Tim Hutchcraft

American Political Parties on

Global Warming

The threat of Global Warming literally looms over the head of every citizen of planet Earth. As temperatures seem to climb every year, more and more research is being done that supports the theory that our planet is warming. In many countries around the world, celebrities and politicians speak out to help support scientific evidence about Global Warming. Meanwhile, conservatives, mainly Republicans at the local and national levels in the United States , use their positions to try to expel the dangers of Global Warming.

One political party in the United States includes the environment as part of its political philosophy. It does what it can to stand up to the shabby environmental policies enacted by conservatives. The Greens, however, do face challenges with their often far-left leanings on social matters.

The United States Green Party was founded with several key values in mind. One such value is that of “Ecological Wisdom.” The Green Party feels that “We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society which utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation” (Smith).

The Green Party is the “recognized partner of the European Federation of Green Parties” (Smith). The international Green Party has roots that date back to 1960s Europe . There was a need in Europe for unity among constituents interested in ecological preservation, and this gave birth to the Green Party. While the European Green Party has been organized and active since before 1983, their first key victory as a party happened in Germany in 1983. The German Green Party is considered the “Mother of all Green Parties” after taking 28 seats in that year's elections (Cassola). This sudden burst of popularity helped the Green Party in their efforts to expand in Europe and other countries around the globe.

While the United States Green Party states its   mission clearly, it is not above criticism from those who oppose their work and ideology. There is a rumored association between those involved in the Green Party and those who participate in Communist Parties. The Greens have been referred to as part of a “watermelon” party, because they are “green on the outside, red to the core” (Horner 7)   . However, calling someone a Communist is a common criticism in the U.S. , especially toward those who oppose popular opinion. This insult can be traced back to 1950's America where the threat of communism was in the minds of the American people

Global Warming is literally the warming of Earth's climate. Popular scientific opinion says that Global Warming is caused by the humans' release of carbons and “greenhouse gasses”

into the atmosphere through manufacture and through combustion of fossil fuels. These pollutants rise into our atmosphere and are trapped by upper level gasses. The warming is caused by the absorption of infrared radiation from the sun. The thick layer of carbons allow the sun's radiation through, but won't allow it to exit the atmosphere when reflected back from the surface of the planet. The Earth is not able to cool itself properly because of this trapped energy.

On February 1 st ,   2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there is a 90% or greater chance that Earth's climate change is caused by human actions. The IPCC is comprised of scientists and representatives from numerous countries. This panel was created by   the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. While most of the international community feels this organization gives conclusive information in regards to the environment, the United States has created a precedent in the past six years of ignoring the popular opinion of the international community.

However, beliefs on Global Warming differ from person to person and political party to political party. A simple search on “Yahoo” brings up the official website of the College Republican National Committee. The article was written to explain the jubilation these young Republicans feel when making a mockery of the issue of Climate Change. Many “Global Warming Beach Parties” were held to ridicule Al Gore's movie “An Inconvenient Truth” (Harwood). One wonders to what extent these students have studied the issue, or if they have relied on misinformation or family persuasion to form their opinions.

While this issue is a laughing matter to college students, it is not to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's website explains that “human activities have substantially added to the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.” This is being attributed to the burning of fossil fuels and the admissions of aerosols. The website goes on to give statistics proving the change in mean surface temperatures during the 20 th century. According to the compiled statistics, the average surface temperatures grew from between 0.7 and 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a recent interview with Tom Abram, candidate for Illinois State Representative, district 103, I posed a few questions about the Green Party's policies toward cleaning up the environment. In our conversation   I asked: “What would you do to slow Global Warming?” Abram gave a few general ideas on what needs to be done at the global level. Many of his answers were typical solutions that people living a green lifestyle strive to do anyway, such as increasing the amount of train and bicycle riders. He did go beyond this by offering the suggestion that we should “create a renewable portfolio standard that would require utilities to provide a certain percentage of their energy from clean, renewable sources”(Abram). While Abram isn't pessimistic about the Democrats' role in the Global Warming debate, he felt that the Republican reaction to it was limited to a “clear minority.”

Abram holds similar beliefs to his colleague Joe Futrelle, who ran for the Champaign County Board under the Green Party ticket. He feels that “Greens fundamentally believe that protecting the environment requires a sustainable economy...the Green Party is the political wing of a larger movement towards sustainable practices and lifestyles”(Futrelle).

Sustainable practices make it into the everyday rhetoric of Global Warming. From concepts such as electric or hybrid cards to solar power, technologies that cannot handle the huge demand are being called upon for development.  

Many limitations have kept “green” technologies from taking their place in the mass market for transportation. Looking at the concept of “hydrogen” cars, it's  easy to find drawbacks. First, the technology is expensive. MSNBC reported that the conversion for a Hummer would cost over $60,000. That leaves you supplying the Hummer (Llanos). There's also the problem of fuel supply and cost. Since there are few stations in California , the state the article was based in, one kilo of hydrogen can run from one dollar to twenty dollars. The competition is so small that suppliers can charge whatever they feel is fair (Llanos). There are also problems with technology currently being produced. The popular Toyota Prius has better than average fuel economy. The low emissions also make this car environmentally friendly during the morning commute. While these benefits do make the Prius a great start to helping the environment, the production of the cells used in the vehicles take away any environmental benefits. These batteries are produced in a factory in Sudbury , Ontario . The smelting process for the nickel component causes a by-product known as sulfur dioxide that has been spread for miles around the factory. This area was recently dubbed a “dead zone” by NASA (Demorro). The damage this has done to the plant's surrounding environment is more than enough to take away any benefits possible.

Since the hydrogen vehicle is slow to make an appearance across the country, other plans will have to be made to supply greener transportation. Futrelle feels that instead of relying on other types of fuels, we need to change our lifestyles. While people often “consume much more fuel than we need,” it would be wiser to “reduce fuel consumption by localizing our economy, improving public transportation, increase energy efficiency of our build infrastructure, and move to a pedestrian and bike-friendly urban planning model”(Futrelle). Futrelle's ideas are unique to popular thought because, instead of replacing what we will soon be out of, he says we should redirect our lives to no longer need fossil fuels.

In searching for information in regards to the Democrats' views on global warming, the sources are sparse. When searching for information, I have been unable to find anything listing the Democrats' or Republicans' support for the Kyoto Protocol. I did, however, find sources showing how the major political parties act on the contrary.

In 2004 the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article expressing the views of John Kerry and John Edwards on the Kyoto Protocol. When Senator Edwards was asked if he would ask the United States senate to ratify the Kyoto global warming treaty, he responded “yes” and also added that Senator Kerry would do the same. However, the next day Kerry said that he would not ask the Senate to ratify it (Saunders). This disregard is not the norm for Democrats. In 1997, then Vice President Al Gore negotiated the Kyoto contract for President Clinton (Saunders). The environment was a major issue in the 2000 presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. However, the Democrats' stance on the environment was dropped from the platform in 2004.

According to the article in the San Francisco Chronicle, President Clinton never sent the Kyoto Protocol to the senate for ratification. Saunders sites that Clinton was aware of the economic ramifications of enforcing legislation on companies to decrease the amount of carbons released into the atmosphere. However, in my interview with Abrams, he feels the opposite would be true. When asked about this, he says “we [the Greens] believe the economic consequences of inaction are far greater than reducing greenhouse gas now, which can actually benefit the economy by job creation. We, as a party, support reductions beyond the Kyoto Protocol...”(Abrams). The Green Party realizes that the excuse of an economic downfall due to the reduction of emissions is a fallacy. In the pursuit of cleaner technologies, this party realizes the great potential for new jobs to be created in the industry.

Several ideas have been introduced to entice industries to monitor their own carbon emissions. One way is through the issuance of “Carbon Credits.” For each measured unit of carbon that a company doesn't   introduce into the atmosphere, they are issued a Carbon Credit which can be sold in the international market. Another company may buy this credit to use when emitting more carbons than planned for. This allows a cap on the amount of carbon that can be discharged into our atmosphere, while allowing companies that conserve to be rewarded with revenue.

Carbon credits would be issued at the international level in the form of taxes controlled by a central organization. The international market would determine the price and demand depending on the current state of pollution in each economy. During times of high polluting, the cost of the credits would go up. Poorer countries with less pollution or industry would be able to sell excess credits at the prevailing market rate. Imposing a tax on carbon credits would not only help developing nations earn valuable resources, but it would also help curb the amount of pollution created. If every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere costs a country or industry a considerable amount, measures to help reduce this dangerous gas would be self implemented by these organizations (Cline).

This is important as the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses is accumulating more and more in our environment. The EPA says that in pre-industrial times, the carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere was about 280 ppm. In 2005, this number had jumped to over 379 ppm (EPA). This is a significant increase according to the EPA. Curious, I looked into the data collection methods for the carbon numbers from the pre-industrial times. Taking core samples from the Antarctic, scientists were able to analyze the content of ice that is thousands of years old to determine the carbon content of the air bubbles trapped inside (EPA).

While the Green Party strives to maintain a better public image, they should take notice of Seattle , Washington 's new tourism campaign, “Metronatural.” The Metronatural campaign relies on the desire of it's   visitors to visit “a world-class metropolis within wild, beautiful natural surroundings”(SCVB). I found several Web sites touting the praises of this new campaign. This campaign has done something unprecedented for nature by making   a visit an unspoiled area of the country glamourous. The idea of fresh breezes and clear water do much to stir the imagination, enticing visitors to explore the last vestige of an urban society that has yet to ruin or pollute the natural setting surrounding it. Incorporating a “trendy” feel to the campaign also helps to attract a younger demographic.

Attracting any demographic is one of the goals of the Green Party, as it has been lacking a positive public image. With the sting of Ralph Nader still fresh in people's minds, Americans are weary of all things Green. Improving their image, perhaps campaigning as the “party of the future,” would help their success in some local elections.

However, things are turning up for the Greens. Joe Futrelle felt his campaign was a rousing success with over twenty-five percent of the popular vote after election day   last year. “Greens have a hard time everywhere because the Green Party has been scape-goated for the results of the 2000 presidential election, and because people perceive the Green Party as a fringe left-wing environmental interest group.” He cites the recent Illinois Gubernatorial race, where Green Party candidate Rich Whitney helped draw votes from “self-proclaimed Democrats and Republicans” (Futrelle).

Abrams attributes most of the difficulty to the relative youth of the Green Party. He feels that since the Green Party has only been running candidates in this area for a few years now, that it “takes some time to build an infrastructure and trust in the community. Our electoral system also creates barriers as many people are afraid of “spoiling” the election. Third-party candidates have high petition requirements to get on the ballot”(Abrams). Even with such obstacles, Abrams is optimistic about future elections. “Regardless of these obstacles, local Greens have received tremendously high election results. Each election, we receive higher and higher percentages.”

Even though the Green Party considers itself the environment's most likely savior, there is competition arising from other parties. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former “Terminator” and current governor of California , has recently decided to “bring sexy back” to environmentalism. Using comparisons to the stigma attached to bodybuilding several decades ago, Schwarzenegger wants to prove that being environmentally-minded can also be “manly.” Schwarzenegger is said to be responsible for passing bills in California that will not only limit greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020, but also “cut the carbon content in transportation fuel by 10 percent” (Snow and Kornreich).

When questioned about the Republican party's stance on Global Warming, Schwarzenegger expressed the view that “I don't look at is as a party issue as much as that we need to have everyone come together on this. We try to form partnerships on the left and right” (Keyes). Even though Schwarzenegger stayed far from commenting on his party's position on Global Warming, he added that he heard rumblings from both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani in regards to the subject.

Schwarzenegger admits that after many protests regarding his gas-guzzling Hummer, he converted to biofuel, a type of gasoline or diesel made from organic or leftover oils. He's also proud of the custom-made hydrogen-fueled Hummer that GM delivered to him in 2005 (Keyes).

Perhaps some Republicans feel this is an important issue for both the good of the people, and for winning votes. Making an effort to talk about the environment helps give these Republicans the appearance that the party could be modernizing. However, with some it could be considered a “smoke and mirrors” tactic, distracting constituents from other, more urgent issues. Though some Republicans are having a change of opinion on global warming, this small step, without immediate action by our lawmakers, cannot erase years of devious legislation that put the matters of the environment on the back burner.

Speaking with the press secretary for Timothy Johnson, Republican Representative for Illinois ' 15 th Congressional District, gave me a few insights on Johnson's views. While Representative Johnson's website is curiously absent of any mention of the environment or global warming, his press secretary Bill Bloomer assured me that Johnson is strongly committed to the environment. He feels that carbon emissions are definitely in need of regulation, but feels any and all legislation should be looked at piece by piece. Johnson also has a history of dancing around the term “Global Warming.” While he frequently weaves the evils of pollution and carbon emissions into speeches, he won't necessarily commit to the term “Global Warming.” Bloomer also made reference to the “FutureGen” project, an experimental, zero-emissions power plant that Johnson is vigorously pursuing. One could consider this a “pork barrel” project due to the severe competition to give this plant a home. At a proposed cost of over one billion dollars, states are willing to serve up their coal-rich land to house this new plant.

I asked Bloomer why Illinois would compete for a plant that burns coal, a dirty fuel. He felt that “While coal is a finite resource, this plant will generate enough output to more than pay for itself before better technologies are produced” (Bloomer).

Johnson is also leading the charge to have C A F E (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) standards tightened. His policies have given him nods by such environmentalist groups as The Sierra Club and The League of Conservation Voters. Looking at Johnson's history with the environment, it seems he is breaking ranks with his fellow Republicans.

Tim Johnson is teaming up with Senator Obama and Senator Durbin, all from Illinois , in campaigning for FutureGen to come to their home state. This “pollution-free” power plant will produce enough electricity to power over 150,000 homes in the area. This plant will also have the ability to produce hydrogen.

FutureGen's technology allows the plant to take all carbon emissions and pump it directly into the ground for permanent storage. This process starts with the “gasification” of coal into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The gas will then “react with steam to produce additional hydrogen and a concentrated stream of carbon dioxide” (FutureGen). The captured carbon dioxide will then be funneled down into deep saline formations.

Aside from the FutureGen project, Senator Obama is seldom in the news for environmental issues. His Web site's category for environmental issues discusses the Senator's campaign to rid lead and lead-based products from our homes and stores. He, however, does not go into his thoughts or beliefs on global warming or pollution (Obama). In 2006, Obama, with 40 other U.S. Senators, jointly sent a letter to President Bush calling for measures to “stabilize global warming emissions within 10 years” (Stanfield). Perhaps Obama doesn't make his views known often enough in regards to global warming? A common practice in politics is to take one position on one issue and run with it. This helps constituents keep issues straight when comparing multiple candidates.

While Schwarzenegger and Johnson actively support measures to help clean up the environment, these actions may not be typical of Republicans across the country. It is widely assumed that Republicans will be anti, well, everything. They are the anti-liberal. These men and women are supposed to be leaders in fiscal responsibility and conservative in all issues ranging from the environment to religion. They are seen as turning their backs on mountains of research and data supporting the effect human actions' may have on the environment.

President George Bush is easily categorized as a stereotypical Republican in the matter of Global Warming. Throughout his administration, Bush has energetically denounced the claims of scientists and politicians around the globe. In 2002 President Bush openly dismissed a report issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency stating that “human activities such as oil refining, power plants and automobile emissions are important causes of global warming” (CBS News). While changing Bush's mind concerning the validity of scientific research on global warming is improbable, his party's support is slowly dwindling on this issue. Republicans such as Bob Inglis, John McCain and Mike DeWine have changed their views on the issue since witnessing the effects personally. Inglis had a personal revelation during his travels to the South Pole, where he witnessed first hand the effects climate change was having on that fragile ecosystem. Inglis agreed that the time to take climate change seriously has arrived, and that “There are more and more Republicans willing to stop laughing at climate change who are ready to get serious about reclaiming their heritage as conservationists” (Chipman).

While Bob Inglis cannot speak for the rest of his party, he is proof of a newly-found dedication to the environment. In early April the United States Supreme Court told the United States that it's time to “Do Something” (Cnn.com). Before the Court was a case in which several states were pursuing lawsuits against the EPA in order to force the organization to take action on carbon dioxide emissions from new automobiles. Until now, the EPA has allowed automakers to decided and monitor their own goals for decreasing emissions. The Court ruled that states do have the right to challenge the EPA on its policies. At the end of the hearing, the Supreme Court released a majority opinion regarding the pollution excreted by automobiles. The five justices who voted in favor agreed that “A reduction in domestic emissions would slow the pace of global emissions increases, no matter what happens elsewhere” (Cnn.com). The justices also made it known that to date, the EPA has offered a “laundry-list” of reasons not to regulate these emissions as strictly as states would have liked.

Perhaps some of the problems facing environmentalists is the anti-environmentalism propaganda that is distributed and devoured by those looking to debunk Global Warming. While it may be difficult to read through enough of the information to actively decipher it and create a unique opinion, those of conservative persuasions need not work too hard. Thanks to books such as “Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism,” the right-leaning public no longer has to work on forming their own opinions as there are plenty in the book to choose from. This valuable guide takes the complicated and widely debated issue of Global Warming and smashes any “evidence” to support the liberal agenda of Environmentalism. With simple answers used to combat complicated questions, this guide gives every conservative the toolkit to put environmentalists in their place. Flipping through the book, the reader encounters such delightful charts as “Most Greenhouse Gasses Are Not Manmade.” This chart describes in detail how small percentages of Nitrous Oxide, Methane, Co2 and CFCs are manmade, while the majority are naturally occurring. As an example, Co2 is emitted into the atmosphere. However, only 3% of all of the Co2 emitted is manmade. The rest is “natural.” What this article doesn't point out is the reason behind these high “natural” emissions. It doesn't mention the role that burning fossil fuels play. The chart also neglects to mention how humans, thanks to their cars and other modern conveniences, have sped the release of these gasses. While they may occur in nature, it is not in nature's plan to release such a large tonnage as modern humans do.

The author also includes small quotes made by those that are supposedly “Green.” The co-founder of Green peace, Paul Watson, was quoted as saying “I got the impression that instead of going out to shoot birds, I should go out and shoot the kids who shoot birds.” However, the author makes no mention of the text that came before or after. A reasonable person would read that as a continuation of an idea that would have been fully explained or examined in the publication of the quote. While this tactic is common in debates today, it is unfair to use them to prove a point that has not been made. This type of work does nothing more than demonize those that are working to save our planet from becoming a barren waste-land due to rapid temperature increases.

Other groups simply refuse to believe in the “junk science” that is global warming. Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative group with ties to the oil industry giant ExxonMobil, released commercials last year announcing the greatness of carbon dioxide. In these well-produced commercials, trains run and cars drive while the announcer's seductive voice lulls you into a dream-like state with the benefits of carbon dioxide.

“It comes from animal life, the oceans, the Earth, and the fuels we find in it. It's called carbon dioxide. The fuels that produce carbon dioxide have freed us from a world of back-breaking labor, lighting up our lives, allowing us to create and move the things we need, the people we love. Now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant...” (CEI).

CEI shamelessly promotes the virtues of carbon dioxide, calling it healthy and part of life. However, knowing that the company behind CEI makes it's money contributing to the pollution invalidates any “research” they may have obtained or written.

While no political party may provide a definitive answer to the world's problem of Global Warming, all three of the major parties in the United States have their own ideas and agenda. As a political party, the Green Party is more publically committed to a solution than the two traditional parties in the United States . The Republicans are slowly coming to terms with the threat of climate change and how important it is becoming in future elections. Democrats, while traditionally environmentally charged, will probably continue to pursue environmental policies as needed. As the environment becomes a bigger issue with ordinary people around the globe, the Green Party will experience more success in every election, both locally and internationally. This party may be able to foster the spread of a greater concern for the environment and how we affect it.


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