“Is Global Warming Overblown?

When it comes to the Presidential campaign and global warming, there seems to have been a virtual blackout in the broadcast media. Search for the questions on this issue on that stalwart Meet The Press. If you find anything meaningful, let me know. And, well, that is about the level of coverage that is throughout the campaign.

Tonight, Katie Couric and CBS News are going to blast through this barrier, the day after Gore receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and amid the Bali negotiations. CBS is doing a segment on The Candidates On Climate Change. The core question:

Is The Global Warming Threat Overblown?

Primary Questions

Couric has asked the 10 leading campaigns a set of 10 questions.  (Wonder if she can do the math: that should mean 100 answers.)  And, up tonight is the environmental question.  Again, “Is the Global Warming Threat Overblown?” 

To be honest, I simply do not know what to write or say in the face of that question. The real value, as someone said to me, is that it did offer the opportunity to respond: “No. Actually, it is being far understated.”

But, let us look at what the responses were

The candidates respond

JOHN EDWARDS
Edwards: It seems to me that every time we get more scientific information it indicates the problem is more severe, more serious than we though[t]. So, no, I don’t think it’s being over-hyped.

This is that ‘rejection’ message that I suggested above.  While I would have liked to see, “Are you kidding me with this question? If anything, we’re understating the science …”, Edwards accomplished basically that point without being so confrontational.

Couric: What three things would you do about it?

Edwards: Have a national cap on carbon emissions. I’d make polluters pay, people who below the cap are still putting out carbon dioxide. And that money from making the polluters pay for a permit to do that should be invested in clean, renewable sources of energy, wind, solar, fuels. We have to clean up our act. As we start cleaning up our act, I think we’re in a place to be able to go to China, to India, to the other countries that need to be part of the solution and say “we’re developing the technology. We’re willing to make this technology available to you. But we’re gonna have to solve this problem together.”

Okay, very reasonable answer.  Without getting into whose candidate is best type arguments, Edwards has a good plan re Global Warming and Energy (even though I don’t agree with all of it) . This is a good answer and, amid the Lieberman-Warner debate, it is good that he emphasized that pollution permits should be auctioned and those revenues put to better use than enriching fossil fuel company shareholders.

FRED THOMPSON

Thompson: There are a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t know to the extent this is a cyclical thing. This may or may not effect very much. The extremists are the ones who want to do drastic things to our economy before we have more answers as to how much good we can do and whether people in the other parts of the world are going to contribute. It’s the fact that our entitlements are bankrupting the next generation. We’re spending the money of those yet to be born and we can’t continue that way.

Nice to know, I guess, tha tthere is at least one ‘skeptic’ in that top 10 field.  The tactic, de jour, is ‘delay’.  Anyone advocating “massive research to find the answer” is tending to say “let’s not do anything right now that might be disruptive. 

And, well, isn’t it nice that Grandpa turned the discussion to Social Security and Medicare and well all these things that are so peripherally related to Global Warming?

Couric: You think that the state of entitlements is a more serious problem than global warming?

Thompson: It’s a more obvious problem. I mean, ultimately global warming may be a greater problem. I don’t think we know the answer to that. I can’t give you a list of specific items I would address. I think research and development has got to be at the top of that list.

 Wow, Katie picked up the shifting of subject.  And, Grandpa just doesn’t know. Are we surprised?

HILLARY CLINTON

Clinton: I don’t think that it’s over-hyped. I think we have time but we have to start acting now. I would put a heavy emphasis on energy efficiency. We ca[n] drastically lower our use of electricity, thereby drastically lowering our use of coal-powered electricity. We need to have higher gas mileage and I have advocated 40 miles per gallon by 2020 and I believe that’s achievable. But we’re gonna have to help Detroit do it. I want to leave the world in a post-Kyoto agreement that I hope we can get resolved and signed that will include China and India.

Want to have energy independence bonds like we had during the World War when we had war bonds. If we have people buying those bonds, we will take that money and put it into what I would call a strategic energy fund. This has to be change from the lowest level of the family and business level all the way up to the national and international level.

As with Edwards, Hillary’s answer is strong with “don’t think that it’s over-hyped”.  And, her energy plan and points here are serious, ones that make sense, as does her energy plan.  (Again, even if I don’t agree with everything in it, there are many quite positive and serious elements in her plan. My write-up:  Hillary Does Energy and Gets a Lot Right.)

JOHN MCCAIN

McCain: I have been to Greenland, I have been to the South Pole. I’ve been to the Arctic and I know it’s real. I believe that we’ve got to go back to nuclear power. We’ve got to do alternative energy. We’ve got to have a cap in trade proposal which Joe Lieberman and I have proposed.

McCain seems to get it, in terms of Global Warming being serious. If the “R”/”D” divide were represented by McCain as typical “R”, then the issue of Global Warming would not, per se, be a partisan issue any longer, but truly a discussion as to priorities as to how to act. What are the right approaches. 

We need to do green technologies. Let me put it this way to you. Suppose I’m wrong, there’s no such thing as climate change, we adopt green technologies. Then we’ve just left our kids a better world. Suppose I am right and we do nothing? Then what kind of planet have we handed to our children. I’ve been involved in this effort for many years. And we’ve got to act. And unfortunately, we have not acted either as a federal government or a Congress.

I wonder how well this message works in the R community: that we win with ‘green technologies’ whether or not there is Global Warming. He leaves the door open for skeptics and deniers to support him by arguing that the ‘answer’ to Global Warming solves many other problems and is useful even without Global Warming as an issue.

Couric: Why has it taken so long, Senator?

McCain: Special interests. It’s the special interests. It’s the utility companies and the petroleum companies and other special interests. They’re the ones that have blocked progress in the congress of the United States and the administration. That’s a little straight talk.

Anyone disagree with this?

BARACK OBAMA

Obama: No, I think they’re serious. I think we have to take significant steps now to deal with it. I’ve put forward a very substantial proposal to get 80 percent reductions in greenhouse gases by 2050. That is going to require that we change how power plants operate. That’s going to require that we increase fuel efficiency standards, that we develop clean and renewable sources like solar and wind and biodiesel.

 Again, sadly, not a direct rejection of the question.  And, a real answer. Am I allowed to say that I would have preferred not to see biofuels as part of a short answer in this arena?

And we’re going to have to charge for pollution and create a market for pollution abatement and create green technologies that can over the long term generate jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities all over the country. But we’ve got a moral obligation to deal with this. And you’re already seeing the effects in not just the United States but all around the world in ways that ultimately could affect our national security.

Sadly, Obama went off on this answer. Not in terms of substance, but in terms of framing.  For me, the “moral obligation” is absolutely true. But, we can capture McCain’s tact as well: this are simply smart things to do, whether or not there is a Global Warming. We can, as a society (and as individuals) make green by Going Green.  The Moral Imperative is real, but we will strengthen the United States by taking these actions. It is not solely avoiding a negative (that minor little thing called catastrophic climate change) but also an opportunity to create positives (Green Jobs, improved balance of payments, improved health care, reduced vulnerability to foreign energy supplies, reduced requirement to be militarily involved in the Middle East, etc …)

MITT ROMNEY

Romney: I think the risks of climate change are real. And that you’re seeing real climate change. And I think human activity is contributing to it. I would develop sources of energy which would allow us to be free of foreign oil. But sources that don’t emit CO2. And that’s nuclear power, clean-burning coal, all of our renewable resources and so forth. I also wanna see greater efficiencies in our autos, in our homes, in our businesses. That’ll get [u]s energy independen[ce].

To me, Mitt boought into the question but does state here that it is a real problem.   

I don’t wanna have America unilaterally think it’s somehow gonna stop global warming. They don’t call it America warming. They call it global warming. And that means China, which is the biggest CO2 emitter in the world, as well as other nations like Indonesia and Brazil are gonna have to be a part of the global effort. So Kyoto was wrong, because it left major polluting nations out.

Isn’t it nice that he turned the discussion to Kyoto and “major polluting nations”. What is interesting, of course, is the nice blurring of the world today with a decade ago.  China’s is today’s biggest CO2 emitter but certainly wasn’t while Kyoto was being negotiated. 

And, well, it is nice for Mitt to suggest that anyone who thinks seriously about Global Warming considers it possible for the United States to fix everything unilaterally.  I do appreciate his educational point:  “They don’t call it America warming. They call it global warming.”  For some reason, I had thought Romney more intelligent than this.

BILL RICHARDSON

Richardson: No, if anything they’re underblown.

 Let’s give Bill some credit. He hit this one out of the park.

“No, if anything, they’re underblown.”

That is the answer I was waiting for.

Three things I would do is I would have fuel efficiency in all vehicles 50 miles per gallon. The second I would say all electricity in this country, 30 percent by the year 2020 has to come from renewable energy, solar, wind, biomass. And the third would be I would put a mandate that says we are going to have a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2040.

And, his energy plan has a lot of very positive elements. His three points are quite strong elements of his Energy Revolution plan. 

RUDY GIULIANI

Giuliani: There is global warming. Human beings are contributing to it. I think the best answer to it is energy independence. We’ve got more coal reserves in the us than they have oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. If we find a way to deal with it and use it so it doesn’t hurt the environment, we’re going to find ourselves not contributing to global warming and also being more energy independent. I think we have to take another look at nuclear power. France is 80 percent nuclear. We’re 20, but going down to 15. We haven’t had a licensed nuclear power plant in 30 years. It has to be done carefully. But we haven’t lost a life to nuclear power yet. We have wind, solar, hydroelectric, hybrid vehicles. All these things need to have an appropriate emphasis on conservation. You can’t do it with any one of these things. You can’t just do conservation. Otherwise you’re not going to have growth.

 The best answer to “Global Warming … is energy independence.”  Huh?  We can state that the best answer to our balance of trade challenges is energy independence. Or, that the best path forward for national security might be energy independence. But, how does Energy Independence, by itself, solve Global Warming?  Want to talk about conflating subjects?

Okay, he is emphasizing nuclear power. And, mentioning renewables. And, mentioning conservation. Okay, reasonable answers, not that I find anything here that will lead me to climb a mountain to sing praises. 

And, well, “you can’t just do coservation.” Again, who is serious about energy issues who argues that the only path forward is conservation?

JOE BIDEN

Biden: I think Al Gore has done something really quite phenomenal. He has brought into the consciousness the reality of what is going to happen. Whether it’s 2040, whether it’s 2050, 2070. It’s going to happen unless we change behavior. I literally would make an executive order saying the United States government will not purchase one single vehicle that didn’t get 45 miles to the gallon. And would not – and as a fleet, all the vehicles we buy.

And we will not build one single building that was not green. Whether I am in Iowa … (inaudible) … ethanol. They go “yeah, great for my state.” I say “how many ethanol gas stations you got out here?” And they go like this. Like “no.” There are not. So the second thing is you gotta build infrastructure. That the federal government has to be a catalyst for. The third thing I would do is I think you could when you do is announce to the nation that you’re making the same kind of commitment, it sounds kind of corny. The same kind of commitment that Kennedy made about going to the moon.

Joe gave a good answer, even though he seems (no surprise) to not have taken a moment to directly answer the question as to whether fears are “overblown”.  I found his statement rather uninspiring and, well, without great depth. 

MIKE HUCKABEE

Huckabee: I don’t know. I mean, the honest answer for me, scientifically, is “I don’t know.” But here’s one thing I do know, that we ought to not let this become this big political football and point of argument. We all ought to agree that we live on this planet as guests. I think Republicans have made a big mistake by not being more on the forefront of conservationism.

This is interesting. Huckabee is stating, here, that he is not a skeptic but too ignorant to answer the question. And, well, what is truly interesting is that he highlights this as an arena of political weakness. That the Republicans need to get their act together re “conservationism” or else they will suffer politically.

And, not surprisingly, he places the discussion within religious stewardship, “we live on this planet as guests”.

I consider myself a conservationist. I think we ought to have some cap and trade. It worked with acid rain. I think it could work with CO2 emissions. I think we ought to be out there talking about ways to reduce energy consumption and waste. And we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade, bold as that is.

Frankly, it’s a matter of national security to get to the point where we’re not dependent upon oil coming from countries who, frankly, aren’t very friendly to us.

Now, this is a reasonable response. Again, if this is the “R” side of the Global Warming debate, the debate moves to ‘how best to move forward’ and the debate could be useful.

Now, there is one element here that puts Mike Huckabee in a category all by himself:

we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade, bold as that is.

The zero-energy economy. Now, that is something that not even the most aggressive Green is calling for.

In Conclusion

It is good to see a Global Warming question being asked of Presidential candidates by a powerhouse journalist like Katie Couric.  We can hope that the next “serious” journalist to ask a Global Warming question might start with a more serious question.

Notes:

  • There are traditional media outlets who have done reasonable to good jobs in laying out this issue. The New York Times had a good article on the Republican candidates re Global Warming issues and has an excellent web page which is a resource to use with Grist’s How Green is Your Candidate?  (See R Schizophrenia re Global Warming.)  I have yet to do a side-by-side analysis of all the candidates’ energy and global warming platforms.
  • While I saw an ad for it, hat to Sierra Club (and their press release) for prompting me to look more closely at this.  Sierra Club’s conclusion is positive:

all of the leading presidential contenders, except for Sen. Fred Thompson, acknowledge that global warming is happening.

Without the work of Sierra Club and others (LCV & Heat Is On, StepItUp, Stop Global Warming, The Climate Project, and many others), we could wonder whether the answers to these questions might have been different.

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4 responses to ““Is Global Warming Overblown?

  1. john in california

    did she question Kucinich? He is the visionary on global warming. Here is a few minutes of what he offers:

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