Few natural disasters epitomize the political dilemma facing climate-change activists more than the massive glacier in West Antarctica beginning an irreversible slide into the ocean. Scientists, who earlier this month described the event as a mini-apocalypse, warned its dissolution would raise sea levels to catastrophic heights for coastal cities and countries.
But back on America's campaign trail, the news didn't merit so much as a press release from most candidates. They instead kept up the steady drumbeat of talk about jobs, the debt, and the occasional social issue — the kind of issues that are more relevant to voters' everyday lives than ice melting thousands of miles away.
Even as scientists warn about the mounting dangers of climate change, the political operatives are confronting the same problem that has plagued the movement to curb carbon dioxide emissions for decades: How can they make the dangers of global warming real for voters?
It's a challenge that's taking on extra urgency this year, especially once President Obama — as expected — announces on Monday an aggressive set of new regulations to curb greenhouse-gas emissions in the nation's power plants. And it's one that a flotilla of environmental groups, spearheaded by a $100 million effort from hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer, are working overtime to address ahead of the midterm elections. They're convinced that in 2014, with the electorate starting to feel the effects of climate change, politics will turn in their favor in a battery of key races.
How can they make the dangers of global warming real for voters?
"We view this is as pivotal year to demonstrate exactly that question: Can climate be used as wedge issues in campaigns?" said Chris Lehane, a senior adviser to the Steyer-backed group NextGen Climate Action.