A Good Year for Greens?

The past year’s had its environmental ups and downs, but on one point greens can feel proud: Climate change, the most important environmental issue of our time, has finally gained global recognition as a real and pressing threat. Whether you give the credit to Al Gore’s evangelism, an increasingly clear scientific consensus, or concerted pressure from Europe and the developing world, global warming has secured a place on the political agenda.

There’s no time, though, for environmentalists to rest on their laurels: If 2007 was the year the climate movement broke into the political mainstream, 2008 needs to be the year in which that newfound momentum and credibility translates into real and decisive action. We’re already feeling the effects of global warming, and unless we cut greenhouse emissions fast and hard, it’ll be too late to reverse the trend.

Fortunately, there are signs of real progress on the horizon. In Congress, lawmakers are finally working on serious climate legislation; the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade plan is making its way through the Senate, and energy committee chair John Dingell has promised to introduce similar measures in the House. And while last month’s talks in Bali didn’t produce firm emissions commitments, they helped isolate America’s remaining climate-change skeptics, sending Washington a clear signal that the international community was no longer willing to tolerate its inaction.

By far the best news for greens, though, is that 2008 is an American election year - and one way or another, that will mean the end of the Bush era. The current tenant of the Oval Office has done more than just about anyone else to stymie both the US climate lobby and international efforts to tackle global warming; his departure should clear the way for a new wave of climate initiatives both at home and abroad.

It’s important to remember, though, that while Bush’s exit will remove a major roadblock, it won’t in itself be a panacea for our environmental woes; the policies adopted by his successor will prove just as important. So far, the Democratic hopefuls have all committed to ambitious climate measures - but of the Republican candidates, only John McCain has come close to talking seriously about how his administration would address global warming.

The next US president will preside over the world’s last chance to avert catastrophic climate change; there won’t be enough time for the world to out-wait another apathetic administration. Ultimately, then, whether 2008 proves another good year for greens lies in the hands of America’s voters; let’s hope they remember what’s at stake.