Obama on climate and science (and McCain, too, sorta)
September 24, 2008, 5:58 pm
Filed under: Global change, Interventions in the carbon/climate crisis

This week in Nature, in among a huge amount of great stuff on the US election, we have the answers that the Obama campaign provided to a series of questions on science and technology subjects that we sent them. The McCain campaign refused to play ball, so we filled in from what was on the record. Here’s an interesting answer on climate change:

You support a cap-and-trade system for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions; what lessons from the European emissions-trading system would you implement?

Obama: I will implement a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. While Europe has had important successes with its system, it also has made mistakes that we should learn from. Unlike the European system, my plan would aim to cover virtually all greenhouse-gas emissions, would auction off all of the permits instead of giving them away, and would make sure there was stability in the market for permits and their price. My plan would use the proceeds of the auction for investments in a clean-energy future, habitat protection and rebates and other transition relief for families.

McCain has described his own vision of a cap-and-trade system, but with a different target; the McCain plan calls for reductions of emissions by 60% below 1990 levels by 2050. McCain would initially give away emissions permits instead of auctioning them. McCain would also allow emissions allowances to be ‘banked’ or ‘borrowed’ for different time periods, as well as establish a national ‘strategic carbon reserve’ that could release permits during difficult economic times. He would also allow unlimited offsets, from both domestic and international sources, to ease into a newly set up cap-and-trade system.

And here’s one on nukes — yes to expansion, no to Yucca mountain

What role does nuclear power have in your vision for the US energy supply, and how would you address the problem of nuclear waste?

Obama: Nuclear power represents an important part of our current energy mix. Nuclear also represents 70% of our non-carbon generated electricity. It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power as an option. However, before an expansion of nuclear power is considered, key issues must be addressed, including security of nuclear fuel and waste, waste storage and proliferation. The nuclear waste disposal efforts at Yucca Mountain [in Nevada] have been an expensive failure and should be abandoned. I will work with the industry and governors to develop a way to store nuclear waste safely while we pursue long-term solutions.

McCain has proposed building 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030, with an eventual goal of a total of 100. McCain has not addressed where the nuclear waste from these and current reactors would go, and he has supported the Yucca Mountain storage project in the past.

The candidates (both of them) have answered questions on science before; in particular a set of questions sent by Sciencedebate2008. But we asked about some things that they didn’t: most notably, I think, evolution.

Do you believe that evolution by means of natural selection is a sufficient explanation for the variety and complexity of life on Earth? Should intelligent design, or some derivative thereof, be taught in science class in public schools?

Obama: I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated. I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny.

McCain said last year, in a Republican primary debate: “I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.” In 2005, he told the Arizona Daily Star that he thought “all points of view” should be available to students studying the origins of humanity. But the next year a Colorado paper reported him saying that such viewpoints should not be taught in science class.

There is no reason to believe that the McCain camp avoided our questionnaire but answered the other one simply because they didn’t want to answer this question explicitly

There are also questions on political interference, biomedical research, space, nuclear weapons, all sorts of good stuff. Elsewhere in the package there’s an in-depth report on how science has played in the campaign and who the advisers to both camps are, a series of podcasts (I thought the biomedicine one was particularly good), some recommended reading (including Denise Caruso’s Intervention: good call!) and a provocative column by David Goldston. You can get the whole thing as a pdf for your printed out pleasure if you fancy killing a tree…

Postscript update: Yes, the front-cover/back-cover coincidence is a) weird and b) amusing. Thanks to Chris or Sheril for scanning it in (but what did you think of the coverage, guys?)


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