Geoffrey Lean: John McCain, father of right-on, green Republicanism

The American press may not have noticed, but the environment is the coming issue in the election

Share
Related Topics

"Save the planet. Vote Republican!" Right now that may not seem the most credible of political slogans – up there, perhaps, with "You can trust Tony Blair" and "Gordon Brown cheers you up". But, after last week, it could soon be adorning bumper stickers throughout the United States.

For on Tuesday, Florida crucially threw its weight behind the American politician with the best record in taking action on global warming. Not Al Gore – who lost the presidency in the Sunshine State eight years ago, when the future of the climate appeared to hang on those fateful chads – but the now-leading candidate for the Republican nomination, John McCain.

Gore may have talked a lot about climate change both before and after his vice-presidential stint, but he did virtually nothing while in office: during the Clinton-Gore years US carbon dioxide emissions rose nearly 10 times as much as in George Bush's first term. Instead it is McCain who has been spearheading efforts to cut the pollution in Congress.

And while Gore gutlessly refused to campaign on the issue that he has long considered the most important of all – fearing it would cost him votes – McCain made it one of the defining features of his presidential bid, sticking with it even when his drive to the White House appeared to be stalling last year. So, as things stand, it is the leading Republican candidate who has the most longstanding green cred in the public mind.

Few would have forecast any such possibility when the Toxic Texan was dubiously elevated to the world's most powerful office at the turn of the millennium – the rapid emergence of global warming as a right-wing cause.

It began with the highly improbable Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hummer-loving Terminator, who – on being elected governor of California – took up the issue more vigorously than any other political leader. And it crossed the Atlantic when David Cameron, who had shown no discernable previous interest in the subject, adopted it first to help win the Conservative leadership and then to detoxify his party.

Next up was Angela Merkel, elected at about the same time to the German chancellorship, who quickly made her government much more environmentally friendly, both at home and in interntional negotiations, than the red-green coalition that preceded it . And now – though so far little noticed in this country – France's President Nicolas Sarkozy is beginning to implement the world's most ambitious and thorough-going green policy revolution.

True, Mitt Romney – now far behind McCain, but the only other serious Republican contender – is attempting to buck the trend, asserting that his rival's policies would cost each American $1,000 and insisting that climate change is for the rest of the world to solve.

But if there were no hypocrisy in politics, there would be little or no difference between the two. For Romney has, in fact, been a pioneer of the new green conservatism. As governor of Massachusetts until last year, he was another of the first American politicians to espouse policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He changed his stance as he began positioning himself for a run at the presidency. This helped to establish a reputation for opportunism that has gravely damaged his candidacy, but he believes it saved him when he won last month's primary in Michigan – home of the Detroit car industry.

But last week Romney ran out of road in Florida. More precisely, he ran into yet another new right-wing eco hero, the pivotal state's popular governor Charles Crist. Affectionately known as Chain Gang Charlie for his proposals for the treatment of state prisoners earlier in his career, he has made the once-liberal cause of climate change one of his signature issues – laying out a programme to slash the state's greenhouse gas emissions by a radical 80 per cent by 2050. He endorsed McCain, sealing his victory and putting him far ahead.

The front-runner's greenery may also help him on Super Tuesday this week. Nine of the 20-odd states that hold primaries the day after tomorrow are already on their way to making emission reductions of their own, and opinion polls are running strongly in favour of action. Even in conservative South Carolina, six times as many Republicans support measures to cut carbon dioxide as oppose them. Yet more surprisingly, even 80 per cent of Detroit car workers back proposals to decrease exhaust emissions, despite Romney's success with the dissenting party faithful.

And Ken Mehlman, manager of George Bush's 2004 campaign, says the Republicans cannot hope to attract independents in the presidential election unless they propose "specific solutions" to climate change.

McCain is no natural greenie; in his campaign against Bush eight years ago he was dogged by a heckler dressed as a penguin, protesting at his lack of concern over global warming. But he quickly became convinced by the climate change science, called the President's position "disgraceful" and, since 2003, has successively introduced three bills to enforce action across the country.

In truth, his proposals now look mild besides those being put forward by the two remaining Democrats. Both Clinton and Obama may have been comparatively late in coming to the issue, laying out their plans in the autumn, but they have been vigorous in making up for lost time. Both support the same 80 per cent reductions as Governor Crist. By comparison, McCain's current bill would curb emissions only by 30 per cent. Both Democrats have adopted ambitious increasing renewable energy targets, while McCain has not.

But this is all to the good, because it means a bidding war, all but unnoticed, incidentally, by the American press, on global warming has begun. All three leading presidential candidates in the race propose dramatic action, so that prospects for international action will be very different once George Bush departs. As Phil Clapp, deputy managing director of the Pew Environment Group and perhaps the shrewdest observer of US environment politics, says: "It is now clear that the climate will be a top priority for the incoming president." It's enough to make you want to buy a bumper sticker.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit www.independent.co.uk/IoSblogs

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping the child abuse taking place now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower