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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

McCain on Climate Change

Air Date: Week of

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Republican Senator John McCain recently joined democratic senator John Kerry in trying to push the White House administration to curb global gas emissions. As Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports, Senator McCain's stance is contrary to many members of his own party.


CURWOOD: This is Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As diplomats around the world resume negotiations in Bonn, Germany, over the Kyoto protocol to combat global warming, all eyes are on the United States. Every since President Bush declared this spring that he would not support the agreement, the world has waited to see what detailed counterproposal the White House would offer. Among those waiting are members of the United States Senate, who advise and give consent to the President on foreign treaties.

Recently Democratic senator John Kerry of Massachusetts called a hearing of the Commerce Committee to discuss cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Joining the Democrat was Arizona Republican John McCain. Senator McCain has broken ranks with his fellow Republicans on a number of issues, such as campaign finance reform, and now he's questioning President Bush's stance on climate change. Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports.

TOOMEY: Senator John Kerry, who chairs the committee, opened the meeting by saying he had sent invitations to senior officials of the Bush administration to come testify. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chief of Staff Andrew Card were at the top of the list. But the only administration representative who showed up was a scientist from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Senator Kerry was not pleased.

KERRY: But I do regret that other officials have not come to share with us their thinking, just their views at this point, about what some of the possibilities are. This is not a political exercise, this is a policy exercise, one that we're engaged in inquisitively.

TOOMEY: Senator Kerry then went on to attack the White House position on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

KERRY: And as we listened to the President of the administration say, "Well, we're studying this," we're in fact being misled. Because the President is not just studying this; the President has, in fact, taken actions.

TOOMEY: Negative actions, Kerry says. He lambasted President Bush for reneging on his campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, rejecting the Kyoto Protocol without offering alternatives, and proposing an energy plan that would actually increase, Kerry says, this country's carbon dioxide emissions.

Senator Kerry's remarks come as no shock. The Massachusetts Democrat has been working on the issue of climate change since the late 1980s. He's even attended some of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. So, the real surprise came from the ranking Republican on the committee.

McCAIN: I'm not sure, Mr. Chairman, if we should wait till every scientist in America agrees that this is a serious and almost unprecedented challenge.

TOOMEY: Senator John McCain, perhaps George Bush's biggest rival in the Republican party, vigorously questioned the only person from the Bush administration to show up at the hearing. He grilled N.O.A.A. scientist David Evans on the certainly of global warming.

McCAIN: The body of scientific opinion is--and please correct me if I'm wrong here--that there is global warming, it just depends. It's the end of that curve that goes on since the beginning of time. It depends on whether you believe that there's high end of global warming or a low end of global warming, but all of it is higher than ever observed before. Is that correct?

EVANS: Absolutely correct, yes sir.

McCAIN: So now, we have a body of scientific opinion that agrees that climate change is a reality. The debate is not whether it's happening, the debate is the extent of it. Is that an accurate statement?

TOOMEY: Dr. Evans said yes, but added, it's very difficult to adequately predict how much warming may occur in the future. But the scientist, under questioning from Senator McCain, went on to confirm that the effects of global warming, such as the bleaching of coral reefs and melting of glaciers, have already begun. With that, Senator McCain suggested that the time for waiting is over.

McCAIN: There seems to me there's a rather long list of observable impacts, which should give, it seems to me, some urgency, should lend some urgency to at least modest action.

TOOMEY: As for direct criticism of the White House, Senator McCain was a bit muted. He said he was not appreciative of the Bush administration's lack of involvement in the hearing and hoped, in his words, for "a better response to future invitations." Still, McCain says he believes the administration is committed to some action on global warming. But as the world's environment ministers gather for the next round of Kyoto Protocol negotiations, just what that White House action might be is unclear. For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.



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