THE BLOG
10/31/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Ungreening of John McCain

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The sound you hear is the almost daily shifting of position on key environmental issues by the McCain-Palin campaign. Employing contortions worthy of an Olympic gymnast, they are seeking to escape past positions, appeal to a conservative base and yet woo the critical independent vote concerned about pure drinking water, safe food and clean air.

For example, VP candidate Sarah "what climate change" Palin, until recently, sang the Bush-Cheney tune. It does seem warmer, but that's God's will, not man's fault. Unfortunately, even her running mate does not wear such blinders. Neither do the vast majority of Americans who couldn't help but notice those killer hurricanes, persistent droughts, flooding and large ice chunks breaking off the arctic shelf. A recent Gallup poll found that 75% of Americans believe the climate is already warming or will during their lifetime.

Proudly claiming "I'm no Al Gore", now Palin too had had her epiphany, acknowledging that man may have had a hand in this after all.

But just as his running mate turned at least pale green, John McCain went crude oil black. Although running television spots urging that "environmental conservation is no longer just a personal virtue," McCain has made offshore drilling a centerpiece of his campaign -- apparently seeking what Republican Dick Armey calls "the bubba vote". Actually Senator McCain's environmentalism was always suspect. In 2007, he missed all 15 environmental votes scored by the respected League of Conservation Voters (LCV), including automobile energy efficiency legislation that would have reduced our dependence on the oil he seeks off Florida's coastline. McCain's lifetime LCV score is a paltry 24%. Perhaps he believes Abraham Lincoln was wrong. You can fool all of the people all of the time.

Of course, the first victim in most political campaigns is truth. But the next president, whether McCain or Obama, will inherit an unprecedented environmental crisis, deeply intertwined with other major threats confronting the nation. These issues do not lend themselves to simple solutions or phony slogans.

For example, as claimed by some, can we successfully address the energy crisis by retooling the American economy, creating 5 million new jobs? Just what immigration policies should be adopted, both domestically and globally, to respond to anticipated massive migrations - as millions seek to escape climate induced disease and starvation? And how do we deal with the environmental impacts of globalization? Nearly half the mercury now found in the lakes of the Midwest comes from Chinese coal fire power plants. That rapidly industrializing giant now produces more global warming gases than does the U.S.

Closer to home, under a WTO decision, the U.S. has been required to open its border with Mexico to tens of thousands of big rig trucks - a decision McCain enthusiastically supports. Yet that Mexican fleet is decades older that it's US counterpart, and, on average, spews 150% more NOX (the stuff of smog) and 200% more particulate matter (dust and soot) - clogging not only our lungs but also already congested streets and highways.

McCain-Palin also keep pledging "less government". Sorry, we've just been there. The Bush wrecking crew rolled back a host of consumer and workplace protections. We've had lead toys, formaldehyde trailers and e coli tomatoes (or was it the jalapenos?). They've even now found lead in lipstick - neither good for pigs nor people.

The environmental challenges confronting our nation are real, serious and require informed and thoughtful solutions. Perhaps Sarah Palin should actually read Al Gore's several excellent books. Because to be addressed successfully will require presidential leadership, hard choices and some sacrifice. So far, McCain and Palin have provided nothing but polluted hot air.


An environmental lawyer, Al Meyerhoff is the past Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Public Health Program