McCain Is Close To Bush, Not Democrats, On Global Warming

newsweekNewsweek’s cover story on the presidential candidates and global warming quotes UC Berkeley energy professor Dan Kammen, a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL)’s presidential campaign:

It’s unusual to have a Republican candidate who openly disagrees with the Bush administration on the need for capping carbon emissions. There’s more disagreement with the current administration than with each other.

The idea that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is closer to the Democratic candidates running for president than he is to the president is popular with the political elite. Joe Klein similarly said “McCain’s distance from George W. Bush seems greater than from the Democrats” on foreign policy issues like global warming. What McCain says he wants to do about global warming certainly sounds better than what the Bush administration has accomplished.

A look at the facts paints a different picture.

McCain shares much with Bush. McCain’s one significant difference, played up by his supporters, is his call for a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions. But McCain’s vision of how such a system would work — despite the words of Kammen and Klein — is starkly different from that of the Democratic candidates. There are three core guidelines by which global warming policy should be judged:

  1. Does it meet scientific principles?
  2. Does it make polluters pay?
  3. Does it promote social equity?

Sen. Clinton has released a detailed global warming plan, as has Sen. Obama. Both follow the above guidelines, calling for 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, supporting 100% auction of pollution allowances, and prioritizing investment in green jobs and helping low-income households.

On the other hand, McCain has failed to release any clear global warming policy, and his economic and health care plans are designed for the benefit of millionaires and giant corporations at the expense of everyone else. However, McCain’s people have made it clear he does have one bedrock principle when it comes to global warming policy — “He wants to see the use of nukes.

UPDATE: Dan Kammen responds:

Brad Johnson raises an important, in fact central, issue about energy, climate and politics: namely that good rhetoric is simply insufficient, we are well past the point where we personally, and our elected officials must ‘walk the walk’.

In California, for example, we have climate policies on the books that call for a ~ 25% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (AB32), and 80% reductions by 2050 (Executive Order 3-05). These are great words, and the politicians who penned them are truly to be commended, but we must make good on these targets.

The first step for action is having a plan, and in this respect I give California, the northeast/mid-Atlantic climate climate coalition, and the exciting, emerging, plan for the upper-Midwest.

This is where I have to disagree with Brad.

There is no doubt that McCain’s ‘green credentials’ can be questioned. Nevertheless,
he has shown a willingness to talk about and
even work on significant (even if insufficient) legislation. As a result, I can’t disagree more with the comment:

* Like Bush, McCain’s global warming talk is good — both speaking in generalities about needing to be “good stewards” and get “serious” about climate change.

There has been absolutely no useful language from President Bush on this topic. His international ‘forum’ on climate is even termed, within the administration, the ‘dirty dozen’ (well, dirty
11, with Australia defecting).

So, no question, Brad is right that McCain has both been vague and has not gone as far as is needed. He is, however, part of a conversation that is far more enlightened that we have seen in federal office in recent times. That is a start.

Dan Kammen Professor, Energy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley

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