As you probably know, it's election season in the U.S. And as will happen during election season, even individuals who are very close politically can disagree. Thus, one liberal may say that she is voting for Barack Obama, even though he has been disappointing in some respects and is not really all that liberal. Another liberal will say that he is voting for the person whose values most closely match his own, and that is Jill Stein (the Green Party candidate) not Obama. As it turns out, there are a number of facets to this disagreement about the best person to vote for, including strategies about voting for the lesser of two evils vs drawing a line in the sand now.
One important facet, however, is simply the question of how the two major candidates, Obama and Romney, compare -- the Stein voter may claim that the two candidates are, in fact, not all that different, making the "worry" about voting for a third-party candidate less worrisome. As support for the claim that Obama and Romney are not that different, the Stein voter may point to, for example, Obama's record on civil rights and civil liberties, which is perhaps not that much different from the Bush Administration's and thus not that different from what Romney's will likely be.
Is it true that Obama and Romney are not that different as candidates? I think if you look at the entire range of issues at stake, they are in fact quite different. And I do think that it is important to look at the full range of issues -- not just civil rights and civil liberties, but also economic policies, health care, environment, education, women's issues, social support systems, international relations, etc. However, as that comparison would take a prolonged discussion, I will set it aside.
Still, though, one wonders if any of these issues looms larger than the others. In particular, I think a case can be made that the environmental issues loom particularly large. In recent days, we've learned that Arctic sea ice reached its lowest level for at least the past 1,450 years, and more generally, that climate change is proceeding faster than many projections. And if that's right, we can expect more droughts, more food shortages, more loss of coastal lands, more extreme storms, more loss of species, more disease. If you care about economic issues, this ought to concern you. If you care about world unrest, then this ought to concern you. If you care about how low income individuals will fare, this ought to concern you. If you care about health care, this ought to concern you. And if you think that civil liberties and civil rights, already under pressure, will be maintained in the face of these challenges, this ought to concern you. In short, global climate change has the potential to affect nearly every other issue that is at stake in the U.S. presidential election. As a consequence, there is reason to give a candidate's record and stated views on environmental issues greater weight, and thus, significant reason to favor Obama over Romney
Now again, Obama's environmental record could have been better than it is; for example, he was too quick to accede to pressure to resume deep off-shore drilling after the Gulf disaster, and he has failed to take as hard a stance as he should have on the Keystone Pipeline. However, at least he acknowledges that climate change is human caused, unlike Romney who has flip-flopped himself into the view that "...we don't know what is causing climate change on this planet and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us." Romney wants to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Obama has opposed. Romney wants to roll back not only Obama's newly approved fuel economy standards (an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025) but also the existing standards (an average of 35.5 MPG by 2016). Romney opposes tax credits for renewable energy companies, tax credits that Obama has championed. In short, just when the U.S. should be taking more serious action to curb its contributions to global warming, Romney wants to undo what little progress that the U.S. has made.
So, is Obama a good candidate or simply the lesser of two evils? I don't pretend to have provided an answer to that, but what I do think is that a Romney presidency is an environmental disaster -- and thus a disaster more generally -- that we can ill afford.