Romney’s New Global-Warming ‘Joke’

Exclusive: At the Republican National Convention and on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney has come up with a new laugh line, mocking President Obama’s policies to slow global warming. In doing so, Romney distorts a quote from an Obama speech in 2008 about ocean levels, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

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.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaking in front of closed Solyndra plant.

In his acceptance speech on Thursday, Romney said, “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans (pause for mocking laughter) and heal the planet. MY promise is to help you and your family.”

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 to mankind 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.”

The Anti-Carter

Sam Parry then wrote: “after Carter was out of the White House, President Reagan not only removed the solar panels from the roof, he systematically dismantled Carter’s alternative energy and conservation initiatives. Reagan became the anti-Carter in almost every way on energy policy.

“Reagan slashed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s budget by 90 percent, halved the Energy Department’s conservation and alternative fuels budget, eliminated the wind investment tax credit, reduced spending on solar photovoltaic research by two-thirds, slashed energy tax credits for homeowners, and reduced fuel-efficiency standards for cars.

“Due largely to Reagan’s policy reversals on alternative energy, the United States fell far short of Carter’s goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2000, achieving about only one-quarter of that target, even less than what Carter’s policies had achieved by the early 1980s. …

“Indeed, for those who understand the dire threat of catastrophic climate change and the curse of America’s continued addiction to fossil fuels, ‘A Road Not Taken’ can be a painful documentary to watch. It may be even more painful for our kids and grandkids to watch this film in a world that already is on its way to 11 degrees F warming (or more) by the end of the century. Scratch that. It won’t be painful to watch a movie. It will be painful to live in such a world.

“But first, some good news. America is currently in the midst of a mini-boom for renewable energy, the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, the Carter administration. In 2010, 8.21 percent of all energy consumed in America came from renewable energy — i.e. not fossil fuels and not nuclear. That’s up from 5.37 percent in 2001. [See U.S. Energy Information Administration.]”

The Obama administration has made renewable energy a priority in a way that the U.S. government hasn’t seen since those days of Jimmy Carter. President Obama devoted much of his 2009 stimulus package to support research and development of clean energy, and he regularly touts progress made in raising automobile mileage standards and advancing wind, solar and other alternative power sources.

Just as notably, Romney has attacked Obama’s interest in these non-polluting forms of energy, even appearing outside a shuttered Solyndra plant to highlight the failure of that solar-panel company which went under despite U.S. loan guarantees.

Now, Romney seems eager to personalize the attacks on Obama’s energy proposals by linking them to a favorite right-wing theme, that Obama sees himself in grandiose and presumptuous terms. Thus, the taunting claim that Obama vowed to lower the ocean’s waters by himself, an apparent allusion to Moses parting the Red Sea.

So, Romney gets to appeal to his right-wing base in two ways, pandering to the anti-science conservatives who reject the evidence of climate change while suggesting that Obama is somehow sacrilegious in supposedly viewing himself in Biblical terms.

Romney’s decision to highlight his new-found disdain for efforts to stem rising ocean levels and other threats from global warming suggests, too, that the stakes of Election 2012, like the Election of 1980, will be whether the United States presses ahead on efforts to mitigate climate change or goes back to ignoring the problem.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

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20 comments on “Romney’s New Global-Warming ‘Joke’

  1. Romney’s entire campaign is a lie.

  2. ThisOldMan on said:

    Fortunately, the weather is not cooperating the Romney on this one. And a lot of people are startin’ to notice.

  3. I posted this before but will post it one more time. This is Matt Taibbi’s exposure of how Romney made his millions. (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/greed-and-debt-the-true-story-of-mitt-romney-and-bain-capital-20120829).
    If this is the way this man creates jobs, Johnny-one-note, this nation is in worse trouble than it is now.

  4. Kenny Fowler on said:

    Is Mittens really the best they could do? He’s kind of a bumbling stumbling idiot.

    • Talleyrand on said:

      So was George W. Bush…. And he won TWICE.

      Bumbling idiots win elections with an electorate of even worse bumbling idiots, I am afraid.

  5. Romney: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.

    Ralph Reed at this year’s RNC:
    “Four years ago, we heard a lot of talk about hope and change. People were fainting at campaign rallies. There were Che Guevera posters hanging in dorm rooms. There was one candidate who stood in front of Greek columns and vowed to heal the planet and cause the oceans to recede. But you see our hope is in something this world doesn’t fully understand. We hope for a kingdom yet to come. The hope of a new heaven and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness. A place where every tear will be wiped away. And every broken heart will be healed. And all the pain and brokenness and poverty and injustice of this world will be gone.” (http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-the-resurrection-of-ralph-reed/)

    It’s not a coincidence that Romney used almost identical “ocean” language that Reed used earlier in the week.

  6. Romney is really blowing this one. whether you believe in it or not, he has nothing to gain on this stance. and does the man have any policy for NASA and space exploration?

  7. rosemerry on said:

    I remember at the time of the Gulf War reading that if Reagan had followed Carter’s energy saving plans, no ME fuel woud have been needed to be imported into the USA. Would that have made that”humanitarian intervention” (!) less likely??

  8. Who does Obama think he is to command the waters — Charlton Heston? sorry, Moses?

  9. Arno Arrak on said:

    Robert Parry: ‘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.” ‘

    Robert, Obama had no idea what the rise of the oceans was that he was talking about. The oceans are rising indeed, at the rate of 2.46 millimeters a year. They have been doing so for the last eighty years and are likely to continue to do so. Check out the paper of Chou, Yu and Li in 11th April 2008 Science. Satellites today are reporting an approximately 3 millimeter rise per year, within statistical error of that eighty year trend. In a century that gives you 24.6 centimeters, not twenty feet like Al Gore dreams in his Nobel Prize-winning propaganda film. The cause of this long-term trend has nothing to do with any imaginary greenhouse effect but is due to the world-wide melting of glaciers associated with coming out of the Little Ice Age. Obama opened himself up to criticism about sea level rise when he or his science advisers failed to check the facts and simply parroted the party line.

    • “A little learning is a dangerous thing” Alexander Pope
      Chao [not Chou], Wu, and Li’s 2008 Science article was about the amount of water impounded on land in artificial reservoirs. They concluded that global sea level rise would be even GREATER if this water were added to the world’s oceans, thus ADDING to the effect of anthropogenic warming.

    • What’s this about the “imaginary greenhouse effect”. The greenhouse effect has been known for well over a century. It is directly measurable and its existence is beyond credible doubt. While we are about it, it is worth pointing out that the industrial revolution (and hence the rise in CO2 levels) were already well underway eighty years ago, so you haven’t made much of a point have you.

      You cannot just cherry pick the few odd papers which might superficially seem to support your cause and ignore all the others, it’s intellectually dishonest to do so (though entirely typical of the denialist lobby)

  10. Pingback: Romney’s New Global-Warming ‘Joke’ – GO SOLAR GO GREEN

  11. P.S. It’s also Wu, not Yu.

  12. Pingback: DNC Downpours; “Leslie” may threaten Bermuda & Canadian Maritimes

  13. These idiots will kill us all. There is no longer any time to just talk about their denial. We need to unite and fight for real progress to bring to market solar, wind and other forms of non polluting renewables.
    We are letting Germany and China win the next big economic bonanza just because the oil industry has so much power and money to buy our legislators.
    The only way to change this is people power and united grassroots pressure on the GOP and the President. This is no joke Mr. Romney. It is a life or death situation that will affect all of us including YOUR children and grandchildren.

  14. Robert,

    Great reporting, as always.
    Do you know what the anti global warming crowd reminds me of ?
    Those who, 100 years ago, referred to Einstein’s theories as Jewish Physics.
    Whenever you hear the attack line “global warming is a hoax”, think
    of the attack line “Jewish Physics”.

  15. Pingback: Are “ANY” prominent leaders taking global warming seriously? | J. Morris Hicks, author

  16. gregorylkruse on said:

    The Romney/Reed/Ryan crowd welcomes global warming as a way to rid their earth of all the useless poor. They know that there will be places that are livable, even pleasant, on their new world that they can own, along with whatever able-bodied peasants they may need to do their work. I think they already own the places, and are well on their way to owning the workers.