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Editorial

Clinton, Trump both come up cold on climate change

The epic flooding in Gonzales, La., displaced tens of thousands  of people.
The epic flooding in Gonzales, La., displaced tens of thousands of people. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

When 22nd-century historians look back on 2016, they’ll marvel at how little attention the current presidential campaign paid to developments like these:

W ith his state withering under more than four years of drought, Governor Jerry Brown of California took the extraordinary step, in April, of imposing a 25 percent reduction in statewide water use.

Catastrophic flooding in Louisiana in August killed more than a dozen people, wreaking at least $30 million in property damage and forcing over 100,000 residents to apply for emergency federal assistance.

All of Massachusetts fell under drought conditions, with a pocket of extreme drought — yes, that’s a technical term — expanding to engulf more than half of the state.

A study commissioned by the City of Boston that was released in June warns that, if the current level of greenhouse gas emissions remains unchecked, the melting Antarctic ice sheets could raise sea levels here more than 10 feet by the end of this century. That’s a calamitous change that would put 30 percent of the city underwater.

Yet, judging by the campaigns of both major-party candidates for the presidency, one would think that global climate change is a mere blip on the radar, a niche issue of little widespread interest or consequence.

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Both candidates bear some responsibility here; although there are degrees of difference, neither has made it a focal campaign issue. While July was busy becoming the hottest month in 136 years of record-keeping, Donald Trump made no reference at all to climate change in his nomination-acceptance speech, and Hillary Clinton made only two passing references in hers.

It’s disconcerting that Trump has called climate change a “hoax.” Given his propensity to contradict his own provocative statements, it’s perhaps even more worrisome that his small, hastily assembled team of environmental policy advisers is stocked with other climate-change deniers, and Trump is reportedly considering fracking billionaire Harold Hamm as his choice for secretary of energy. Clinton has far surpassed this admittedly low bar, encouragingly identifying goals like achieving an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (from 2005 levels) by 2050 and boosting renewable energy production.

Yet Clinton’s advisers have concluded they’re better off playing it cool and waiting for a volatile opponent to self-destruct. As things stand, no candidate will enter the White House next year having summoned public support for a strategy to combat climate change.

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This campaign has raised bigger questions than most — about economic anxieties in an unforgiving economy, about racial politics amid demographic flux, about the meaning of conservatism and the future of one of the two major parties. But those issues crowded out discussion of a profound threat that, as a hot summer wore on, suddenly didn’t look so far off.