Global warming: Will you listen now, America?

Two of the leading contenders to contest the next US presidential election have delivered an urgent warning to the United States on global warming, saying the evidence of climate change has become too stark to ignore and human activity is a major cause.

On a high-profile and bi-partisan fact-finding tour in Alaska and Canada's Yukon territory, Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic senator for New York, were confronted by melting permafrost and shrinking glaciers and heard from native Inuit that rising sea levels were altering their lives.

"The question is how much damage will be done before we start taking concrete action," Mr McCain said at a press conference in Anchorage. "Go up to places like we just came from. It's a little scary." Mrs Clinton added: "I don't think there's any doubt left for anybody who actually looks at the science. There are still some holdouts, but they're fighting a losing battle. The science is overwhelming."

Their findings directly challenge President George Bush's reluctance to legislate to reduce America's carbon emissions. Although both senators havetalked before of the need to tackle global warming, this week's clarion call was perhaps the clearest and most urgent. It also raises the prospect that climate change and other environmental issues could be a factor in the presidential contest in 2008 if Mrs Clinton and Mr McCain enter it. Mrs Clinton and Mr McCain, who represents Arizona, are among the leading, and the most popular, likely contenders.

That they chose Alaska as the stage from which to force global warming on to the American political agenda was not a matter of chance. In many ways, this separated US state is the frontline in the global warming debate. Environmentalists say the signs of climate change are more obvious there than perhaps anywhere else in the US.

Dan Lashof, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defence Council, a respected Washington-based group, told The Independent: "People in Alaska are starting to freak out. The retreat of the sea ice allows the oceans to pound the coast more, and villages there are suffering from the effects of that erosion. There is permafrost melting, roads are buckling, there are forests that have been infested with beetles because of a rise in temperatures. I think residents there feel it's visible more and more, more than any other place in the country."

President Bush's administration has repeatedly questioned the evidence of global warming and the contribution of human activity to any shift. Mr Bush, who in 2001 refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty on global warming weeks after he took office, has repeatedly been accused of doing nothing to enforce tighter controls on emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases". But this summer, the US National Academy of Sciences - and the scientific academies of the other G8 nations as well as Brazil, China and India - issued a statement saying there was strong evidence that significant global warming was happening and that "it is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities".

They called on world leaders to recognise "that delayed action will increase the risk of adverse environmental effects and will likely incur a greater cost". Mrs Clinton, who must first win her re-election to the US senate next year if she is to enter the 2008 White House race, said at the press conference that she had spoken to scientists as well as native Alaskans during the trip.

She said that, flying over the Yukon, she saw forests devastated by spruce bark beetles, believed to be increasing at an unprecedented rate because of warmer weather. She also talked of what a 93-year-old woman at a fish camp at Whitehorse told her. The woman said she had been fishing there all her life but now fish have strange bumps on them.

"It's heartbreaking to see the devastation," Mrs Clinton said. Mr McCain, Mrs Clinton and Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, also went to Barrow, the northernmost city in the US. There, they spoke to scientists and Inupiaq Inuit. They also saw shrinking glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park.

Mr McCain - with Senator Joe Lieberman - is behind proposed legislation that would require power-generating companies to reduce carbon emissions to their 2000 levels. Mr Graham, a Republican, said he had been moved by what he had seen. "Climate change is different when you come here, because you see the faces of people experiencing it. If you go to the people and listen to their stories and walk away with any doubt that something's going on, you're not listening."

Mrs Collins, a Republican, was even more convinced. She said the evidence in Alaska represented the "canary in the mine shaft of global warming crying out to us to pay attention".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?