As you may have heard, the prospect of catastrophic climate change is something that's been the subject of increasing concern over the past 10-15 years. Emerging from the fringes of public consciousness, the notion that carbon emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuel are playing a major role in causing temperatures to increase worldwide and that the continuation of this trend could have dire results for human and animal life around the planet has become a very mainstream notion recently. Indeed, forging a global compact to address this issue has become one of the very highest priorities of most of America's key allies in the rich world along with an extremely pressing concern for many developing nations. Indeed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has decided to make climate change and the need to combat it the key issue of his tenure in office. On top of these urgent statements from allies and potential allies that the United States needs to get involved, our failure to take action to address this problem has become such an embarrassment that Osama bin Laden is making propaganda hay out of it.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Al Gore has recently won both an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to draw attention to the problem. These efforts, meanwhile, seem to be succeeding in ways that are reflected in the polls but also on the ground, as more and more companies seek environment-friendly branding and public relations, NBC Universal stages a "green" week, so on and so forth.
The leading candidates for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination have all responded to this public, diplomatic, and elite concern with fairly similar policies grounded in the scientific consensus that sharp reduction in US carbon emissions are necessary, and in the economics consensus that the most efficient way to achieve those reductions is by putting a price on carbon emissions -- either in the form of a tax, or in the form of an auction of tradeable emissions permits. The Republican Party, meanwhile, remains mired in half-measures that don't address the full of extent of the problem and don't even accomplish what they do accomplish in an efficient manner. And those are the good Republicans! Others, like the President of the United States of America and several of the leading contenders to replace him remain mired in denial about the extent or nature of the problem, and are so in hock to special interests in the coal and oil industries that they're unable to acknowledge that failing to adopt mandatory emission curbs will have some dramatic deleterious consequences.
The Washington Post's headline writers, under the time honored principled Everything is Bad News for Democrats, naturally decides to sum that situation up as "Climate is Risky Issue for Democrats". The article itself, I might add, is much better, with reporter Juliet Eilprin downplaying the horse race angle in favor of saying something about the policies at hand, quoting pollster Stan Greenberg's observation that "It's a huge issue. I've been stunned by this" before turning to the Dems-are-doomed theory, and quoting Newt Gingrich's view that "a candidate who's anti-environment and denies global warming gets killed in the suburbs."
Photo by Flickr user Chisvick used under a Creative Commons license
Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.