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Three Ways to Cull the Candidates

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/10/2015 William S. Becker

If you are a Republican voter who is undecided about whom to support in your heavily populated field of presidential candidates, there is an easy way to narrow your choices. It might help you sort out the congressional races next year, too.
Here it is: Anyone who says that nothing can or should be done about global climate change is not qualified to hold public office. It's as simple as that. A president who ignores the threat of climate change is as bad as a president who ignores the threat of terrorism (see the evidence at the end of this post).
2015-10-06-1444153941-7470539-Bury_your_head_in_the_sand.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-06-1444153941-7470539-Bury_your_head_in_the_sand.jpg
If you want to narrow the field even more, here is a second test: Who among the candidates promises to build upon rather than reverse the climate policies put in place by President Barack Obama?
And one more: Since several of the candidates now recognize that the U.S. cannot solve the climate problem alone, who among them supports our meaningful involvement in an international climate agreement?
Some will argue that this is too narrow a set of criteria for judging the candidates' qualifications. There are several issues on Republican voters' minds - immigration, same-sex marriage, Planned Parenthood, etc. But there are good reasons for global warming to be the wedge issue in next year's elections.
First, credible experts have warned us that the more we keep fiddling while the planet warms, the more expensive the consequences will be. In economic terms, every decade of delay increases the cost of mitigating climate change by 40%, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Anybody who worries about the cost of government should worry about procrastinating on climate action.
In human terms, the cost of delay already is tragic. Barely a week goes by without the nightly news reporting that millions of Americans are in the paths of violent storms, flooding rivers, wildfires or droughts that are "historic", "biblical", "unprecedented" and "the worst since we began keeping records".
Second, a candidate's position on climate change tells us something about where his or her loyalties lie. The president is the only official in the United States elected by all of the American people, or at least all who vote. We are all his or her constituents. Three of every four of us want the federal government to do a "substantial amount" to curb global warming. Eighty-three percent of us, including 61% of Republicans and 86% of Independents, believe that global warming will be a serious problem if we do nothing to slow it.
So, ignoring climate change is ignoring the wishes of the majority of Americans. The candidates' positions on global warming are indications of what they put first: the American people or the wealthy contributors who want the carbon economy to continue. The other reasons climate doubters site -- for example that clean energy is more expensive and creates fewer jobs -- have been discredited by the actual experiences of the emerging green energy economy.
Third, climate change is not a single-issue issue. It is many important issues rolled into one. It will - and in several cases already does - have an adverse impact on energy security, economic stability, national security, immigration, food prices, water supplies, public health, safety from drought, floods, wildfires and coastal erosion and, as I mentioned, the federal deficit. The flip side is that climate action has far-reaching multiple benefits for the American people.
Fourth, the candidates' positions on climate change are indications of their capacities to recognize and manage the many other risks that threaten our security and stability. Risk management is what occupies much if not most of the time and talent of the people in the White House. In fact, risk management is arguably a president's most important job.
As so many security and intelligence experts have pointed out, it makes little difference what politicians think about climate science. What's important is that they pay attention to the risk that the science is accurate. With the weight of the evidence available today, no responsible candidate or elected official would dismiss this risk. The stakes of being wrong are simply too high.
The second litmus test - whether the candidates will build upon rather than undo what the Obama Administration has done - is important because nearly all of the progress the Administration has made lacks the permanence of law; it can be undone by the stroke of the next president's pen. We have been warned by those who should know: There is no time to backslide.
So there it is: a simple three-stage test to determine who is qualified to occupy the Oval Office. When we apply it to the Republicans still in the race for the presidency, only two of the 15 candidates - George Pataki and Lindsey Graham -- come close to passing. Unfortunately for all of us, a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center (p. 27) indicates that at this point, fewer than 1% of likely Republican voters support either of them as the party's next presidential nominee.
* * *
President Obama drew a lot of flak in February when he indicated that climate change is a more dangerous threat than terrorism, but the numbers show he is correct. As the Worldwatch Institute and New Republic magazine have reported, the number of deaths from terrorism around the world averaged 7,700 annually between 2000 and 2013. By comparison, 400,000 people worldwide died in just one year (2010) as a result of climate change. The statistic comes from a study commissioned by 20 governments in 2012. The same study found that 5 million people died in 2010 as a result of climate change combined with other adverse impacts from carbon fuels.
Photo credit: Sander van der Wel

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