When it comes to politics, I’m a one-issue voter, and the environment is my litmus test. More often than not, if a politician is responsive to environmental concerns, then he or she is likely to support other policies I care about.
That said, next week’s U.S. presidential election presents a dilemma, because neither of the leading candidates has an environmental pedigree.
Most environmentalists I know will be voting for Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic Party challenger, but not because he has earned their respect; rather, because President George W. Bush has spent his first term defining himself as anti-environment.
Perhaps if Bush walked his compassionate-Christian talk, he would be easier to believe, but he has roundly failed to practice what he preaches. More on that later.
In fact, Bush’s whole Republican Party fares poorly under environmental scrutiny.
In the United States, the League of Conservation Voters maintains a “Dirty Dozen” list of politicians who “consistently vote against the environment.” Of the 12, 11 are Republicans, and one is a Democrat.
Not only do Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney top the Dirty Dozen list, but their administration is the first in history to receive an “F” on the LCV’s Presidential Report Card.
The LCV is a nonprofit environmental organization that seeks to “hold Congress and the Administration accountable for their votes and actions on the environment” (www.lcv.org).
But how much better is Kerry? LCV only gave him a score of 53 percent in 2003, while his colleague from Massachusetts, Sen. Ted Kennedy, scored far better, at 89 percent.
And who knows, Bush claims to have had an epiphany or two in the past, so who can say he won’t do an about-face on the environment if he wins a second term?
Differences are apparent
For those interested in more substantial grounds for deciding, however, Science magazine has compiled a questionnaire of the candidates’ responses to a range of questions (www.sciencemag.org/sciext/candidates2004/ ).
In answering, both men take great care to appear moderate, but differences between them are apparent — particularly for those who are interested in resuscitating the Kyoto Protocol. On global climate change, the candidates were asked, “Is human activity increasing global temperatures? If so, should the U.S. set specific goals with respect to limiting or reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by the end of the decade?”
Kerry responds: “The scientific evidence is clear that global warming is already happening and rising levels of global-warming pollution are making the problem worse.”
In a direct reference to the Kyoto Protocol, Kerry states: “I will take the United States back to the negotiating table, rebuild relations with other nations, and work with them to include the United States — as well as developing nations — in the solution.”
Bush cites a 2001 report issued by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences which, he states, “found that key uncertainties remain concerning the underlying causes and nature of climate change,” and concluded that “a causal linkage between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.”
Here Bush is out of date — much has changed since 2001 — so Kerry gets the nod for knowing, and heeding, the latest science, which confirms that global temperatures are, in fact, warming. Kerry also recognizes that the Kyoto Protocol is alive again, after languishing for seven years, because Russia is in the process of ratifying the treaty, which will provide the backing necessary to bring the protocol into force.
A followup question asks: “Cap-and-trade programs for greenhouse-gas emissions are starting up in other countries. Do you favor such a program for the United States?”
Again Kerry takes an international line, stating that he will “work to rejoin the international community on global warming . . . [and] . . . work at home to take concrete steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Bush does not even reply, so Kerry gets the round.
The opinions of the candidates’ own party members are also revealing.
Perhaps because the Democrats are so eager to win this election, there has been little criticism of Kerry’s environmental stance from within his own party, and most of the nation’s environmental groups are backing him, if only by default.
Bush has been less lucky, as Republicans nationwide have increasingly spoken out against the administration.
On Oct. 17, for example, The Tampa Tribune, a conservative Florida newspaper, ran an editorial headlined, “Why We Cannot Endorse President Bush For Re-Election.” The editors admit their own surprise at not supporting Bush, but find themselves “unable to endorse President Bush for re-election because of his mishandling of the war in Iraq, his record deficit spending, his assault on open government, and his failed promise to be a ‘uniter not a divider.’ “
The paper also did not support Kerry.
In New Hampshire, on Sept. 23, the Concord Monitor ran an op-ed piece by Russell Train and Rick Russman, two respected Republican lawmakers. In this they wrote: “Except in a few instances, the environmental policies of the Bush administration are a disgrace. . . . President George W. Bush’s administration is reversing course from 30 years of bipartisan leadership to protect our health and environment.”
Train headed the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
I am not a Kerry fan, but I have been appalled at how the Bush administration has been gutting America’s environmental regulations. I am also disturbed that Bush claims his actions are guided by Christian beliefs. We all know that who we claim to be and who we are often differ. And in my experience, true Christians are those who model their own actions on the virtues shown by Jesus Christ: compassion for all beings, non-violence, and reverence for all of God’s creation.
But we all know, too, that human beings have an infinite capacity to manipulate religion for political and personal gain, and the ability to rationalize even the most ungodly acts.
So, whichever way the election goes, I am hoping that the winner — whether he wears his faith on his sleeve or keeps it to himself — will keep in mind these words spoken Nov. 8, 1997, in Santa Barbara, Calif., by Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodox Churches: “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. . . . For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation, for humans to degrade the integrity of the Earth by stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands . . . for humans to contaminate the Earth’s water, its land, its air and its life with poisonous substances . . . these are sins.”
Words we can all live by, and long prosper.