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Climate action on firing line in US elections

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Oct 27, 2010
Unlike many fellow members of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party, Senate candidate Joe Manchin does not support climate legislation restricting carbon emissions.

In case voters do not understand his point, Manchin is airing television commercials in which he loads a gun and shoots a copy of the bill taped to a tree. (He is also making a point about gun rights.)

Manchin, now a governor, is running in next Tuesday's elections for a Senate seat from West Virginia, where coal is a major industry and criticism of environmentalists runs deep.

But climate efforts are facing attack across the United States during the election, likely making prospects for action by Congress even bleaker.

In California, which has been on the vanguard of US action against climate change, voters will decide in a referendum whether to freeze an ambitious plan mandating cuts in carbon emissions blamed for global warming.

Prominent candidates from the Republican Party, which polls indicate will make gains in the election, reject the broad consensus among the world's scientists that human activity is contributing to climate change.

Sharron Angle, who is mounting a strong challenge in Nevada to the Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, has rejected the "man-caused climate change mantra of the left."

Wisconsin businessman Ron Johnson, running against Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, has suggested that meteorological changes are the result of sunspots.

"My point is because it's not settled science, it would be incredibly damaging to our economy to try to tax energy," Johnson said in a debate.

The political mood has shifted from just a year ago when the House of Representatives approved a bill to restrict carbon emissions -- a first for the only major industrial nation to reject the Kyoto Protocol.

But Reid in July gave up on finding votes to bring accompanying legislation before the Senate, where opponents can block a measure if it does enjoy support of 60 of the chamber's 100 members.

Representative Henry Waxman, a lead author of last year's climate bill, admitted the process has been "very difficult" and argued that the legislation would have created millions of jobs by spurring a new green economy.

"The legislation in the United States was a jobs bill. It would have also been a catalyst for united, international efforts," the California Democrat said.

International negotiations have bogged down on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, with top carbon emitter China rejecting any binding commitments without greater action by the United States.

A report by UN scientists in 2007 found that climate change was already hurting the planet and warned of rising natural disasters without action. Three years later, some experts link climate change to floods that ravaged Pakistan.

William Antholis, managing director of the Brookings Institution and co-author of the book "Fast Forward: Ethics and Politics in the Age of Global Warming," voiced confidence that a large number of Americans trusted science and supported action on climate change.

"But as you approach the 60 to 70 percent of the public who are somewhat concerned about climate change, their willingness to act in tough economic times solely for the reason of climate change is diminished somewhat," he said.

Supporters of climate action hope to shift the tide by focusing on the benefits of clean energy rather than speaking abstractly about climate change.

Green groups have thrown their resources behind a number of candidates who have embraced clean energy such as Representative Tom Perriello, a Democrat in a tough race in Virginia.

A survey released Tuesday by the Civil Society Institute found that 62 percent of Americans believed climate change "is already a big problem" and that the United States "should be leading the world in solutions."

"There is much that unites all political groups on clean energy," said Pam Solo, the president of the institute.

"This polarized debate around the climate science in fact is getting in the way and masks the amount of consensus that we have for concrete change," she said.

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