Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

How green is your presidential candidate?

Previously only mentioned once during the 2004 presidential debates, climate change has come to the forefront of campaigning in the 2008 elections. Regardless of party, environmental action has been incorporated into election plans. The spectrum begins with conservation leader John Edwards and ends with non-committal Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Slowing climate change comes with a number of strategies. Cap-and-trade systems are supported by most major candidates as viable solutions for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. A mandatory cap on pollution emissions is created and then divided into permits which can be bought and sold by polluters. This gives companies flexibility in the manner in which they reach their emission targets and sets a clear limit on emissions.

Candidates Paul and Romney oppose the cap-and-trade system and instead propose a carbon emission tax. While the tax may penalize polluters, it allows companies to merely pay the tax rather than reduce emissions. This is one reason why candidates Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Huckabee and John McCain support a cap-and-trade system over a tax.

Edwards has taken a more aggressive approach to climate change than any other Democratic candidate, most of whom have now followed his lead. He was the first to propose an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 and to move toward 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. Clinton and Obama were quick to adopt similar policies regarding cap-and-trade systems and renewable energy.

“Edwards seems most progressive and then Hillary has basically just adopted all of Edwards’ plans,” said senior Beth Frieden.

On the Republican side, Huckabee supports getting 15 percent of U.S. electricity from alternative energy sources by 2020, including renewable, clean coal and nuclear powers. McCain and Romney also support renewable energy but have not set specific goals.

While McCain does not assert specific goals, he did introduce the Climate Stewardship Act with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in 2003. Although the bill failed, it would have required the biannual re-evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions to ensure consistency with the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change and cap emissions at the year 2000 level. McCain has proposed more legislation in the Senate regarding climate change than any other candidate.

In March 2007 Edwards made his campaign entirely carbon-neutral. He is buying carbon offsets to neutralize the effects of his campaign travel and office energy use, while also cutting energy consumption at campaign offices, by buying recycled-paper office products and encouraging staff to walk to work and take other energy-saving measures.

Edwards and Kucinich oppose nuclear and clean coal energies. Clean coal is coal chemically washed to remove minerals and impurities, then burned, with resulting gases treated with steam. The sulfur dioxide is removed and is then re-burned to make the CO2 in the gas economically recoverable. This process is meant to enhance its efficiency and environmental acceptability. Clinton, Obama, McCain, Huckabee, Romney and Paul all support clean coal.

Some students have noted that these policies are hard to trust, however.

“Who knows what they will actually do? Right now its all about being elected,” said senior Katie King.

Clean coal is primarily supported as a means to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Edwards and Kucinich note, however, that clean coal does not set any limits on greenhouse gas emissions and still requires the burning of precious fossil fuels.

Biofuels reduce the quantity of fossil fuels burned and cut back on carbon emissions created by transportation vehicles. While Kucinich remains skeptical of ethanol produced from corn and other food sources, he does support non-food sources for biofuels.

Clinton follows closely in Edwards’ footsteps. She calls for 60 billion gallons of homegrown biofuels to be available in vehicles by 2030. Obama also supports this proposal, while Edwards calls for 65 billion gallons by 2025. The results are very analogous policies.

“They all have very similar policies. And it almost seems like their differences are just to have differences because they’re so small,” said King.

Republican candidates McCain, Romney and Huckabee also support the increased use of biofuels, but have not stated specific goals. Paul believes the market should determine which fuels are used and so does not currently support biofuels.

Like Kucinich, Clinton proposes a $50 billion 10-year fund for green research. Edwards offers a $13-billion-a-year fund and Obama a $150 billion 10-year fund. These moneys would go toward renewable and alternative energy research in a further attempt to solve the climate crisis.

Fuel efficiency is another hot topic of debate and one of the fastest ways global pollution can be decreased. All four Democratic candidates support an increase in fuel efficiency within the next 15 years.

Obama introduced the Health Care for Hybrids Act to increase incentive for fuel efficiency. The federal government would help cover health-care costs for retired U.S. autoworkers in exchange for domestic auto companies investing at least 50 percent of the savings into production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

On the Republican side, Huckabee and McCain support an increase in fuel efficiency as well. In 2002 McCain introduced legislation that would have raised standards to 36 miles per gallon by 2016. Paul and Romney oppose raising fuel efficiency standards. Paul voted against raising standards both in 2001 and 2005.

One clear difference between Democratic candidates is their position on nuclear power. All four Republican candidates support nuclear power, but only Obama has expressed support from the Democratic party. Clinton is “agnostic” on nuclear power, not wanting to emphasize it as a possible energy source unless waste-storage and other problems are solved.

Nuclear power now represents over 70 percent of our non-carbon generated electricity. Obama does not believe that the U.S. can reach its climate goals without the use of nuclear power. He is also against the expansion of nuclear power and wants to set clear guidelines on how the power can be used and disposed.
At a Campus Climate Challenge meeting last week many students weighed in on the candidates’ commitment to halting climate change.

“Its definitely a hot issue in the political arena,” said sophomore Katie Rouse.

“At the same time though, the number of questions asked by mainstream reporters regarding climate change has been the same number of questions asked about UFOs,” said sophomore Sarah Judkins.

While more publicized this election year, climate change is still not treated as a central issue of campaigning. Democratic candidates have stated more developed strategies than most Republican candidates, but McCain has made a point of including climate change in his election plans.

As a whole, the Democratic candidates hold very similar strategies for solving climate issues, only differentiated by small details. Edwards definitely leads the way, not only by stating climate plans first, but by taking an overall more aggressive approach. Obama, Clinton, Kucinich and McCain follow close behind, perhaps reacting to the pressure exerted by Edwards. Ultimately, when it comes to establishing how green a candidate really is, election will be the only means of knowing their true color.

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