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A Change in the Air?

Andrew Freedman @ 1:50 AM

The war in Iraq. Congressional ethics scandals. Dependence on foreign oil. Global climate change and the federal meteorological enterprise?

The 2006 midterm elections on Tuesday are not only a referendum on President Bush and the Iraq war. They also represent a concrete choice by the voting public on what future climate they would like to live in, and for some voters, from whom they would like to get their weather forecasts.

Dan Stillman's Forecast

Click to enlargeForecast Confidence: HighToday: Partly cloudy with high temperatures in the range of 52-55. Tonight: Partly cloudy and not quite as cold. Lows in the mid 30s in town, in the upper 20s to near 30 in the burbs. Tomorrow: Partly cloudy and a little bit warmer, with highs in the upper 50s.

Check back tomorrow for Jason's week-ahead forecast.

Pictured: Autumn colors feel the chill yesterday near the White House, by photographer Ian Livingston.

The biggest weather-related issue of course is global climate change. A vote for a candidate who favors reducing greenhouse gas emissions and funding alternative energy technologies could be the signal needed for President Bush to have a "Nixon goes to China moment" and jump onboard the climate change bandwagon, instead of denying the need for that bandwagon exists in the first place. (Sidenote: What the heck is a bandwagon?)

One can argue that the Bush administration itself favors such steps, but the administration's policies are woefully inadequate when it comes to making a meaningful contribution to reducing emissions. For example, the White House is on course to meet its goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent by 2012.

The term "greenhouse gas intensity" is a term invented by experts in political doublespeak in order to avoid making real emissions cuts, meaning, reducing emissions to an amount less than what we're emitting today. Greenhouse gas intensity is the ratio of the amount of gases emitted per unit of economic activity. Thus, making cuts in the intensity does not mean we're cutting actual emissions, rather we're just being more efficient in how much we emit per the normal course of business. In fact, our emissions are continuing to increase. It's like an alcoholic saying they're going to reduce their alcohol consumption intensity in order to address their disease. They're still going to get drunk.

The Democratic Party has made alternative energy a prominent issue in many campaigns, and promised to make climate change a priority if they take over the House and/or Senate. In the course of running desperately away from the president, many Republicans have been out front on alternative energy issues as well.

On Tuesday night, pay attention not only to the Maryland Senate race between Benjamin Cardin (D) and Michael Steele (R), but also to the fate of Proposition 87 in California. Proposition 87 (, which stands a decent chance of being adopted, would increase taxes on oil extraction in the state and use that $4 billion pot of money to fund alternative energy development and deployment. That, together with California's recently passed greenhouse gas reduction law, could help kick start the alternative energy marketplace nationwide.

Also in California, voters in the heavily agricultural 11th District encompassing portions of San Joaquin County will determine the fate of House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R). Pombo has drawn the ire of environmentalists for championing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and pushing controversial legislation to make changes to the Endangered Species Act, among other actions. He's been dogged by his ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and has been struggling in a race against political novice Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, an energy consultant, has made alternative energy a signature issue in his campaign. Environmental groups such as the Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club have poured money and resources into the race in an effort to oust Pombo.

Closer to home, if Democrat Bob Casey Jr. unseats Republican incumbent Senator Rick Santorum, he will be defeating an enemy of the National Weather Service Employees Union. Santorum sponsored a bill that would strip the NWS of many of its routine forecasting functions in favor of private weather companies such as AccuWeather, which is based in State College, Pa. The bill has not been taken up by any committee, but its existence has strained the federal/private weather partnership.

When you're voting on Tuesday and watching the returns, keep an eye on the sky.

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