High gas prices, our national addiction to oil and the threat it poses to our safety, the increasingly obvious consequences of global warming, and the corrupting influence of Big Oil in politics have all combined this year to push energy and environmental issues to the forefront of voters' minds and helped fuel the demand for a change in direction.
New York University's Brademas Center for the Study of Congress found only about 10 percent of voters polled said Congress had done a good job on energy. Eighty percent said they were worried about energy and 70 percent said they are worried about global warming. This year, voters are looking for candidates with solutions to our urgent energy problems - problems that may disappear from the headlines, but not from the top of the electoral agenda.
Energy is a hot topic on the campaign trail, from congressional and gubernatorial races to local races and ballot contests. It is the foot-in-the-door to a much larger conversation with voters - a conversation that includes the national economy, foreign policy, pocketbook issues, agriculture, global warming, the environment, even local economic development.
In campaign ads from Democratic and Republican candidates, incumbents and challengers are talking tough about the need to break our oil habit, take on the energy companies and build a cleaner energy future.
In Colorado, ads from gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter assert: "In Colorado, the future is building wind farms in wheat fields ..." and promising to invest "... in a new energy economy so every Colorado family can get ahead." Republican Senate candidate Mark Kennedy in Minnesota is vowing in his ads to work to "promote alternative fuels like ethanol, hybrids and hydrogen."
Republican Congressman Jim Nussle, who's running for Iowa governor, promises in his ad, "I'll work to develop renewable energy to create good jobs in Iowa." And in Tennessee, an ad by U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr., has this to say: "We need new thinking in technology that uses our people, our crops and gives you a break."
And the thousands of Sierra Club volunteers who are working phone banks and walking their neighborhoods this fall going door to door to talk about the issues in this year's elections report people are asking lots of tough questions about energy: "Is my senator working to improve the energy efficiency of cars? Will the next governor work to increase our use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, saving consumers money, creating jobs, and leaving the air cleaner? Will my representative continue to support outdated polluting energy policies that hold us back, increase the threat of global warming and jeopardize our children's future?"
There are pundits and analysts out there claiming that since gas prices have dropped down below $3 a gallon that voters will forget about the high cost of energy come Election Day. But that's not what we're finding at the Sierra Club. Voters are very clear America has an energy problem, that solutions are urgently needed, and that the days of doing nothing are over.
The fact is the Foley scandal, even the disturbing fact that Henry Kissinger still has a hand in shaping our foreign policy, has buttressed their belief that it's time for a change - and increased their hunger for candidates willing to change how America produces and consumes energy.
Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization.