White House wannabes on global warming
According to the League of Conservation Voters, during the first year of this presidential campaign TV reporters only asked three questions about global warming. The topic tied UFO sightings as a campaign issue.
Despite the reluctant, the flow of bad news about global warming is grim and persistent. The latest is the collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Like so many meteorological observations in the last year or so, the Wilkins collapse reveals that the Earth’s climate is changing significantly faster than scientists have predicted. This does not jive with the policy proposals of the surviving presidential contenders, which are somewhat less ambitious than science tells us we need to be in limiting the emission of greenhouse gases.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) devotes a meager section to the problem on his Web site. He expounds on the importance of conservation, which he describes as our patriotic duty to our progeny.
The only discernable plank in his energy policy is renewed diplomacy to persuade China to act on global warming, lest our own sacrifices become meaningless. It's a shame we haven’t applied that logic to our foreign policy, but in the face of a decentralized threat like global warming it makes little sense. I give McCain a lot of credit, lack of substance notwithstanding. There is still a formidable and troglodytic wing of the G.O.P. which denies global warming is even happening. Curiously, McCain refers to those people as irresponsible liberals. Whatever. McCain makes an eloquent case for taking action on this issue and effectively links a clean environment with a strong economy. He’s no Teddy Roosevelt, but he is more dedicated to addressing climate change than most in his party.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) presents a plan on her Web site which is both broader in scope and more specific in its points. Her program is built on three main planks. First, she advocates a national cap-and-trade system in which firms must buy permits to emit greenhouse gasses at auction, creating a market for efficient technology and generating revenue for green research projects. Second, she promises to pass stringent regulations on auto emissions. Third, Clinton will invest heavily in green technology such as renewable energy sources and more fuel-efficient cars. This would be funded in part by shifting subsidies currently allocated to promote oil development. She will also mandate that 25 percent of energy in the U.S. comes from renewable sources by 2025.
The cap-and-trade model was effective in limiting the gasses which cause acid rain, and it is a promising plan for greenhouse gasses. Her guideline for renewable energy is less aggressive than I would like, but the funding for research and development is generous. I also appreciate her willingness to address climate change as an issue of social justice, promising to make green technology available to low-income Americans and change the way utilities do business in order to promote conservation. In sum, Clinton's plan is imperfect but respectable.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) outlines a program similar to Clinton's but slightly more expansive. He likewise champions a cap-and-trade system, the 25 percent by 2025 requirement, and an increase of funding for R & D. Obama also pledges to rejoin the Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Kyoto Protocol group) and found a council of the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitters and to increase the nation’s energy efficiency by 50 percent by 2030. Other than those three proposals, the additional details Obama offers on top of Clinton’s approach don’t help him much. He supports “clean coal” technology, which is a red herring. Conversion to that system will be expensive and leave America dependent on another scarce fossil fuel. Even if its cost is not prohibitive at the outset, it will continuously grow more onerous. Corn-based ethanol, another prominent aspect of Obama’s plan, is politically popular in the Midwest because it increases corn prices, but otherwise the scheme is a disaster. Another article could easily be written about its deleterious effects, but in short it increases agricultural pollution and uses more oil per fuel calorie than gasoline.
Since Obama’s plan encompasses most or all of Clinton's proposals, his additions would make him a stronger candidate on this issue if only they were not counter-productive. Given the shortcomings of the Obama plan and the relative paucity of ideas coming from McCain, Clinton is the leader among the three senators. No candidate’s plan is as aggressive or comprehensive as that of former hopeful Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), which would have been my preference. Both Democrats show the appropriate level of dedication to the issue, but Clinton’s platform has less unnecessary baggage.
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