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Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, in their quest for the presidency, portray the United States as the indispensable nation, the one country that can — through a combination of diplomatic skill, military might and moral suasion — steer the world as it should go.

But when it comes to one of the most important questions about the future of the planet, a question on which the United States must show leadership and set examples, the campaigns are silent at best, and in delusional denial at worst.

The issue is climate change and, even now that a summer of record heat and droughts has been followed by the landfall of one of the mightiest superstorms in human history, neither candidate shows much interest in outlining the problem or taking a stand on what can and should be done about it.

Obama, as befits a sitting commander in chief, wants to be seen as in charge of the immediate efforts at relief, assessing matters in the Situation Room, reassuring the public that necessary steps are being taken and even exchanging complimentary phone conversations with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who has spent much of the past several weeks campaigning against the president.

But the incumbent apparently feels that he dare not allow himself to be portrayed as a radical tree-hugger. So he has barely mentioned the concerns of the overwhelming majority of the scientific community (and the insurance industry) that severe weather events such as droughts, blizzards and superstorms — Sandy was too complex and too powerful to be labeled a mere hurricane — are all but certain to become more common in the coming years.

Romney, through no fault of his own, is disadvantaged by the fact that he holds no actual power and cannot ride to anyone's rescue. So he is reduced to turning his campaign appearances into disaster relief fundraisers and dodging questions about past statements where he described the whole of the federal disaster relief apparatus as "immoral."

The challenger has likewise turned his back on previous positions that acknowledged the risk of climate change and that favored such steps as cap-and-trade systems for fossil fuels that could slow the rate at which humanity is fouling its own nest. The GOP platform is silent on the issue of climate change, except for an aside in which it chides the very Pentagon that it usually champions for listing climate change, and the disruptions it will cause, as a national security threat.

Whoever lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come January must deal with the fact of climate change and its many impacts on our lives. It's just too bad we can't use that issue as a measure of which of them we should choose.

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