Sunday, October 21

Tancrazy Train: Tanc-ing on the Environment

In November of 2004, voters had a lot on their minds. Depending on which polls you believed, the Iraq war, terrorism, the economy and those nebulous “moral issues” weighed heavy on America’s collective conscience when we cast our ballots (or touched the Diebold screens). Most exit polls placed the environment and conservation much lower on the priority list.

Three years later, a documentary about global warming has taken home an Oscar, and its director has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Al Gore’s stud-status has never been higher, and along with it, public awareness about global warming. Hollywood A-listers are taking up the crusade, and mags like Vanity Fair are devoting big, sexy issues to all things green. Having a hybrid ranks somewhere between having a bump and having a stint or two in rehab on the celebrity hip list.

And if it takes Leo or even Steve-O to make Americans care about safe drinking water and animal welfare, so be it. We’ll take what we can get. The real question is whether this burgeoning cause celebre will translate into action in the political arena. Will all the hype be enough to put the environment on the voting public’s radar come November 2008?

In the interest of informing such a debate, Outside magazine has teamed up with the online environmental news hub Grist to provide comprehensive coverage of candidates’ energy plans and environmental positions. So far, the project has published interviews with all of the Democratic candidates and most of the Republicans.

Last week, the site posted its interview with Tom Tancredo; the purpose, ostensibly, was to dig more deeply into Tancredo’s views.

They didn’t find much. In their summary of Tancredo, the editors concluded that the Colorado Representative has “no discernable positions on dealing with climate and energy issues.”

“Tancredo has voted in favor of the Bush administration’s policies,” the piece continues, “so it’s safe to assume he’d continue them.”

As Grist and Outside pointed out, Tancredo’s Web site exhaustively addresses immigration issues, and gives at least passing conservative lip service to abortion, gay marriage and “judicial activism”. Nowhere on his platform is the environment listed.

It doesn’t mention, for example, that he favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Or that he’s all for carving up Colorado’s pristine Roan Plateau in search of gas. Or that he voted to strip endangered species of the critical habitat they need to thrive. Or that he counts Bush’s oxymoronic Healthy Forests Initiative as one of his greatest personal environmental accomplishments.

Tancredo’s lackluster performance in the Grist/Outside interview (Sample question: Interviewer: “Who is your environmental hero?” Tancredo: “I have none.”) does nothing but confirm his status as a one-issue candidate woefully out of step with public opinion and scientific progress (he dismissed Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as “fiction”).

More Americans than ever are demanding that our government clean up its act — literally. Lacking a stance on the environment won’t cut it much longer. The 2008 election cycle, and hopefully those thereafter, could very well be the one in which we finally see this changing ethos reflected in the attitudes and actions of our elected officials. And whether a little coaxing from George Clooney helped us along, well, it’s not a bad fringe benefit.

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