Environmentalism, long consigned to the sidelines, is about to move onto center stage as the hottest button in our politics. And politicians had better start adjusting to the change.
The increased saliency of the green issue stems from three concurrent trends:
• The rising price of gasoline, oil and home heating fuel makes it evident to every American — except for some who work for the White House — that we have to get serious about alternatives to oil-based fuels at home and in our cars.
• The global focus on terrorism and the resistance of terrorist groups to our efforts at detection and suppression make it obvious that the only viable long-term strategy for fighting terrorism is to stop buying the oil that provides them with the money they need for their mayhem.
• Hurricanes like Katrina and Rita make it obvious that the global climate is changing and lend credibility to those who call for steps to reverse man-made warming trends. With 40 percent of Americans, in a recent national poll, blaming hurricanes on global warming and Time magazine featuring the linkage on its cover, the Kyoto issue is going to rise in importance.
This coalition of consumers, patriots and greens is the new political movement that will begin reshaping American politics. Voters are not going to buy the standard Republican solutions to the environment and energy problems of more exploration, drilling and production of oil and opening up of offshore and Arctic lands to oil companies.
People realize that the key is to stem the addiction by converting to alternative fuels rather than to temporize by seeking new oil fields. And they get that even if we find more oil we will still find ourselves slowly destroying our planet and rather quickly energizing hurricanes and other weather catastrophes.
Bush is far, far behind on this issue and, with his oil company background, seems incapable of responding to the new environmentalism and the revised priorities it is bringing with it. Democrats are scrambling to embrace global warming as an issue but are woefully short of solutions. They revel in a recitation of the problem instead. Other than California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), nobody has staked out the need to switch to hydrogen, wind, biofuels and solar energy as alternatives to oil dependency.
The issue of new energy sources and national conversion is truly the fumbled football on the 50-yard line of our politics, accessible to either party, depending on which has the wisdom, foresight and audacity to recover the ball and score with it.
Al GoreAl GoreObamas sign with agency for speaking gigs Pence to attend Super Bowl: report The war against science MORE, who has always led on this issue, may want to reconsider his retirement now that America is finally ready to hear what he has to say. Sen Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) should think about focusing on environmental and energy issues rather than devoting her rhetoric to targets of partisan opportunity that present themselves.
But mostly it is the president who has a capacity to lead on this issue. Converting from oil is truly the issue that could dominate his second term and give him an agenda with which to control events, which he sadly seems to lack. All he needs to do is to pay attention to what is happening around him to grasp the importance of a fundamental approach to switching away from oil.
But if his response to rising gasoline prices is a laissez-faire shrug and his attitude toward increased home heating oil charges is a band-aid subsidy, he will miss a chance for leadership and abandon his best shot to leave this nation a much better place than he found it.
It took a catastrophe to awaken Americans to the energy/environment issue. But Sept. 11, the doubling of energy prices and the storms in the Gulf of Mexico have catalyzed a focus that would have been impossible in normal times. It is just up to the politicians of either party of get the message and provide leadership.
Morris is the author of Rewriting History, a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History.