The Environmental Legacy of Senator John McCain, 1936-2018
As news outlets around the country reflect on Senator John McCain's life and legacy following his death at 81 on Saturday, one strand that emerges is his attempts as a Senator to push bipartisan action on climate change.
In early 2003, McCain joined with then-Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman to introduce the Climate Stewardship Act, which The New York Times editorial about his death called "the first serious bipartisan bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions by putting a price on carbon."
While the 2003 bill failed, and McCain stepped back from climate leadership during and after his 2008 bid for president, his earlier efforts still stand as a model for future legislative attempts to combat climate change.
"Lieberman and McCain were really good examples of a Democrat and Republican intentionally, consciously and thoughtfully trying to work across the aisle to build a 60-vote coalition in the Senate on climate," Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund Executive Director Kevin Curtis, who was an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill during the 2000s, told InsideClimateNews. "The point of looking at McCain's legacy, I think, is not to just look back to the 'good old days,' but to look at what we need to get back to."
McCain first became interested in climate change during his 2000 primary bid for president, when student activists asked his campaign about its climate action plans.
In May 2000, he held the first of three Senate hearings on climate change he would convene that year, inviting scientists to testify about issues like melting ice-shelves in Antarctica and the death of coral reefs.
"It was an excellent hearing and I gained a lot of respect for John McCain at that time," hearing witness and senior National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth told InsideClimateNews. "He appeared to have an open mind on what the answers were and what to do about it."
McCain was also willing to stand up to his party's leadership in order to force a vote on his 2003 bill. Both he and Lieberman refused to support an energy bill Senate Majority Leader Republican Bill Frist and Senate Minority Leader Democrat Tom Daschle were trying to get passed until the Senate would allow a floor vote on their Climate Stewardship Act, which would have passed an economy-wide cap-and-trade program for carbon similar to the program in place for acid rain.
Their bill ultimately failed, but the vote was important for signaling to activists where senators actually stood on climate action.
"Obviously, it hasn't yet resulted in getting a comprehensive climate bill through Congress, but it's a big issue, kind of like the civil right issue," Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp told InsideClimateNews. "When we do get there, [McCain] will go down in history as someone who started that progress in a forceful way."
In 2004, Lieberman and McCain introduced a reworked version of the bill, but it failed again in 2005 after increased lobbying by the fossil fuel industry.
While McCain never rejected climate science, he stepped away from leadership on the issue during his 2008 campaign, in which he came out in support of increasing offshore oil drilling, and afterwards, when he faced a primary challenger for his Senate seat who criticized his former climate leadership and was funded by the group Citizens United, which had successfully sued to overturn important parts of his groundbreaking campaign finance reform legislation.
"There's no sugar-coating the fact that he shelved his leadership role on climate for a while," Curtis told InsideClimateNews. "But instead of blaming John McCain for walking away from an issue and not showing up, we should be saying 'holy crap, something profound has happened with the Republican Party,'"
McCain did get one more chance to stand up for the environment in a big way during the Trump administration, as Environment & Energy Report pointed out.
In May 2017, he cast a surprise vote that secured the only defeat of an attempt by Republicans in the current session of Congress to repeal an Obama-era regulation
The bill in question would have used the Congressional Review Act to repeal an Obama-era regulation targeting methane emissions, and McCain objected in part because the repeal would have stopped federal agencies from passing any similar rules in the future.
"Improving the control of methane emissions is an important public health and air quality issue," McCain said in a statement at the time, according to Environment & Energy Report.Beyond climate change, McCain has also been praised by the National Park Service and the Grand Canyon Association for his work preserving the iconic Arizona landmark and by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions for his work to fund fish hatchery repairs near Hoover Dam and water conservation at Colorado River reservoirs, Environment & Energy report wrote.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
- Planting Projects, Backyard Habitats Can Re-Create Livable Natural ... ›
- Humans Are Destroying Wildlife at an Unprecedented Rate, New ... ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Scientists Warn Worse Pandemics Are on the Way if We Don't ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
- The Vicious Climate-Wildfire Cycle - EcoWatch ›
- How Climate Change Ignites Wildfires From California to South Africa ›
- 31 Dead, 250,000 Evacuated in California Fires as Governor ... ›
World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, check your prescription.