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Swing Voters, Mr President? UK has the Answer

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It's ironic no mention of climate change was made in the recent U.S. presidential TV debates given the east coast just got hammered by Hurricane Sandy-- just the kind of extreme storm climate scientists have been warning could become more intense as climate warming evaporates more water into the atmosphere and so feeds storms more likely to develop into hurricanes.

But despite the disruption and economic cost and devastation, the truth is neither Republicans nor Democrats see any political mileage in the climate issue. As David Roberts explains, "The right is united in implacable opposition to all solutions. Burdened with so many coal states, the [Democratic] coalition doesn't have the votes to overcome the right's opposition. So there's just nothing to say. There's no margin in talking about it."

There's very widespread scientific agreement that climate change is occurring. But much of the argument and opposition revolves around whether it is human-induced or not. Surely what matters is the effect climate change is having - and will have - and that we respond robustly to it; not whether it was we humans, or solar flares, that caused it. After all, identifying non-human phenomena as the cause would hardly make the effects any less catastrophic!

Blame-games aside, right-wing opposition, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, often centers on concerns over the economic costs and their effect on national competitiveness: the concern that acting decisively to cut carbon emissions will only see domestic costs rise and thousands of U.S. jobs go elsewhere while already-glacial growth would slow to a complete halt. And in reality, this is the key concern shared by the Left too, not only in the U.S., but all over the world. As the center-left former UK prime minister, Tony Blair, once said, "The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge".

The real question, then, is how do we make it in every nation's interests to cooperate in responding to climate change? And how can ordinary citizens who care about the issue get it firmly back on the political agenda? That, precisely, is what a global UK-driven citizens campaign called the Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) is starting to do in a number of countries around the world. And the way it's doing it could be of considerable relevance to the U.S.

Simpol calls for virtually all nations to act simultaneously on climate change and on many other global issues, because if all nations act simultaneously across multiple issues, no nation need lose out. Not only would nations that might lose on one issue gain on another, simultaneous action would break the vicious circle of fear and inaction all nations are presently caught in, so opening the way to cooperative action that's in everybody's interests. But here's the rub: Citizens who support the campaign have declared they will vote in future elections, not for one side or the other, but for ANY politician or party - within reason - that has committed to implement Simpol's range of policies if and when all or sufficient other nations have also signed up.

Here, then, lies the potential relevance to U.S. politics. Because, with support for both Republicans and Democrats being quite evenly matched, only a relatively small block of Simpol supporters in the key U.S. states could make it in the vital electoral survival interests of both candidates to sign up. Given a block of Simpol voters firmly pledged to vote for whichever candidate signs on, if President Obama signed, he'd risk nothing because he'd only have to implement Simpol if and when all or sufficient other nations had signed on too. He'd be seen to support robust action on climate change, but on a basis that safeguards U.S. competitiveness. But he'd also make himself eligible to receive the vital electoral support of Simpol's small, yet critical, voting block. So it would be in his vital interests to sign on if he wanted to stay in the White House.

But let's look at it from Romney's viewpoint: If Simpol's block of voters were large enough in the key states to become the deciding factor, Romney, too, would have no choice but to sign on. Because if he refused, he'd almost certainly hand the election to Obama. In that way, it's not difficult to see that both opposing candidates would be obliged to sign on, so placing climate change firmly back on the political agenda regardless of who won the election, and regardless of any funding for either side provided by vested or corporate interests.

Sound far-fetched? You may think so. But Simpol is already making in-roads in countries across Europe and elsewhere. Here in the UK, for example, 200 parliamentary candidates signed on to the campaign during the last national election. 24 are now Members of the UK Parliament. Could this be a solution to swing voting in the UK and around the world? Some Members of Parliament in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere have also signed on. With the current political deadlock on climate change in the U.S. and Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc and destruction, it may only be a matter of time before Simpol makes an impact in the U.S. too. So it could just be the political game-changer many have been waiting for.