A word cloud of the transcript from Wednesday night's presidential debate.
[skipwords]The first debate between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney on Wednesday featured several surprises — Romney was energetic and assertive, for example, while Obama often seemed aloof or annoyed — but the focus on fiscal issues wasn't one of them. The 90-minute debate included lots of talk about economic growth, federal spending and health care, leaving little time for discussion of environmental issues.
The word cloud above displays the candidates' most frequently uttered words in larger text, revealing in general what they spent most of their time talking about. Since it has few terms related to the environment, I've created a second word cloud below, focused on Obama's and Romney's science and environmental references:
"Energy" was easily the top environmental term, even after selecting out qualitative phrases like "green energy" and "energy independent" (which were mentioned three times each). Oil and natural gas also came up several times, but there wasn't a single use of the phrases "global warming" or "climate change" — despite a petition with 160,000 signatures urging moderator Jim Lehrer to ask the candidates about their climate policies. This omission was widely reflected on Twitter via #climatesilence.
Much of the energy talk dealt with U.S. oil and gas production, which both candidates agreed has grown under Obama. Romney said this is "in spite of" Obama's policies, though, arguing that "all of the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private land, not on government land." He's right that most new production has taken place on private property, but the Congressional Research Service recently reported that "oil production on federal lands is up slightly in 2011 when compared to 2007."
Renewable energy was largely ignored all night, aside from Obama calling wind and solar power "energy sources of the future" and Romney expressing skepticism about federal support for the industry. Romney defended oil subsidies, saying most go to "small companies, to drilling operators and so forth," but also claimed "about half of [clean-energy companies that] have been invested in have gone out of business."
He cited Solyndra as an example, and also named other clean-tech companies such as Fisker and Tesla. Fact-checkers have since debunked his claim that half of federally supported clean-energy companies are out of business, though — John Broder of the New York Times described it as a "gross overstatement," while TIME correspondent Michael Grunwald called it "the lie of the night."
Here's a list of all 33 companies that have received loans under the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program. Several are facing financial problems, Broder notes, but only three have filed for bankruptcy — far less than "about half," as Romney claimed. The DOE's loan program portfolio is currently 87 percent "low-risk" power-generation projects, according to a 2011 analysis by Bloomberg Government, and has supported a variety of successful clean-energy ventures.
It's unclear how much attention, if any, will be given to climate change and other environmental issues for the rest of the campaign. The next debate between Romney and Obama will take place Oct. 16 in New York, followed by a final showdown on foreign policy Oct. 22 in Florida. Vice presidential candidates Paul Ryan and Joe Biden will square off next Thursday, Oct. 11, in Kentucky.
For a look at how environmental issues have fared in past presidential debates, check out this lineup of historical debate word clouds.[/skipwords]
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