Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Inside Climate News laments the collapse of recently deceased Republican John McCain‘s efforts to build a bipartisan climate policy.
John McCain’s Climate Change Legacy
The senator from Arizona brought climate science into Capitol Hill hearings and cap-and-trade legislation to a vote, but then moderate Republican politics changed.
By Marianne Lavelle
AUG 26, 2018
Among the many battles Sen. John McCain waged in his storied career, it is easy to overlook his fight for U.S. action on climate change.
He wrote legislation that failed. He built a bipartisan coalition that crumbled. And when Congress came closest to passing a bill that embraced his central idea—a market-based cap-and-trade system—McCain turned his back.
And yet, McCain’s nearly decade-long drive on global warming had an impact that reverberates in today’s efforts to revive the U.S. role in the climate fight. In the Senate chamber and on the campaign trail, the Arizona Republican did more than any other U.S. politician has done before or since to advance the conservative argument for climate action.
Today’s efforts to recruit GOP members into the climate movement—appeals to conservative and religious values, the framing of climate change as a national security threat, efforts to stress market-based solutions and the role business leaders can play—all owe a debt to McCain.
At the same time, McCain’s climate journey and its abrupt end serve as a cautionary tale of how far the Republican party has moved from a mainstream conservatism that is receptive to such appeals.
“What McCain did on climate is a really great reminder of where we need to get back to,” said Kevin Curtis, executive director of NRDC Action. As an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill in the 2000s, Curtis watched close-up as McCain crafted the first economy-wide climate legislation in the U.S. with one of his closest friends in the chamber, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democrat who would later turn Independent.
“Lieberman and McCain were really good examples of a Democrat and Republican intentionally, consciously and thoughtfully trying to work across the aisle to build a 60-vote coalition in the Senate on climate,” said Curtis. “The point of looking at McCain’s legacy, I think, is not to just look back to the ‘good old days,’ but to look at what we need to get back to.”
I accept the view that McCain was motivated by a desire to do good, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Since the heady victory of President Trump it has been easy to forget that much of the world, much of the USA is still firmly in the grip of the climate rent seekers. After decades of rolling back opportunities for politicians to steal public funds, the climate crisis has opened the way for a new era of dodgy donations and kickbacks from people whom I believe are cloaking their efforts to help themselves to taxpayer’s money with noisy proclamations of their desire to save the world.
Political corruption, once entrenched, is difficult to root out. McCain, despite his best intentions, helped bring us to this point.