Super Tuesday: what’s at stake?

And so it begins: Tsunami Tuesday, the single biggest primary event ever held on American soil. By this time tomorrow, voters in 24 states will have had their say, and we’ll have a slightly clearer idea of who’ll be redecorating the Oval Office next January.

So far, the big environmental story of the primary season has been the media’s utter failure to treat climate change as an election issue. According to the League of Conservation Voters, the major networks’ Sunday hosts have asked a collective 2,938 questions of the presidential candidates since the start of last year - and of those, just six questions mentioned climate change. Things didn’t get much better in the debates: Few candidates mentioned climate change, and the CNN debates were even sponsored by the coal industry.

The media’s indifference is lamentable: After two terms of the Bush presidency, America - and the world - is sorely in need of a US president who’ll take environmental issues seriously. Electing a leader who continues Bush’s tactic of actively obstructing the battle against climate change would be disastrous on a global level. There’s almost as much at stake back home: Bush’s successor will inherit environmental problems ranging from mountaintop mining and a resurgent coal industry to chronic water shortages and unsustainable ethanol production.

Thanks to a leftward nudge by John Edwards’ now-defunct candidacy, both of the remaining Democratic candidates have staked out ambitious, forward-thinking positions on a range of green issues. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have each made substantive policy commitments and appear to be treating the climate crisis with the seriousness it deserves; Obama even used precious seconds of his Superbowl ad to talk up the importance of tackling climate change.

In the Republican camp, sadly, there’s less grounds for optimism. John McCain has a sound environmental track record - but with Mitt Romney pinning his hopes on winning over conservative voters, the Arizona senator doesn’t have much to gain from nailing his colors to the mast. With Romney already blasting McCain for backing a gas-tax hike and opposing oil-drilling in Alaska, it’s clear that the Republican race won’t be going green anytime soon.

The real risk is that today’s vote will see John McCain more or less confirmed as his party’s nominee while Clinton and Obama remain bogged down in a scrappy state-by-state battle for delegates. With the Dems stuck trying to score points against one another and McCain reaching out to his party’s fractured conservative base, it could get even harder to keep environmental issues on the agenda.