WHY IT MATTERS: Global warming

Associated Press Modified: October 23, 2012 at 2:00 pm •  Published: October 23, 2012
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The issue:

People love to talk about the weather, especially when it's strange like the mercifully ended summer of 2012. This year the nation's weather has been hotter and more extreme than ever, federal records show. Yet there are two people who aren't talking about it, and they both happen to be running for president.

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Where they stand:

In 2009, President Barack Obama proposed a bill that would have capped power plant carbon dioxide emissions and allowed trading of credits for the right to emit greenhouse gases, but the measure died in Congress. An international treaty effort failed. Obama since has taken a different approach, treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the law. He doubled auto fuel economy standards, which will increase the cost of cars but save drivers money at the pump. He's put billions of stimulus dollars into cleaner energy.

Mitt Romney's view of climate change has varied. In his book "No Apology," he wrote, "I believe that climate change is occurring" and "human activity is a contributing factor." But on the campaign trail last year he said, "We don't know what's causing climate change on this planet." He has criticized Obama's treatment of coal power plants and opposes treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and the capping of carbon dioxide emissions, but favors spending money on clean technology. Romney says some actions to curb emissions could hurt an already struggling economy.

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Why it matters:

It's worsening. In the U.S., July was the hottest month ever recorded and this year is on track to be the nation's warmest. Climate scientists say it's a combination of natural drought and man-made global warming. Each decade since the 1970s has been nearly one-third of a degree warmer than the previous one.

Sea levels are rising while Arctic sea ice was at a record low in September. U.S. public health officials are partially blaming unusually hot and dry weather for an outbreak of the deadly West Nile virus that is on pace to be the worst ever. Scientists blame global warming for more frequent weather disasters, with the World Health Organization saying: "Climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually." Others put the toll lower.