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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.Torchlight

Hear A Pin Drop

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

October 12, 2010

If you listen to the media for anything Andrew Cuomo or Carl Paladino say about climate change in their campaigns to become New York's next Governor, you could hear a pin drop. We've got a problem here and works likes this: the media is silent about climate issues in this election, the general public doesn't think about the Governor's race in climate terms and the candidates don't feature climate issues in their stump speeches or election literature because they hear no demand. In this simple, circular way, climate action for New York becomes a non-issue.

My Google searches, along with index searches of the New York Times and the Albany Times Union and web searches of several environmental advocacy organizations produced next to nothing on either candidate's environmental protection agenda, let alone any specifics on climate change, energy efficiency or green job growth. In August, a 150 page energy policy report put out by the Cuomo campaign got a mention in the City Room column in the Times, but only the eagle-eyed were likely to spot it online. The New York League of Conservation Voters received a response from Cuomo, but not Paladino, to its detailed candidates' questionnaire; still, my media search using key words from the Cuomo document did not yield better results.

It's not as if there is nothing at stake for New Yorkers. In 2010, the Empire State received $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds from the Department of Energy. This money is projected to create some 1,500 jobs, including residential weatherization work, which will also make energy costs more affordable for low-income homeowners. Electric utilities around the State received $276 million for grid modernization work. With a shaky economy and grim unemployment figures, how the next Governor might parlay this $1.6 billion bonanza, or any future federal funds, into green growth could have been a campaign trail staple or a salient media question. But it's not.

New York State is a member of the all-volunteer Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a ten-state carbon cap and trade program, and has been raising revenue for the state through regular auctions of emissions permits. Will the next Governor opt to remain in RGGI? If so, what will he try to do with its revenues during periods of fiscal stress?

In New York City, home to half the State's population, Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030, with its core effort to cut the City's carbon footprint and improve the City's resilience to the deep impacts of climate change, has garnered wide acclaim. How could the State and the City work to make these efforts even stronger in the near future? The public wouldn't know either from the traditional or the electronic news and opinion media. Yet, both traditional and electronic media devote vast resources to environmental, climate and energy issues and politics.

The New Yorker ran a long and scathing piece on the failure of the Senate to pass climate change in September. The New York Times regularly reports on the California governor's campaign and headlined a Jerry Brown story with his status as an environmental champion. Although the Huffington Post ran a piece in praise of Andrew Cuomo's energy report, the on-line Pew Center for States environmental page has yet to cover the New York Governor's race. Of course, New Yorkers won't have a hot button green item on their ballot to galvanize pubic opinion comparable to California's Proposition 23, which seeks to undo the State's climate action bill, but that is not a guaranteed plus for candidate Brown.

While traditional news media are apt to report political campaign news in the context of poll results, endorsements or gaffes and scandals, the electronic media and the blogosphere are less restricted by tradition. Nevertheless, if the Cuomo and Paladino campaigns are not talking about issues like climate change, neither are the newer media asking these candidates about proposals for confronting climate change or why they are MIA from the candidates' platforms and promises. You can hear a pin drop.

Ping! Once elected, the next Governor is unlikely to make special time for environmental protection and innovative climate actions, because those aren't the issues that elected him or of critical concern for groups vital to his electoral success. Today, the media is the message and public policy on climate, energy and green jobs isn't part of the story. We have a problem here.

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