I watched the VP debate last night with muscles tensed and one eye open. I felt the way my husband, John, looks in the middle of a big Red Sox game – like a lot was on the line, and it could easily go either way. The debate had been hyped so much, through so many media outlets and conversations with friends and co-workers, the anticipation made my stomach hurt.
Of course, it didn’t turn out to be quite as controversial as I had expected. Earlier in the day, I had made a joke to a friend — what if it just turned out to be a quiet night of earnest policy discussions? No huge gaffes. No gotcha moments. It seemed silly when I suggested it… something was bound to happen, so much was on the line, someone had to screw up.
But now, despite what the talking heads might say this morning, it feels like my prediction was basically right. Though demonstrating vastly different styles – folksy vs professorial – both Sarah Palin and Joe Biden actually got into some nuance (how much is an item for further debate, but it was more than I expected, anyway). Somewhere between tax breaks and Pakistan, the soccer field and Home Depot, the candidates discussed their genuine differences on some important topics.
I was encouraged when moderator Gwen Ifill asked Biden and Palin about their views on combating climate change. Both agreed that at least some of what we’re experiencing is caused by human activity. Both agreed that we needed to reduce our production of greenhouse gas pollution. The details on how to reduce that reliance were slightly different . Biden favored increasing alternative sources of energy such as clean coal, nuclear, wind, and solar in order to grow a green economy. Palin said clean coal, nuclear, offshore drilling of our own domestic supply of oil, and making more and better use of existing stores of natural gas, could drum up those new jobs.
I noted that neither candidate discussed Oxfam’s main concern when it comes to climate change: helping poor communities around the world deal with the current effects of a warming planet. This has been a focus of much of my work during the last year; as a writer assigned to our campaigns, I’m constantly wondering how to deliver our message in a way that resonates with our elected officials and constituents. Oxfam is calling for funding from the US and the international community to help the most vulnerable communities plant drought-resistant seeds, build elevated homes, and construct early warning systems to sound the alarm before extreme weather events.
I know it’s not politically convenient to focus on this issue now; with the US economy crumbling, most Americans – when polled – say they have pushed non-pocketbook concerns to the bottom of their priority list. But, I’m hopeful that once the votes are counted, the future VP and president enjoy the political cover needed to dig into this issue. The truth is: we can offer real leadership on global warming at a time when the world needs our help. Let’s see how the next administration responds.