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How John McCain’s Great Barrier Reef comments could change hearts and minds.

“I think climate change is real,” John McCain said.

Sen. John McCain at the United States Studies Centre in Sydney. Photo by Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images.

On May 30, the 80-year-old Republican senator visited the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia. While there, he spoke at length about many issues, including Russia and recent White House scandals. He took time to speak about climate change as well, The Guardian reported.

“I think that one of the great tragedies of our lives is that the Great Barrier Reef is dying [and] the environmental consequences of that,” McCain said. He voiced his support for the U.S. staying in the 2015 Paris climate agreement to try to mitigate climate change.

“If we don’t address this issue, I am very much afraid about what the world is going to look like for our children and grandchildren.”

McCain’s comments are more important now than ever — the reef is not doing well.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches for more than 1,200 miles. Coral bleaching caused largely by climate change has damaged 91% of it since 1998. Image from Ho/AFP/Getty Images

On May 24, The Guardian reported that experts told Australian governments they may need to revise their plans for the reef. It is no longer feasible, they said, to stick to the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan’s goals to improve the reef’s overall health. Instead, the government should focus on just maintaining its “ecological function.”

Coral reefs around the world are under stress from a number of factors, such as overfishing and bleaching caused by climate change.

We need voices on both sides of the aisle talking about not just the reef, but our planet’s future.

A safe, clean, and stable environment is not a partisan issue. It’s something we all want, and the concern over climate change in the U.S. is at a three-decade high.

That’s why it can be frustrating to see the government come to loggerheads over and over again — and why McCain’s words are important. As Vox’s David Roberts wrote, the most important factor in building bipartisan support isn’t clever arguments — it’s outspoken leaders. McCain hasn’t always been an environmental lion (he recently voted to repeal a stream protection rule, for instance), but those simple words — “I think climate change is real” — matter.

There are many more conservative voices — such as Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) — who are also speaking.

Curbelo represents Florida’s 26th district, which sits at the state’s southern tip and includes part of America’s own barrier reef, which, unfortunately, has also been taking a few hits lately.

When leaders speak up, people listen.

We need immediate, bipartisan action if we’re going to head off the worst effects of climate change. Hopefully, more leaders will come forward and take a stand.

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