And then there were three
February 8, 2008, 8:19 am
Filed under: Interventions in the carbon/climate crisis

A bit of climate politics, cross posted from Climate Feedback

super tuesday cartoon

Following on from Jeff’s post on Supercallifragalistic Tuesday, Chris Mooney has a post on his blog and a column elsewhere on the differences between McCain on one side and Obama/Clinton on the other on matters climatic.Writing before Romney dropped out of the race but after it was fairly clear he had little reason to stay in, Chris’s point is that while it’s true that all three of the people who might be the next President support real action on climate change, which is an undeniably good thing, they don’t all support quite the same sort of action. Specifically, while the Deomocrats are talking about cap and trade measures that would lead to 80% reductions in emissions by 2050,

There are many reasons to think [McCain would] settle for a policy that is more lenient and compromise-oriented. Notably, McCain worked closely with Senator Joseph Lieberman on climate legislation in the past, and the current bipartisan Lieberman-Warner bill sets a lower target for emission reductions – a 70 percent reduction in capped emissions by 2050 (and not all emissions would be capped).

He also points out that Lieberman-Warner gives away a lot of free permits — “an idea that leaves some environmentalists tearing their hair out” — while Clinton and Obama are talking about auctioning all the permits from day one. The auction approach makes sense both in terms of justice and I think in terms of policy. Whether it makes sense in terms of politics is not so clear. The European Commission, which takes these things seriously, has so far not managed to engineer a consensus on auctioning all permits (though it may get to it sometime in the mid teens). If an incoming president were able actually to set up the sort of aggressive (in a good way) cap and trade system Obama and Clinton are talking about that would be quite something, and it might well encourage the Europeans to go further. Whether it is politically possible in an economy that may well then be in or recovering from recession has to be open to doubt.

What isn’t open to doubt is that it would require a massive investment of the new president’s political capital. One implication there is that if climate is key to your vote, you’ll be best off voting for the Democrat who you expect to have the longer coat-tails, and thus to end up with more and more grateful partisan support on the HIll. But bear in mind that while in the senate, neither Clinton nor Obama have championed climate change in a particularly noticeable way, while McCain has invested quite a lot in it, and did so against the predilections of his party. So I can’t help thinking that any climate legislation that does come through under a Democratic president may end up a fair bit closer to Lieberman-Warner than to the more dramatic stances currently under offer. Happy to be argued out of this stance, or indeed proved wrong.

Which is not to say there are no distinctions to be drawn. Interestingly, Chris doesn’t say much about energy policy, as opposed to emissions goals. Checking out the Popular Mechanics really kinda wonderful Geek the Vote site shows that both the dems have a lot to say about the energy side of the equation, McCain rather less so. The site (which I got sent to by an earlier post of Chris’s) lists 17 Clinton policy ideas in climate/energy/environment areas, 40 (!) from Obama, and one from McCain. Here’s Obama’s energy page, and here’s Clinton’s.

It seems to me that if you want to find a difference between the candidates on this issue, the amount of thought and talk they are putting into smart energy investment (which is something that will be a lot easier for a new president to make progress on than charging politically powerful industries for their carbon emissions) may be a more revealing way of making the distinction than their stated policies for emissions on the 2050 timescale.

Of course Chris would say that if you want to find a difference you should arrange a debate. But opinions differ about that…

(Incidentally, those of you with a subscription to New Scientist should check out Chris’s rave review of Gabrielle Walker and David King’s The Hot Topic.)

Image from Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com under a Creative Commons licence


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