Even as a member of the Millennial Generation, I continue to be amazed at the role technology and social media are playing in politics. Thanks to reporters ‘live tweeting,’ I can follow convention speeches on twitter, getting the gist of them without ever having to turn on my TV. High schoolers and college students who might otherwise not pay attention are inundated with political commentary on their social media sites, encouraging them to formulate their own opinions. And without much effort, I can get the opinions of 20 reporters every time someone says something unexpected, inspiring, or…how shall we say this, miscalculated. The chair incident? Yeah.
My favorite social media gem from this past week was something called a Word Cloud. Throughout the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, the New York Times has been keeping track of what we might call ‘buzz words,’ those important ideas, concepts, or goals that we expect politicians to talk about. NYT staff then organized these buzz words into ‘word clouds.’ A word cloud is a type of infographic, basically a fancy graph, that portrays visually the frequency with which each word was said. For example, the word “women” was used 261 times in DNC speeches. By contrast, speakers at the Republican National Convention mentioned “women” only 59 times.
Aside from being a fun and creative way to display information, I think these word clouds are really important. Why? Because they say a lot about our priorities, or rather, the priorities of each party.
That being said, I have a bone to pick with both parties. In all the speeches, in all the talk about jobs and a future for our children and our country, where was the environment?
Over the course of both conventions, the word ‘environment’ was mentioned a whopping total of eight times – five times by Republicans and three by Democrats. How did we get to a place where we reference the environment a mere three times over the course of a four-day convention? Even worse, the words ‘climate change’ never came up at the RNC, and Dems only said them twice.
I know, I know. “It’s the economy, stupid.” If you can’t put food on the table or cover your healthcare costs, the environment doesn’t fall very high on the list of priorities. But with all the talk of healthcare and the future, are we so naïve as to think that environmental health has nothing to do with either of them?
The effects of global climate change continue to be felt both in the United States and worldwide. We’re seeing extreme droughts, extreme storms, and extreme temperatures. Crops are failing, food prices are rising, and people are starving. Hunger is not just a problem in the developing world. Citizens of this country are feeling the effects of climate change.
In the coming months, I urge you to listen attentively for any mention of the environment by either candidate. I don’t expect you’ll hear it much, but try to think about what impacts their proposed policies might have on the air you breathe or the water you drink. It’s not a leftist opinion that coal fired power plants emit mercury, which is then inhaled and ingested by the citizens of the surrounding community. It is not a myth that crude oil is a finite resource, that one day there will be none left. These are environmental realities that we need to face and tackle in the coming years with smart, innovative solutions. Obama doesn’t have a stellar environmental record, but I’m willing to bet that if Mitt Romney is elected in November, these issues will largely be ignored.
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