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Meet Captain Climate – John McCain

onearth – Spring 2004

I think it is important to have an understanding of the feelings of our major political candidates on the subject of global warming. I will occasionally run these articles and I hope to do so in such a way that you, the reader, will not have any idea of which candidate I am voting for. I simply want to give you some idea of how the candidates are discussing this very important topic. This first article is about John McCain – others will follow on the other candidates. It is a very flattering article about Mr. McCain and the comments below all belong to the original author and I have tried not to modify his intentions with my editorializing. As always, I am pulling comments out of the original article so go to the bottom of this post to find the original.

John McCain says he’ll battle global warming as fiercely as he fought money in politics. But will his fellow Republicans join the crusade?

About a week later, at another rally, Captain Climate was again in the audience. And this time, McCain announced from the stage, “I’m concerned about climate change. I’m going to do something about it.” …..And here’s the odd thing — he did.

McCain went back to Washington and held hearings in the Commerce Committee on global warming. Real hearings, with real scientists. And then, last fall, he managed to force the first real Senate vote on actually doing something about the largest environmental peril our species has yet faced. The bill he drafted with Senator Joe Lieberman was modest to a fault, and it lost 55-43, but at least, 15 years after the issue first surfaced in the public consciousness, there’d been a vote. “We’ll be back this year to do it again,” he said when I talked with him in Washington earlier this year. “Campaign finance reform took us seven years. This may take longer, but we’ll stay at it.”

McCain’s emergence as Washington’s most important champion of global warming legislation raises some interesting questions — about him, and about the rest of the Republican Party.

So maybe, if you were looking for the reason that John McCain has become the Senate’s only western Republican to take environmental issues seriously, you could point to the pure power of landscape. “The ecology of the desert is very fragile. Obviously climate change could have a very serious effect there,” he says.

Republicans often give lip service to the idea that they’re “from the party of Theodore Roosevelt,” but few are as devoted as McCain. Most environmentalists revere T.R. for the national parks and monuments and wildlife refuges he left dotting the country. But McCain admired him first for his military insight, his courage as a soldier, and his “deeply personal, almost spiritual, sense of patriotism.” Those may sound like conservative virtues, but they turned Roosevelt into a crusader: He railed against the notion that private interest always trumps public good. Roosevelt believed, says McCain, that “base materialism tempted people to indolence and greed.”

He says one of his greatest mentors was Morris Udall, Arizona’s longtime liberal congressman (and another failed populist presidential candidate), who went out of his way to befriend the young McCain during his first term. “I loved Mo Udall. Absolutely loved him,” says McCain, who cosponsored the Arizona Desert Wilderness Act with Udall. “By the time I knew him he already had Parkinson’s, so we spent less time outdoors than I would have wanted. But we traveled the state together. There was no greater environmentalist than Mo Udall.”

His support of legislation to curb climate-change came slowly, as the science became clearer, he contends. “It’s been gradual, over the years, as the evidence has accumulated.” But evidence of that commitment is hard to find before the 2000 campaign — he wasn’t giving speeches or writing op-eds on the topic, and he certainly wasn’t sponsoring legislation. His views on other green issues were pretty abysmal too; the League of Conservation Voters consistently ranked him below 20 percent in its annual survey of political greenness. During the 2000 primary campaigns, when global-warming activists like Stembridge began targeting him, he was giving the standard Republican line: The data are iffy, the costs are too high, we shouldn’t do anything yet. That was in late December.

I just finished an unsuccessful, but very enlightening, adventure in that area. There is a group of Americans who now come to political rallies with signs that say, ‘What is your plan?’ I am sorry to say that I do not have a plan because I do not have, nor do the American people have, sufficient information and knowledge. But I do believe that Americans, and we who are policy makers in all branches of government, should be concerned about mounting evidence that indicates that something is happeningI do intend, beginning with this hearing, to become informed, to reach some conclusions, and make some recommendations.” McCain-Lieberman was the result of that process.

If you ask environmentalists who work the Hill about their contacts in the GOP, you get mostly blank stares. Aside from McCain and a handful of others, “we have trouble even getting into a lot of their offices,” says Karen Wayland, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

If legislative change is going to come, in other words, senators will have to sense a shift in public attitudes first. There are already a few signs of that, says McCain. “More people are moving into these western states who are environmentally attuned,” he says. “So you start to see a little more concern. And as the economic base shifts from mining and logging to skiing, tourism, and other things that a good environment is critical to, you see change.”


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One Response to “Meet Captain Climate – John McCain”

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