting card in the post.


Comment by denzylj

I still can’t believe that hardly any of the candidates have talked much about global warming, both at the debates a while ago and now in their last-ditch campaign efforts.

Want more people thinking that global warming is stupid, something to be laughed at and shrugged off? Leave it to YouTube and CNN to let a freakin’ “snowman”ask the Democratic candidates a question about global warming.

Watch and then tell me how many people discussed it seriously afterwards.

R.I.P. Dennis Kucinich’s campaign. I miss you dearly.

Lauren Keith

Comment by laurenkeith

You had me laughing, pondering, and feeling very intrigued by Huckabee’s assertion. Thank you, Ranjit, for this great eco-primer.
Each gallon of gas isn’t a direct pipeline to terrorism, but I think he makes a very important point. Our consumer decision do matter – a great deal. Businesses want our business. If we demand change, they will (eventually) respond. And interestingly enough, the funders are also responding. From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Three major investment banks, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley, will announce new environmental standards today that are expected to make it more difficult for large coal-fired power plants in the United States to get funding. The standards anticipate some form of cap-and-trade program becoming law in the U.S. in coming years and seek to force utilities to plan for the inevitable; coal plants seeking funding would first have to prove they can be financially viable under a cap-and-trade system. The three banks said that they would consider funding energy efficiency measures and renewable-energy projects ahead of coal plants and that when funding coal projects they’ll heavily favor plants that can successfully capture and sequester their carbon emissions. The banks maintain that their primary motivation for the standards is financial; Wall Street bigwigs don’t want to be stuck with debt when coal plants are forced to pay for at least a portion of their emission allowances under cap and trade. Jeffrey Holzschuh of Morgan Stanley paraphrased Melissa Etheridge, crooning, “We have to wake up some people who are asleep.”

Happy voting!

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

Thanks–you were laughing with me, not at me, right?!!

I should add that I didn’t find Obama’s environmental plan as inspirational as other aspects of his campaign (or platform). But at least he was framing the issue the way I personally like it, and perhaps he’ll take stronger stands if enough people point out where he can improve (higher auto fuel standards, for example).

You raise an interesting point with Nader. I hear he’s considering a run again, but I wouldn’t expect him to get the Green Party backing, so I doubt he’d have much of a base. And, the mere threat of Nader may be enough to push the Democrats to a more “aggressive” stance, which is what I want (then again, Obama is out there trying to pick up Republicans, so all bets are off…)

I had the SAME reaction to the snowman that you did…and had a big discussion over it in a previous j-school class. I understand the need to liven up the debates and make them more accessible, but at a certain point you’re making a mockery out of our democracy (sounds like a Marx Bros. tune), and trivializing the issue. But, of course, that’s just media’s collective emphasis on entertainment above substance.

Kucinich did some great things in terms of pushing the dialogue. Like Edwards, he got too easily caricatured by the media…I think it’s a real crime that they excluded him from debates.

Amazing news, thanks for passing it on.

I hope something like this could be taken advantage of in Kansas…Maybe there’s a group smart enough to propose a renewable energy plant–and get the funding–in time to replace the Holcomb coal plant they’re considering.

Ranjit A

Comment by rarab

[…] Obama, Paris Hilton, satire, sea levels, Zach Efron Okay, a brief explanation: After posting the candidates’ environmental policies, I was pretty disappointed to discover that even the ones I like had pretty tame recommendations […]

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