Last week, John McCain gave a major speech on the environment. Before that, Mitt Romney made alternative energies a focal point of an appearance in Northern Virginia. And before that, Newt Gingrich debated John Kerry on global warming, with both leaders more or less ending in agreement that climate change is a reality and a serious concern. And, of course, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards all focused on the environment for Earth Day, trying to put the issue of global warming and how we stop it front and center in their respective campaigns.
To use a fashion metaphor, it seems that green is the new black. And the environmental movement seems only half-pleased at American politics turning what it sees as the palest shade of green.
It's ironic, of course. Environmental organizations spent a lot of time, money, and effort in the last election cycle to deliver a legitimately environmentally-focused Democratic majority to Congress — and to defeat supposed anti-environment "fascists" like ex-California Rep. Richard Pombo. Yet elected Democrats seem to pay mainly lip service to the pet causes of the environmental movement, while the "green gap" we've all been led to believe exists between the parties gets smaller by the day.
The new Democratic majority in Congress has been quick to pay back two major constituent parts of its base. The anti-war left has been thanked via riders to the Iraq supplemental that set deadlines for withdrawal of American troops. The labor unions have had their payoff, in the House of Representatives at least, via a bill that would enable unions to organize in workplaces based not on a secret ballot election (the pillar of decision-making in the democratic world), but rather based on how many signatures they can get on union cards — by legitimate means or, all too frequently, not.
But what of the devoted greenies, whose money helped put Nancy Pelosi in the speaker's chair? Where is their candy?
The Web site of the Natural Resources Defense Council shows action alerts — petitions to members of Congress that it wishes its supporters to sign — relating to raising fuel-efficiency standards and global-warming legislation. Yet the Democratic Congress has not made either of these issues a priority.
Barack Obama, despite all of his talk of environmentally-sound policy, is a co-sponsor of the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007. Just like the name says, this legislation seeks to promote the use of liquefied coal — an energy source reviled by the NRDC and against which it has launched a negative online advertising campaign.
With friends like these, hard-core environmentalists must be wondering, who needs enemies?
Sure, the Democratic Party has, on the whole, been quicker to accept that climate change is caused by human behavior. But not a single Democrat actually voted against the 1997 Senate resolution saying that America would not be party to the Kyoto Protocol if it did not cover developing nations, or if it would result in harm to the American economy. And the actions of Congressional Democrats today don't suggest that the party as a whole is much more inclined to press on with Kyoto, per se, than it was 10 years ago.
On the flip side, the oft-demonized Republican Party is experiencing a green awakening. Not a single one of the top three presidential candidates in the Republican field in any way disavows climate change — indeed, they all have plans to halt it.
Senator Hagel of Nebraska, who was an architect of Kyoto's final demise during President Bush's first term, has over the last few years sought to move America toward cleaner technologies and fuels through a series of incentive-style bills that were ultimately incorporated into the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Mr. Gingrich endorsed similar schemes when debating Mr. Kerry on the subject of global warming.
Of course, there are still some differences between the parties where environmental policy is concerned, at least at the fringes. The Republican Party is home to Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has branded global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated." But the gap between two parties is shrinking. The majority in each recognizes climate change as a reality — and one that probably has human activity as one of its root causes. What's more, the majorities in both parties shy away from extreme (and likely ineffective) schemes like Kyoto.
The question in American politics is no longer green or not. It's how green does your garden grow.