Floyd J. McKay / Guest columnist
Next president must confront the challenge of climate change
Climate change could be the defining issue in the 2008 presidential election. A year away, candidates of each party look remarkably like...
Climate change could be the defining issue in the 2008 presidential election. A year away, candidates of each party look remarkably like each other, and in stark contrast to the other party.
Science has had its final say on climate change. Now the politicians must step up to the most serious challenge facing the world today.
That includes those who want to be president of the United States.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered its final report Nov. 17, and next month world leaders gather in Indonesia to draft a new climate-change treaty.
Little leadership can be expected from the White House. President George W. Bush spent six years denying global warming and censoring reports, and only this year grudgingly admitted what was no longer deniable. His delegate to the Indonesian meeting declared, "What's changed since 2001 is the scientific certainty that this is happening," but promised no change from Bush's reliance on voluntary actions.
That's not good enough, but fortunately we will have a new president in 14 months.
Which makes it important that the candidates tell us what they plan to do — and that media hold their feet to the fire.
The lack of federal leadership has forced states and even cities to assume leadership. Seattle has been in the forefront. The state of Washington has joined a regional compact but done little to adopt concrete proposals. Still ahead are important decisions about coal-fired generators; Centralia's coal plant accounts for much of Washington's carbon-dioxide emissions.
While congressional legislation remains stalled and threatened with a Bush veto, California — already below the national average for emissions — has acted. Nearly a year ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state regulators to cut carbon-dioxide emissions 25 percent by 2020.
Certainly, Schwarzenegger's prominence should encourage Republican candidates for president — a boost from the "governator" would be most helpful in the big California primary.
But the Republicans are cautious — at best — with the sole exception of John McCain, who has sponsored important climate-change legislation and is unafraid to campaign on it.
A voter visiting Republican candidates' Web sites and checking "issues" would find, however, that none suggest specific action on climate change; all view energy in a national-security framework. Fred Thompson still hasn't accepted the science ("we don't know for certain how or why climate change is occurring"), and Rudy Giuliani has nothing on his issues page on energy or climate change. Only twice in the Web sites of the six GOP candidates does one even find the words "climate change" or "global warming."
This is particularly discouraging, for climate change is an area where the Republicans can separate themselves from an unpopular president, associate themselves with popular governors (several GOP governors have joined Schwarzenegger), and address an issue that Americans want addressed.
A poll by the Gallup organization found that 62 percent of Americans "believe that life on Earth will continue without major disruptions only if society takes immediate and drastic action to reduce global warming." Forty percent said global warming would be "extremely important" (16 percent) or "important" (24 percent) in their voting for president in 2008.
What is it the Republican candidates don't get? Have they hitched their wagons so firmly to national security that they believe Americans care about nothing else? Is McCain the only one willing to stand up to Big Oil?
Democrats generally agree on what is needed: a cap-and-trade method of reducing emissions from major sources, a ramped-up mileage standard for cars, investment in research on alternative energy. Most are quite specific on their plans and have sections on their "issues" pages devoted to energy and global warming.
Additionally, most of the Democratic candidates serve in Congress, and are on record (with McCain) on climate-change or energy votes. Their Web sites are not afraid to use the term "global warming" or "climate change," and to raise the unpopular issue of higher fuel standards for private automobiles. It is not a leap of imagination to see Al Gore playing a prominent role in any of their administrations.
The world simply cannot afford another president who first denies science and then stiffs its recommendations. The media and the electorate need to push the candidates on this issue. It surpasses by far abortion, gay rights and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, and is at least equal to health care as an overriding concern.
If climate change becomes the major issue dividing the parties, the stakes for 2008 just increased, not only for us but also for the entire world.Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages. E-mail him at email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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