09/08/2012 06:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pay No Attention to the Elephant: The Conventions and the Climate

Let's see now. What has happened in the last two weeks?

Both major political parties held their quadrennial national conventions, each of which was disrupted by weather unanticipated by convention planners. Neither party emphasized climate change. Nor did the hordes of media types in attendance, who essentially ignored it in favor of the usual back-and-forth.

And, oh yes, the once deeply ice-capped Arctic Sea turned into a giant slushy at the top of the world.

At least President Barack Obama mentioned climate change as a serious issue.

Which is not to say that Mitt Romney didn't mention it, too. As a joke.

NASA says that Arctic Sea ice has reached a record low that is going lower.

While Romney was deriding Obama for his concern as a candidate in 2008 about the greenhouse effect -- "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans," he said, pausing for delegate laughter, "and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family" -- National Geographic, reporting the Arctic Sea's lowest level of ice coverage in history, was laying out the stark reality Romney worked to deny:

Researchers at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said the rate of Arctic sea ice decline is now the highest that has ever been observed for the month of August. In August of this year, the sea ice disappeared at an average rate of about 39 square miles (a hundred square kilometers) per day--or about twice as fast as normal, NSIDC scientists say.

Moreover, the area of Arctic sea ice around the North Pole had shrunk to 1.58 million square miles (4.1 million square kilometers) -- the smallest measurement since 1979, when satellite observations began.

By comparison, said NSIDC's Julienne Stroeve, Arctic sea ice cover in the 1970s and '80s at this time of year was typically in excess of 2.7 million square miles (7 million square kilometers).

Since Romney's little joke at the Republican convention, which of course eliminated John McCain's limited climate change program of just four years ago, the melting at the top of the world has continued.

This results in sharply decreased reflectivity on a big chunk of the planet, raising the absorption of solar radiation. That increases the Earth's overall warming and will increase the ice melt.

This is likely to further destabilize weather patterns elsewhere around the planet.

Mitt Romney said last month in New Mexico that his pledge to make the US energy independent by 2020 by unleashing the oil companies is not "some pie in the sky" idea. Romney's plan depends heavily on California offshore drilling with risky techniques and leaves out the big hole his rollback of fuel efficiency standards would cause. It also ignores the fact that oil is a global market, meaning that it is not independent on price. Naturally, Romney ignored climate change and the greenhouse gases his plan would further unleash.

The sharp decline of the Arctic ice cap can also melt much of the permafrost, which stores a lot of carbon, and expose deep stores of methane in the seabed.

As bad as the increasing melting of the Arctic is, it contains huge opportunity for international oil and natural gas developers, who are already moving to gain position for the Great Arctic Oil Rush. Russia, one of the world's biggest oil powers, is naturally very well-positioned for this, but US-based oil companies are looking at getting in on the action, too.

Not that the political media is paying attention to this, studiedly distracted as it has been by conventioneering and the ephemera of one of the shallowest presidential campaigns in memory.

The lack of attention is quite ironic and telling, because it has a direct bearing on this presidential race.

Nowhere is Romney's clinging to the old ways that have been getting us in trouble since the first Arab oil embargo nearly 40 years ago clearer than it is on energy policy and climate change. Here we have a great encapsulation of Romney's fundamental insularity and attachment to the biggest money politics.

Romney insists on not only perpetuating but intensifying the same old policies promoting the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

Recall how controversial it was in 2008 when Sarah Palin chanted "Drill, baby, drill." Well, Romney isn't foolish enough to do that. But his program is, if anything, an acceleration and intensification of what she was talking about.

Romney wants to unleash the oil and gas developers, pretending that domestic production isn't already at high levels. His plan depends heavily on California offshore drilling with risky techniques. And it leaves out the big hole his rollback of fuel efficiency standards would cause in pursuit of what he calls energy independence. It also ignores the fact that oil is a global market, meaning that it is not independent on price. Naturally, Romney ignored climate change and the greenhouse gases his plan would further let loose.

Another expedition to the far North shows that the real effects of hot air, all too plentiful in conventions and other artifacts of contemporary politics, are being seen in the Arctic Sea, where we now have the lowest extent of sea ice in history.

In a perverted sort of way, that's actually perfect. Why? Because it is these old energy economy interests for whom Romney plays the booster which are increasingly the big unlimited funders of Romney and the super PAC mania that the Citizens United decision gave rise to.

It's all there, and all connected. Malign global impact, massive special interest, and unlimited big money politics.

Too bad the connections weren't made while the party rocked on in Tampa and Charlotte.

With conventions these days largely reduced to a tightly-scripted cross between a stage play and an infomercial, it's not as though there wasn't plenty of opportunity to get away from the usual insular back-and-forth. But it was no surprise that it didn't happen.

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