US Climate Wars stoked up as presidential race kicks off

By Martin Leggett - 19 Aug 2011 17:26:0 GMT
US Climate Wars stoked up as presidential race kicks off

As the American political machine gathers itself for the grueling 18-month long slug-out, that the US presidential race has become, the 'hot-potato' status of climate change has been reignited, by comments from Republican-hopeful Rick Perry. The governor of Texas nailed his climate skepticism firmly to the mast, when he spoke in New Hampshire on Wednesday. He said that he believed that "there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects." Perry just last week announced his intention to stand as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Even as his home state of Texas is roiled by the worst drought since records began in 1895, Perry is insistent that man-made climate change is, in essence, an oxymoron. He said that the idea of man's emissions being behind the rising temperatures, recorded globally, was "a scientific theory that has not been proven." Instead he saw the hand of nature behind the many observed changes to the planetary climate; climate has been on-the-go "ever since the earth was formed," he said.

Such skepticism on climate change is nothing compared to one the other leading contender's for the Republican nomination, Sen. Michelle Bachmann. Long before she threw her hat in the ring, the Senator for Minnesota told her local press "The big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax. It's all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax."

Along with Rick Perry, she has proposed putting a halt to all environmental regulation, not just climate-orientated, coming from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At a rally in Iowa recently she proclaimed "I guarantee you the E.P.A. will have doors locked and lights turned off, and they will only be about conservation. It will be a new day and a new sheriff in Washington, D.C."

Whilst many Republican candidates are vying with each other to kick away any role for active government action to tackle climate change, an eerie silence seems to be coming from the other side of the debate. Many observers have noted an increased reluctance by President Obama to go anywhere near the climate change question. In this year's State of the Union address, President Obama memorably went big on 'clean energy' and 'energy security', whilst leaving references to climate change lying in the clippings bin.

To some, this seems to indicate that climate change these days is seen as very much a tribal issue - with many Republicans as vehemently opposed to the very notion of man-made climate change, as some Democrats are for all for strong action on it. Global warming has become snared in the 'culture wars' that have defined American politics for the last two decades. In that light, the wide berth given to the issue by President Obama may be seen as clever politics. Perhaps he is hoping not to alienate the undecided middle-ground that will be vital in the 2012 election.

But for those concerned about the future of the world, threatened by the hanging sword of global warming, there are still presidential hopefuls prepared to take a stand on the issue. Mitt Romney has gone against the grain in the Republican camp by putting his faith in the veracity of climate science. "I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," he said back in June in New Hampshire. "It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors."

Meanwhile, back in Texas, and the wider south, the crippling drought looks set to continue. Already analysts are putting a $5 billion price tag to this particular vagary of the climate. Whether any one particular weather event, such as this year's drought, can be tied to the ongoing warming tide of global warming, the symbolism is clear. As the 2012 presidential race heats up, the white-hot potato of climate change is likely to be guilty of scorching a fair few political fingers.

Top Image Credit: NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 18: Texas Governor Rick Perry addresses the Republican Leadership Conference © Christopher Halloranw