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McCain’s Double-Talk Express on Global Warming

By Joe Romm on January 25, 2008 at 3:07 pm

"McCain’s Double-Talk Express on Global Warming"

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If you think Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is a straight-talking courageous politician on the issue of global warming, watch this jaw-dropping clip from last night’s Republican presidential debate:

[flv http://images1.americanprogress.org/il80web20037/ClimateProgress/flv/2008/01/MSNBC_McCain.320.240.flv]

The transcript is online, so we can go through McCain’s entire Orwellian answer to moderator Tim Russert [Note: This was following a question to Giuliani about the global warming threat to Florida and his opposition to mandatory caps, which I'll briefly discuss at the end.]. Russert said, correctly:

Senator McCain, you are in favor of mandatory caps.

And, as you’ve seen, McCain immediately answers –

No, I’m in favor of cap-and-trade. And Joe Lieberman and I, one of my favorite Democrats and I, have proposed that — and we did the same thing with acid rain.

And all we are saying is, “Look, if you can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, you earn a credit. If somebody else is going to increase theirs, you can sell it to them.” And, meanwhile, we have a gradual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

As a great American once said — you cannot be serious! My jaw dropped (yes, I was watching, and yes, I’m a hardcore political junkie). I know McCain was beaten up in Michigan by Romney for supporting CAFE standards to deal with global warming, and I know “mandates” are as popular with conservatives as taxes are, but this is Romney-esque doubletalk. Europe has a mandate. We dealt with acid rain with a mandate. And McCain’s own climate bill with Lieberman is a mandate.

A straight talker would not use those two wishy-washy “can’s.” Nothing mandatory or threatening to conservatives about “can.” What a wonderful world McCain is imagining: If “somebody else” increases their emissions — not you, of course, you’ll be the one reducing emissions cheaply and getting rich with all the credits — “you can sell it to them.” Well, that is double double-talk.

First, a straight talker would note that the person who increases their emissions must buy a credit (though obviously not necessarily from you). Second, a straight talker would not imply that the point of a cap-and-trade is to allow someone who decreases their emissions to sell credits to someone who increases them — the point is to set the cap well below current levels (as McCain’s own bill does) so that everyone decreases their emissions, but allowing those who can achieve very deep reductions cost-effectively to sell to those who can’t.

If John “Straight Talk” McCain can’t tell conservatives the truth about what this country will need to do to stop catastrophic global warming, who can? Buck up, John — A real man says “mandate.”

The rest of his answer is equally unsettling:

We need a global agreement, but it has to include India and China. We need to go back to nuclear power. We cannot be dependent on $400 billion a year paying for foreign oil. There’s a nexus here.

Well, there may be a nexus here, but it isn’t between nuclear power and cutting foreign oil use, since we don’t drive our cars on electricity (though hopefully some of us will in the near future). Again, a straight talker would not coyly leave the impression that we can significantly cut our $400 billion energy bill with nuclear power and without mandates — either for much tougher fuel economy standards or alternative fuel vehicles.

But climate change, in my view, is real. It can affect states like Florida dramatically, because I think it has to do with violent weather changes, as well.

But I am confident — I am confident American technology and the embrace of green technologies, many of the things that Rudy just talked about, and nuclear power being one of them, we can reduce these greenhouse gas emissions.

McCain never mentions a single other strategy but the one that conservatives like — nuclear power — which he mentions twice. And if he is implying nuclear power is green power, well, that isn’t straight talk either. I have never heard McCain advocate any other solution to global warming but nuclear power. As I blogged earlier, in a March 2006 interview, he stated he would demand legislation to expand U.S. nuclear power as part of his efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (I guess nuclear mandates are okay):

It’s the only technology presently available to quickly step up to meet our energy needs.

Incorrect. As many independent reports make clear — and as former Vice President Al Gore told Congress last year — nuclear may be a part of the solution, but probably only a very limited part. [Note to McCain -- Nuclear ain't quick. Most experts I've talked to think it would take at least a decade to spin the industry up to a level where it could deliver them at a rate needed to have any significant impact: 3 nuclear plants built each week for 50 years!]

Going back to McCain’s words in the debate: “in my view” does not cut it. We’re not going to do this because McCain thinks climate change is real. We’re going to do this because that’s what the science says. Yes, I know, conservatives don’t do things because scientists say so, but this is relevant to McCain’s final bit of doubletalk:

And suppose that we are wrong, and there’s no such thing as climate change, and we hand our kids a cleaner world. But suppose we are right and do nothing.

I think that’s a challenge for America. We can meet it.

Uhh, no.

I know that McCain likes this formulation — he often says,”suppose I’m wrong” which is much worse — and I’ve heard other climate advocates use it. But it is very weak and ultimately counterproductive.

Why? First, this formulation will leave many people — especially those inclined to be skeptical — the impression that the chances he is wrong about climate change are somehow comparable to the chances he is right. But the point is, this isn’t about what McCain thinks, it is about what the science says — and at this point there is exceedingly little chance that continuing on our current course of uncontrolled emissions is anything but a guaranteed catastrophe. That’s why normally reserved scientists are getting so desperate.

A more imporant flaw in this formulation: If there’s no such thing as human-caused climate change, as many of his conservative brethren believe, then nobody in their right minds would pass a law to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 60% to 80% in four decades — unless of course you are trying to leave listeners with the (false) impression that such cuts can be done so easily that they are no big imposition on Americans, certainly not requiring unpleasant mandates or other things conservatives would never, ever embrace unless the fate of the planet were at stake.

Yes, I know unrestricted carbon dioxide emissions will eventually render the ocean nearly lifeless, but again, that’s yet another reason why his phrasing is so lame — we must reduce CO2, not to hand our kids a cleaner world, as important as that is, but to avoid destroying the planet’s livability for our kids and their kids and the next 50 generations!

Right now, McCain is not a straight-talking or courageous politician on global warming — though he is vastly superior to all of the other GOP candidates. You can read Rudy’s answer to Russert here — it is just the old Bush-Luntz/Lomborg/Gingrich “technology, technology, technology, blah, blah, blah” routine.

If McCain gets the nomination, I wonder if he will be more honest with the public. If not, I would strongly recommend that his opponent expose his doubletalk, but that is a topic for a later blog post….

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9 Responses to McCain’s Double-Talk Express on Global Warming

  1. Sorghum Crow says:

    I’ve always been wary of his Stray Talk Express. I think he may understand some things about AGW and carbon, but is reluctant to come right out and say so because the neocons would eviscerate him.

    I noticed at the end of the clip he invoked the old deus ex machina of technological breakthroughs.

  2. Ben Ayers says:

    I do not see this as double talk the way you are presenting Senator McCain. In the 70′s we capped air and water pollution through firm discharge limits facility by facility.

    The bill he sponsored took the matter in a different direction as it introduced the right to trade pollution credits among emitters.

    The question asked, Is he in favor of 70s style pollution caps? No!

    The answer is accurate. He is in favor capping CO2 coupled with free-market trading of carbon as a means to reduce CO2 at the cheapest cost by allowing trading.

  3. Jay Alt says:

    McCain’s bill is a good start toward dealing with global warming. He’s led on the issue. Is his response the end-all? Certainly not. But it’s likely all that many GOP primary voters can tolerate and process right now. (For a flawed answer, see Guilliani’s reply to the same question. – Go nuclear now. Cap-and-trade would “crush the economy”, China and India are unfair, technology rah-rah –

    Politicians who get conservatives to listen to global warming solutions are a precious commodity. McCain wasn’t in a room full of AGU scientists. He was playing to a group so misinformed they cringe at the mention of the topic. They don’t understand or trust the science and they either dismiss it or view it through one misplaced metaphor after another. All provided thru decades-long efforts of Singer, Luntz and others.

    I don’t care why McCain’s supporters might accept cap-and-trade, only that it can be implemented with his help. A great many depressing stories and scenarios have are reviewed here. The chance of a presidential race between two candidates both vowing to confront global warming is an opportunity.

    From the transcript link. On pg 13 candidates debate disaster insurance plans.

    McCain responds: “Well, frankly, it takes a little more than 30 seconds. But, look, this is a terrible problem, not only here in Florida, but across the states that are subject to hurricanes.

    And as more and more violent weather patterns take place, people’s homes are in more and more jeopardy. We’ve got to address this issue.”

    Hmm. It sure sounds like McCain is alluding to the predicted (and perhaps observed) increase in hurricane intensity (not frequency) due to global warming. He doesn’t turn his audience off and gives them reasons to support his position.

  4. Angela says:

    McCain is a disaster.

  5. Ruthie says:

    Straight talk? What a joke.

  6. John Greenwell says:

    Does he even know how much CO2 is in the atmosphere and what percentage man might be responsible for? Do very many people even know who the IPCC is? Have they actually read any of their reports? Do they know that even the IPCC say that they pick and choose what items they put into their computer model and that the biggest greenhouse is not even included in their model? They admit that even if all the nations of the world submit to the Kyoto accord that we would not be able to change the temperature of the world by more than one tenth of one degree in 50 years? How many 3rd world countries are being told even now not to build power plants to grow their economies or use fossil fuels to feed their populations , warm their homes and perhaps lead some sort of existence even remotely like we do in our country?
    Many studies are proposed about climate change just to get federal funding? Institutions that want additional funding are more than ready to “study the issue” so their departments can get part of the billions handed out. Those that disclaim global warming get no money and sometimes lots of grief.

    More people should know basic facts about so-called man-made global warming before pushing for drastic controls of our economies and picking pandering politicians they will say anything to get elected

  7. Bob Miller says:

    In my opinion, people like John McCain and I are not heroes. We flew into a country and killed people who were not attacking the United States. Today, Americans are being welcomed and cared for in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City better than they are in many cities in the US.

    If a person’s goal is to continue to embrace the policies that have devalued our country and our dollar, and to have secret torture camps spread around the globe, then John McCain is their man. However, before we send another one of these warmongers to the Oval Office, we might seek the counsel of a five star general and two term president who lead us to victory, not defeat. Let’s ask President Eisenhower about these arms dealers, a/k/a the Defense Department, who have not only left every child and senior behind, they and their weapons of mass destruction were no match for nineteen men armed with box cutters. It might also be pointed out that these arms dealers have not been able to stop a few goat herders from terrorizing the world. Even more discouraging, they do not trust their military to provide protection for their very own generals so they are paying mercenaries 20k a month to do the job. President Eisenhower referred to this gathering of thieves as the Military-Industrial Complex.

    McCain knows nothing about clean money, clean energy is out of the question.

  8. akshay says:

    In near future when all the fossil fuel will be exhausted, only nuclear power will be there as a source of energy and it could reduce the global warming with much extend. Business companies, transport, currency trading, manufacturing corporations will only use nuclear power , because fossil fuels are limited But bye the time damaged will be done. It is only in our hands to save our planet from this disaster.

  9. Van says:

    Unfortunately we have seen little or no progress in the climate control and green house gas emission debate. The meeting in copenhagen was very disjointed and many of the leaders had their own views on what would work best. This is a very important issue that must be addressed as soon as possible