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Environment

The Greenhouse Effect

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorOctober 11, 2012 2:28 PM

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A blogger at Daily Kos rewinds back to the 1988 vice presidential debate and discovers that a question about global warming was posed to Dan Quayle about the the "Greenhouse Effect":

I guess that's what they called it back then, before Global Warming and Climate Change became popular...There was no, do you think it is real, or anything like that. I mean the question was asked in a matter of fact way as if it was accepted fact. Even more to my surprise, Quayle answered that a Bush/Quayle administration would work hard to combat the problem. I couldn't believe my ears!! Have we really regressed that far, that 24 years later we don't even accept the science now when the situation is much worse...let alone that fact that back then even Republicans said they would address the problem...

People have short memories. In January of 2008, here's what John McCain said when he was vying to be the Republican Presidential candidate:

I will clean up the planet. I will make global warming a priority.

While on the campaign stump later that year, after he had pretty much locked up the Republican nomination, the LA Times reported:

Referring to melting glaciers in the Arctic Ocean and the vanishing habitats of polar bears and walruses, the Arizona senator and presumptive Republican nominee for president said it was time to stop quibbling over the causes of global warming. He pledged to "deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring."

And as the New York Times noted one month before the 2008 Presidential election, when it came to climate change, there was little daylight between the Democratic and Republican candidates:

Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama part company on many issues, but they agree that the Bush administration's policies on global warming were far too weak. Both candidates say that human-caused climate change is real and urgent, and that they would sharply diverge from President Bush's course by proposing legislation requiring sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury.

So the question isn't what happened between 1988 and 2012, as some are suggesting, but what happened since 2008? Well, for starters, there's the obvious: The economy was in a free fall when Obama got elected, so that changed the political dynamic. But the politics of global warming also became more one-sided, with the rise of the Tea Party as a dominant force in the Republican party. As the National Journal reported in 2011,

challenging climate science has become, in some circles, as much of a conservative litmus test as opposing taxes.

But if the latest trend on public attitudes holds firm, that litmus test for Republicans may not be viable much longer. This is not to say that partisanship and trench warfare on climate change are going to recede like the world's ice sheets. But in a few years, we may look back at the 2008-2012 period (in terms of climate politics) as an anomaly, owing largely to a confluence of circumstances stemming from the global financial meltdown and the rightward shift of the GOP. If the economy continues to rebound and severe weather continues to be associated with global warming, I bet the politics of climate change will soon return to what they were in 2008, when both major parties in the U.S. agreed that reducing greenhouse gases was an imperative.

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