Will McCain’s cynical lies destroy the chance for serious energy and climate policy?

Has any presidential nominee in history — has any potential leader of any country in the world — ever campaigned by mocking energy efficiency and conservation?

Once McCain was a lonely voice in the conservative movement pushing real action on global warming and opposing phony solutions like offshore drilling. True, like most conservatives he opposed and still opposes incentives and standards for renewables as well as levels of vehicle fuel economy needed to actually move us toward energy independence. And yes, McCain along with his energy and climate advisers have walked away from serious policy in recents months (see links below).

But McCain now sees his only road to the White House as lying again and again to the American public:

“We need to off-shore drill for oil and natural gas,” McCain said, “And anybody who says we can achieve energy independence without using and increasing these existing energy resources either doesn’t have the experience to understand the challenge we face or isn’t giving the American people some straight talk.

There is no truth whatsoever in that statement. The amount of offshore oil currently unavailable for drilling is negligible and even Bush’s own energy analysts admit that. The amount of offshore natural gas currently unavailable for drilling is not a substitute for oil now and never will be. Anyone who claims otherwise doesn’t have the experience to understand the challenge we face and isn’t giving the American people some straight talk.

But even more destructive to any hope of serious national discourse on our energy and climate problem is this:

“We’re not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires,” McCain said.

Aside from the fact that nobody on the planet ever said that, in fact, we cannot possibly solve our energy and climate problems without such efficiency measures. As we’ve seen efficiency and conservation measures available to all Americans and now can deliver at least 10 times as much oil as we are going to get from coastal waters in 15 years. And that doesn’t even count the vastly larger savings from even tougher fuel efficiency standards, which McCain opposes. Sure, like Bush and Cheney, McCain was never someone who believed in energy efficiency (see “McCain on energy efficiency: He is Cheney’s third term!”) — but now the entire Republican Party is mocking energy efficiency and conservation by handing out tire gauges and lying about them.

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The media refuses to police the most absurd of McCain’s energy lies, such as his claim of oil producers “within a matter of months [of ending the federal moratorium on coastal drilling], they could be getting additional oil” (see “Note to media: Are you going to allow McCain to just make up stuff on oil drilling?”) If you want some typically mindless political coverage of McCain’s tire gauges ploy that focuses on its political value rather than its accuracy, read ABC’s popular The Note (but I would recommend doing so on an empty stomach).

That leaves only progressives to save the debate from descending to drilling vs. tire gauges. Those who genuinely care about what peak oil and catastrophic climate change will do to this country must speak up now. The stakes have never been — nor will they ever be — higher.

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