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Juan Williams: Clinton on winning side on climate change

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NASA announced last week that July 2016 was the hottest month in the recorded history of planet Earth. And last month, the agency reported that the first six months of this year was, overall, the hottest half-year in recorded history. 

That news came as a spate of record-breaking floods killed people and destroyed property from Maryland to West Virginia to Louisiana.

{mosads}Something big is going on, threatening coastlines, crops and wildlife. But Republicans and Democrats — in a polarized Congress and across the country — can’t agree on what’s causing the heat and destruction. They also can’t agree on what to do about it.

A Stanford study recently found, in the words of the Associated Press, that while “90 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of independents believe global warming will be a serious or very serious problem for the United States, barely half of Republicans feel that way.”

“It’s more politically polarizing than abortion,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, told the news agency last week. “It’s more politically polarizing than gay marriage.”

In the interview, Leiserowitz noted other surveys had indicated that “17 percent of Americans, the fastest-growing group, are alarmed by climate change and want action now.” A further 28 percent of Americans say they are concerned but believe the consequences will only be truly felt far in the future. Still, another 27 percent basically say they can’t decide. But 10 percent of Americans totally dismiss claims of climate change. 

That political divide is on display in the presidential campaign. 

“I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change,” GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump told a Florida journalist this month when asked about its effects on coastal communities in the Sunshine State. “There could be some impact, but I don’t believe it’s devastating impact.” 

Previously, Trump had tweeted “Any and all weather events are used by the GLOBAL WARMING HOAXSTERS to justify higher taxes to save our planet! They don’t believe it $$$$!”

In 2012, Trump famously tweeted “Let’s continue to destroy the competitiveness of our factories & manufacturing so we can fight mythical global warming. China is so happy!”

Mike Pence, Trump’s vice presidential nominee, was one of the most vocal climate-change deniers in Congress during his tenure, saying flatly “global warming is a myth” on his campaign website.

Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is calling out Trump and Republicans for being blinded to scientific reality by politics.

“I believe in science,” Clinton said in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last month. “I believe that climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying clean energy jobs.”

There is also good political reason for Clinton to fight Trump and Pence on the issue.

At a minimum, she gains points with environmentalists and the large number of young voters who, according to polls, strongly believe there is a climate change problem. And it is not just young people. A Gallup poll taken in March found that 64 percent of Americans say they are concerned a “great deal or a fair amount” about global warming — the highest number in eight years.

Trump, however, sees political gain in downplaying climate change. He promises to reopen coal mines and reopen smokestack industries in Midwest states such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Voters in those states could be turned off by a Clinton embrace of more regulations to combat climate change, fearing it will cost them money and jobs. 

The latest RealClearPolitics polling average shows Clinton with a solid lead over Trump in two of those three states: 7 percent in Michigan, 9 percent in Pennsylvania. If her lead grows to double digits, she may feel liberated to take an even harder line on climate change. 

President Obama, in his last months in office, is adding to the pressure on Trump and the GOP majority in Congress. Last week, he released new fuel efficiency standards on “heavy-duty” trucks and equipment in order to meet a goal agreed on with Canada and Mexico for half of all power in North America to be free of carbon dioxide by 2025.

The president devoted his entire weekly address to the issue two weeks ago. 

“One of the most urgent challenges of our time is climate change,” Obama declared. “We know that 2015 surpassed 2014 as the warmest year on record — and 2016 is on pace to be even hotter.”

“There’s still much more to do,” he said, challenging Congress to build on the progress made in the Paris Agreement last year where the nations of the world proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which cause climate change.  

Even after Obama leaves the White House, the issue will remain at the front of the political agenda. Congress is going to have to deal with reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program next year. 

As a political issue, climate change is definitely heating up. Expect one of the candidates to get burned on it in the debates; the polls show the candidate on the defensive will be Trump.

Every climate change-induced natural disaster, between now and the election, presents an opportunity for Clinton to portray Trump as whistling past the Louisiana flood waters. 

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel. His latest book, “We The People: The Modern-Day Figures Who Have Reshaped and Affirmed the Founding Fathers’ Vision of America” published by Crown, is out now.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mike Pence

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