The political value of pushing John McCain on global warming

by Josh Nelson

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have demonstrated their commitment to taking strong and bold action on climate change.


Cap and Trade: Obama supports implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Obama’s cap-and-trade system will require all pollution credits to be auctioned. A 100 percent auction ensures that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions they release, rather than giving these emission rights away to coal and oil companies. Some of the revenue generated by auctioning allowances will be used to support the development of clean energy, to invest in energy efficiency improvements, and to address transition costs, including helping American workers affected by this economic transition.


Setting ambitious targets, the plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of global warming, and cut foreign oil imports by two-thirds from 2030 projected levels, more than 10 million barrels per day.

Hillary’s plan to promote energy independence, address global warming, and transform our economy includes:

* A new cap-and-trade program that auctions 100 percent of permits alongside investments to move us on the path towards energy independence;

John McCain on the other hand, is as unstable as ever. After all, he doesn’t even have a plan for global warming on his website. Despite the treatment he’s received from environment groups and the media, his commitment to the issue is suspect, at best.

Salon: Would you endorse a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050?

McCain: I’m all for setting goals, but you’ve got to figure out ways to get there, OK? I could set a goal that we’d have zero greenhouse-gas emissions by next year, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is telling people how you’re going to get there. And by the way, I’m confident people will do what’s necessary to help with this problem of greenhouse-gas emissions — they’re convinced.

So, that sounds like a no.

Does McCain want the United States to take the lead on creating bold solutions or does he employ the Bush method of using China and India as an excuse for inaction?

McCain: You’re not going to get anything through the Congress of the United States unless it’s truly international and India and China are engaged. Now, there are lots of ways to negotiate. There are steps that we can take as a country to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But you’re going to have to have the two rising greenhouse-gas emitters in the world involved in an international treaty, I believe, to pass it through the Senate.

To make matters worse, John McCain does not seem to understand how cap and trade legislation works, repeatedly insisting that it does not imply a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Joseph Romm has much more on why John McCain is not the candidate to stop global warming.

Push him for specifics on his plans and views on this issue. Let’s see if we can figure out where he actually stands. Once he is pushed further to explain his views, I can see two different scenarios play out:

1. He’ll give more excuses for inaction and will advocate for legislation with safety valves and a cap that isn’t mandatory. More people will realize that he is the worst of the three potential Presidential candidates on the issue. The American people are much closer to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton than they are to John McCain.

  • Forty percent say that a presidential candidate’s position on the issue will strongly influence how they vote.
  • Sixty-two percent of respondents believe that life on earth will continue without major disruptions only if society takes immediate and drastic action to reduce global warming.
  • Sixty-eight percent of Americans support a new international treaty requiring the United States to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90 percent by the year 2050.

If he chooses this path, Global Warming will become yet another issue Democrats can win on in November.

2. He’ll try to distance himself from his previous comments, and move closer, politically at least, to a sensible policy approach. Then it will be up to the Democratic candidate, bloggers, the press and advocacy groups to hold him accountable. Given his struggles to win the blessings of economic conservatives, it will put him in a tight spot if he has to publicly display support for government regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Pressure from The Chamber of Commerce, Detroit, Big Oil and their anti-regulation front groups on the right will squeeze him into a barely existent political space: A free market economic conservative advocating government regulation of business in an election year.

X-posted: The Seminal.

4 replies »

  1. There’s no doubt that McCain isn’t the candidate most friendly to addressing global heating. But he’s still solar systems better than Bush II is.

    As nice as it is to see both Obama and Clinton providing solid plans, the reality is that neither of them really have a plan to understand the climate better, and to adapt their current plans if required. What will they do if, a year from now, scientists determine that we have to cut our carbon emissions to 0 tons by 2030 or face an insane global climate, with tens of meters of sea level rise, a Permian-style extinction event, and water/energy wars between the 10% haves and the 90% have-nots? Will either of them make the hard choices and figure out a way to save everyone, or will they throw up their hands and say “It’s too hard, I guess we’ll just let the climate go haywire – that’s the easier thing to do”?

    Either way, though, I suspect that either of the Democrats are still better than McCain on this one.

  2. At least we can take hope because Al Gore has supported no one. That leaves him free to be energy czar in anybody’s administration (well, maybe not McCain’s).

  3. You both make good points. How about this?

    We push for candidates to pledge to appoint a Presidential Commission on Climate Change within their first three months in office. They’ll appoint leading scientists, policy makers, NGOs, Gore, etc. to be on The Commission. The Commission is tasked with developing a comprehensive approach to climate change, including but not limited to cap and trade, green investments, research and development and planning for future changes in scientific understanding.

    The Commission will then have one year to put forth a comprehensive policy solution, to be debated in the United States Congress. If a President really wanted to make this happen, they could do so before L-W would even be scheduled to begin reducing emissions, assuming it passes this summer.

  4. Sounds great to me, Josh. Get something on the books (L-W maybe, or something else) as a “better than nothing” fallback position, and then implement a comprehensive policy.