America is an amazing country. Yes we have our share of problems, but by and large we have a good thing going and a lot to be proud of, particularly in terms of our political process. There are few times where the unique qualities of our democratic system are more front and center than during Presidential election season. Now I am a self-confessed political junkie, and TIVO has enabled me to watch up to 5-6 different news programs a night sans ads (bless you TIVO) to get all sides of the day’s events: NBC for big national headlines, BBC for global perspective, Chris Matthews for political commentary, Jim Lehrer to dive deeper into policy issues, Bill O’Reilly to see what the right wingers are saying, etc. The media is in full swing now covering an election that may be the most important in many generations in terms of the myriad serious issues we face ranging from global warming to terrorism to health care to immigration. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly do.
Now election cycles come and go, and I have followed them all since Carter/Reagan pretty closely, but something feels different this time around — and I think it has a lot to do with global warming. My hypothesis is that, in a very strange way, global warming is bringing people together. A cut to the chase example: an Islamic jihadist has just as little interest in an uninhabitable planet as a Texas Republican. This is an extreme version of my point of course, but I believe the theory holds true for all of us regardless of religion, politics, nationality, etc. And it is all unfolding before our eyes in this election cycle because we all share a stake in getting this one right.
What has struck me in this cycle is the tone the candidates on both sides of the aisle have taken when discussing issues of sustainability, global warming, environmental degradation, etc. Even the “let the market figure it out” Republicans are acknowledging global warming as a key issue to be addressed by the incoming President in 2008 and that a new style of leadership is required. Perhaps I am just looking for what I want to see and hear, but I really feel something different is happening out there. A lot of this is probably being driven by Barack Obama’s message of change (which has clearly struck a chord), but I really see this tonal difference across all the candidates – and very much hope it continues after the election is over regardless of who wins.
While the devil will be in the details (Kyoto? Mandatory caps? GHG legislation? Wall St carbon trading markets?) — and I can’t wait to see the specific actions taken by our future President — the change in tone alone is something I am wildly happy to see. The Bush administration has resisted joining the global community in its response to the pressing environmental issues we face from day one, and the first step to undoing the mess the new President will inherit will be to change the tone of the dialogue with the rest of the world. We even need to change the tone we take with each other here at home and recognize that we are all in this together. For example, how crazy is it that 540 US Mayors ratified Kyoto for their cities without the backing of their own Federal government?
So regardless of your politics this apparent change in tone is promising news…because we all like clean air and water, we all like hiking in healthy forests, we all want our kids to see tigers and gorillas in the wild, we all prefer temperatures in the 60-80 degree range, etc. Thus, our next leader needs to, at the very least, acknowledge that all global citizens have a shared interest in a healthy planet, in promoting sustainable lifestyles, and in protecting species and habitat for future generations. He or she needs to come out of the gate continuing the positive, open tone the candidates have taken on the campaign trail, and to finally engage with the rest of the world in addressing problems whose time have come.