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Climate change and the presidential election

reduceyourcarbon.jpgI just noticed that John Edwards has a “Reduce your carbon” web site that aims to enlist supporters in a grassroots movement for personal conservation. I mention this not to praise (or criticize) the Edwards campaign but to note how large a role climate change may play in the presidential race.

Which is to say: a somewhat larger role than green issues have played in past elections. Candidates typically treat the environment as a window dressing issue, a way for them to come out in favor of mom and apple pie, or a way to score some easy points with key constituencies.

Out of idle curiosity, I did some Googling to see how the environment cropped up in past elections. One of the first links to pop up was this NPR piece on the 2004 race. Apparently both Bush and Kerry “extolled the virtues of conservation, clean air, and wetlands.” Bold.

The article went on to say that Bush favors a “less government is better” approach to environmental regulation. A simpler way of saying this is: Bush opposes environmental regulation. Kerry meanwhile was trying to thread carefully between those voters inclined to support Nader and those who see a tradeoff between the environment and jobs. NPR called this a “delicate balancing act,” which I suppose it is, in the sense that trying not to fall out of a chair is a delicate balancing act. The page makes no mention of global warming.

Point being, the environment typically doesn’t play a very meaningful role in presidential elections. This time around, climate change may alter that dynamic, helped by an added push from the energy security crowd.

Certainly the Reduce Your Carbon site is an interesting approach. Although the site is clearly affiliated with the Edwards campaign, it’s not particularly focused on the candidate or his views. Instead, it promotes some simple steps that visitors can take to reduce their own footprint, and makes a bonus appeal to their patriotism. If you actually submit the pledge form on the page, you’re undoubtedly signing yourself up to receive a lifetime of environment-themed Edwards campaign emails. But it’s nevertheless interesting to see a campaign treating climate change as an issue with grassroots appeal. It’s also interesting to see unadorned references to “carbon,” which is still a highly wonky term for most Americans.

P.S. Wow, our first horse race post, and the election is still a year and a half away. Undoubtedly this is the first of many. In general, I expect that we’ll be covering the bigger-picture climate change narrative more than the candidates themselves. Stay tuned.

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