The southern German city of Stuttgart has a new mayor: Fritz Kuhn of Die Grünen. It is the first state capitol to elect a Green Party mayor and the first time in decades that the post has not gone to a candidate from Chancellor Merkel’s conservative CDU.
Stuttgart is the capital of Baden-Württemberg, until recently also an unassailable stronghold of Germany’s conservatives. However, in March 2011, the state elected Green Party candidate Winfried Kretschmann governor, an unheard triumph for the Green movement which typically gets around 10 percent of the vote.
The reason for the Green victory: the faraway nuclear disaster in Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant following the devastating tsunami. This one environmental issue alone handed the Greens the win.
The Green Party has been a force to be reckoned with since the 1980s and thanks to Germany’s multiparty political system, they have been part of various state and federal governments.
Environmental issues are taken seriously by almost all political parties, reflecting genuine concerns among voters.
This is dramatically different in the United States. Few Americans called for nuclear power plants in the US to be shut down after Fukushima and during the two recent debates between presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, climate change was not a topic.
The overriding energy concern seems to be how to keep gas prices down (already much lower than in Europe), nevermind that this won’t exactly keep CO2 emissions down.
A new study suggests that sea level rise on the US East Coast is accelerating much faster than elsewhere. It is unclear whether climate change is to blame, but it seems clear that the audience at the Hofstra town meeting debate was not very concerned about this.
Monday night, in debate number three for the US presidency, we find out whether the threat of global climate change counts as a foreign policy issue at least.