The Editor’s Desk

Jerry Adler, who writes for us about the environment, science, ideas and—well, Jerry has a gift for writing on just about everything—has what one could very safely call a dry sense of humor. When I asked Jerry—the author of our lead cover piece this week on the environmental views of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama—what had surprised him the most about the project, he said: "The thing that struck me was how the environmental community, a notorious bunch of whiners, seems fairly satisfied with the hand they've been dealt so far this cycle." (Note to the environmental community: Jerry means "notorious bunch of whiners" in the best possible sense.) "As my story says, they're waiting for McCain to elaborate his plan—by 'elaborate' I assume they mean that they expect him to keep tacking to the center as the general election nears—and at least nominally holding out the possibility of endorsing him, as they did in his last Senate campaign," Jerry says. "The important thing is everyone expects that there will be a carbon cap-and-trade bill of some kind passed and signed as one of the first orders of business next year no matter which of these guys wins."

As with so many public-policy debates, the one over the environment can seem hopelessly divided into fervent followers of Al Gore, fervid skeptics of the science who think global warming is a liberal fiction (or at least a liberal vast exaggeration) and a big middle realm in which many people are convinced of the scale of the problem but are honestly confused about which sacrifices are reasonable and which are possibly excessive, and thus unlikely to be made.

There is no doubt that most Americans agree, to use a familiar editorial construction, that something must be done, but the precise nature of that something is another question. This issue is our second annual project on "Environment & Leadership," which is devoted to reporting on the people and the ideas that are shaping the ever-evolving work on climate change and other environmental issues. The package, edited by Alexis Gelber and George Hackett, explores the politics and dynamics of the debate and offers examples of what is working—and, in a piece by Sharon Begley, what is not. (There is also additional coverage on, and we are hosting a conference this week at Georgetown University keynoted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor was preceded in that role last year by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.) And Daniel Gross discovers new virtues in Iceland, aside from the fish: a congenial investing environment with renewable energy. The aluminum giant Alcoa is already there. "It's almost the ideal place to invest, because of the combination of a highly skilled work force, an open and transparent democracy and the endless supplies of renewable energy," Alcoa's Jake Siewert tells Daniel.

Politics being politics, big reforms requiring economic sacrifice and devotion to the common good are not easy to accomplish—if they were easy, there would be less need for big reforms—and Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert explore what history tells us about what makes a transformative president. Karen Breslau, who has covered Senator Clinton and was deeply involved in the making of this issue, has been struck by "the dearth of 'typical' environmental events on the campaign: flannel-shirted candidates clearing trails in a national forest, or clambering up a melting glacier. Instead, we see candidates at wind-turbine factories and ethanol plants, or inspecting solar panels. The imagery is industrial; the talk is of jobs and energy 'independence,' not of drowning polar bears or donning our cardigans." About a year from now we will find out, in the new president's early months, just how much of 2008's style becomes 2009's substance.