The clock is ticking. According to HSBC, there are only around 50 years of oil left for world consumption. British Petroleum (BP) gave coal a life expectancy of about 120 years, and the third major fossil fuel, natural gas, fits in somewhere around 60 years. Even more discouraging is that the International Energy Agency claims that if major industrial changes are not met by 2017, carbon dioxide emission projections could be locked in to surpass the dreaded 450 ppm atmospheric concentration “point of no return.” If this were to occur, positive feedback loops would make it immensely difficult to reverse climate change.

With such deadlines, you would expect some urgency in the energy plans of the 2012 presidential nominees. Although President Barack Obama’s energy policies may not be perfect, they are headed in the right direction by diversifying our energy supply away from fossil fuels. Conversely, former Governor Mitt Romney fails to recognize the severe consequences of continued anthropogenic climate change, as seen by his proposed policies. In fact, his energy plan reinforces America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

One stark distinction between candidates is that Romney wants to treat renewable energy sources as if they were on the same playing field as fossil fuels. His plan aims to invest in energy as a field, without choosing certain energy technologies as “winners,” as he claims Obama has done with solar and wind power.  This would undoubtedly be a major setback for renewable energy technologies simply because they are not as established and currently cost more.

Romney has not released how he plans to have different energy technologies compete for government investments, but he has implied that it would be based on cost effectiveness without consideration for climate change.  What he chooses to ignore is that although renewable energies may often cost more money per kilowatt-hour now, once you factor in the externality costs attributed to greenhouse gas pollution, investing in green technology is economically beneficial.

Not only does the Romney-Ryan plan call for major reforms in subsidies, but it would also roll back decades of hard work put into environmental regulations. Romney has said that he would like to “overhaul” the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.  I cannot even begin to stress how important these acts are for America’s health and environment. In the year 2010 alone, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 160,000 premature deaths were prevented because of regulations from the Clean Air Act.  Romney has also said that under his administration, carbon dioxide would not be considered a pollutant and therefore emissions would not be regulated.

Romney would also give an unprecedented amount of federal land to the states for the purpose of energy development and would eliminate all federal regulations for obtaining power plant permits. Consequently, it would become more difficult to direct America’s energy policies on a national scale. This, along with overhauling other regulations, would reverse the Obama administration’s ban on dirty coal plants, which pollute more than any other source of electricity.  Romney also plans to expand offshore drilling, despite concerns from the catastrophic BP oil spill in 2010.  New drilling would be permitted off all of America’s coasts: Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf and Arctic.

Romney has chosen to double down on fossil fuels despite their limited reserves and environmental destructiveness with his proposed policies. Alternatively, Obama would continue to be a proponent for carbon-free energy sources. The election in November is providing voters with clear choices on a number of issues, and energy is no exception.

Stilson is a member of the class of 2014.

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