Federal action on climate change? Maybe in 2008.
A very positive story on possible US action on climate change. Two potential presidential candidates for the elections of 2008 have visited Alaska. You can be as cynical as you like about the comments made by this pair, but after visiting Alaska and talking to both locals and scientists I don't think many people could remain unconvinced about the reality of the situation.
A climate change in US attitudes
|By Andrew Buncombe|
On a high-profile bipartisan fact-finding tour of Alaska and Canada's Yukon territory, Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic senator for New York, were confronted by melting permafrost, shrinking glaciers and heard first-hand from Inuit how rising sea levels were irrevocably altering their lives.
"The question is how much damage will be done before we start taking concrete action.
"Go up to places like we just came from. It's a little scary," McCain said in Anchorage.
Said Clinton: "I don't think there's any doubt left for anybody who actually looks at the science. There are still some holdouts, but they're fighting a losing battle. The science is overwhelming."
Their comments challenge President George W. Bush's reluctance to legislate to reduce the level of America's carbon emissions.
Although both senators have talked of the need to tackle global warming, this week's clarion call was perhaps the clearest and most urgent.
It also raises the prospect that climate change and other environmental issues could be a factor in the 2008 presidential contest if Clinton and McCain contest the race. Both are widely expected to do so.
Clinton and McCain, who represents Arizona, are among the leading - and certainly the most popular - likely contenders.
It was not by chance that they chose Alaska as the stage from which to force global warming on to the American political agenda.
In many ways this separated US state is the frontline in the global warming debate. Environmentalists say the signs of climate change are more obvious there than perhaps anywhere else in the US.
Dan Lashof, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defence Council, a respected Washington-based group, said: "People in Alaska are starting to freak out. The retreat of the sea ice allows the oceans to pound the coast more and villages there are suffering from the effects of that erosion.
"Permafrost is melting, roads are buckling, forests have been infested with beetles because of a rise in temperatures.
"I think residents there feel it's visible more and more - more than any other place in the country."
Campaigners say the position adopted by McCain and Clinton stands in stark contrast to that adopted by Bush, whose Administration has repeatedly questioned the evidence of global warming and the contribution of human activity to any shift.
Bush, who in 2001 refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty on global warming just weeks after he took office, has repeatedly been accused of doing nothing to enforce tighter controls on emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases".
Meanwhile, the US National Academy of Sciences - and the scientific academies of the other G8 nations as well as Brazil, China and India - issued a statement this summer saying there was strong evidence that significant global warming was under way and that "it is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities".
It called on world leaders to recognise "that delayed action will increase the risk of adverse environmental effects and will likely incur a greater cost".
Lashof said: "[The comments] are not new for McCain and Clinton but for them to use a week of the August recess to go up there and see the implications first-hand is important and significant."
Clinton, who must first win her re-election bid for the US Senate next year if she is to contest the 2008 White House race, said she had spoken to a number of scientists as well as native Alaskans during the trip.
She said that flying over the Yukon she saw forests decimated by spruce bark beetles - believed to be growing at an unprecedented rate because of warmer weather.
She was also struck by what she heard from a 93-year-old woman she met at a fish camp at Whitehorse, Yukon.
The woman told her she had been fishing there all her life but that lately the fish had strange bumps on them.
"It's just heartbreaking to see the devastation," said Clinton.
She and McCain, with Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, also travelled to Barrow, the northernmost city in the US. There, they spoke to scientists and Inupiaq Eskimos who are troubled by rising sea levels.
They also travelled to Seward to see shrinking glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park.
McCain - with Senator Joe Lieberman - is behind proposed legislation that would require power-generating companies to reduce carbon emissions to their 2000 levels.
Graham, a Republican, said he was on the fence in regard to the new legislation but had been moved by what he had seen on the trip.
"Climate change is different when you come here, because you see the faces of people experiencing it in Alaska," he said.
"If you can go to the native people and listen to their stories and walk away with any doubt that something's going on, I just think you're not listening."
Collins, a Democrat, was even more convinced. She said the evidence in Alaska represented the "canary in the mine shaft of global warming crying out to us to pay attention to the impact".
Alaska's own congressional delegation of two senators and a representative did not take part in the tour and has opposed any mandatory limits on carbon emissions.
A spokesman for Senator Lisa Murkowski said she had been misrepresented in reports that said she doubted the evidence of global warming.
Elliot Bundy said: "Where there is a difference of opinion is regarding the extent of global warming and of the methods that need to be taken to deal with it."