Clearly the results of Tuesday’s election will have a global impact. In a time where environmental policy may be the single most important long-term consideration, the front-page dominance of the economic crisis has allowed the candidates’ green sides slip under the radar.
Looking at their respective voting records, the record is mixed: McCain has not voted on any environmental issues since January 2007, whereas Obama has voted on all but one, and always in favour. Prior to that, however, McCain did vote to strip subsidies from the nuclear, coal, oil, and gas industries, whereas Obama did not.
Environment America, an environmental awareness group, recently gave McCain a score of 27% for his environmental efforts, whereas Obama came in at 86%. However, The League of Conservative Voters, a similar body, put Obama’s score at as low as 18%.
As far as policies are concerned, there is little difference in many areas. Obama and McCain both support a cap-and-trade system, with McCain advocating ‘offsets’ for large businesses and Obama proposing pollution credits. The two also agree on the need for a globally co-ordinated resolution to help tackle the problem, with McCain focussing on the need to engage by leading UN negotiations.
The only significant difference is when you get to the detail. While McCain seeks to maintain economic running simultaneous to environmental policy, Obama specifically looks at other ways of improving the environment. Obama’s target of 80% emissions reduction looks overly ambitions, and McCain justifies his 60% target by saying that he will also maximise the emissions reduction in the areas most affected by change.
While Obama’s policies are well rounded, they do not have any give in them, and he will no doubt fail to meet his own demanding targets. McCain’ targets are easy enough, given the flexibility and political wriggle-room. Both seem to be moving towards a more environmentally friendly USA, but both seem to be doing it slowly. While Obama is probably the greener of the two, the gap between them is far less than one might have otherwise expected.
McCain suggests that businesses would be allowed to purchase “offsets” to cover their legally necessary reductions, small businesses completely exempt from the entire system; Obama similarly suggests auctioning “pollution credits” that will fund environmental projects including developing cleaner technology.
When talking about a global resolution, the two parties are similar. “Barack Obama and Joe Biden understand that the only real solution to climate change requires all major emitting nations to join in the solution,” whereas John McCain suggests that this should be done by “Actively Engaging To Lead United Nations Negotiations.” [sic]
On policy, McCain states that the adaption plan should not purely be based on cutting carbon emissions and developing new technologies to deal with the causes but that a “comprehensive plan will address the full range of issues: infrastructure, ecosystems, resource planning, and emergency preparation.” [sic] He further states that the adaption plan should focus on implementation in the local areas that will be most affected.
He continues, saying that the emission cuts could be “banked” and “borrowed” so that they can be accelerated or deferred depending on the economic efficiency of the era. Perhaps he is using the current economic crisis as an excuse for a more Republican attitude towards the environment, but perhaps he is preparing himself for potential economic problems. The danger is that many major businesses will find themselves able to continue with little change and small businesses will be unaffected by his environmental policies.
Obama promises to “convert our manufacturing centres into clean technology lenders” and states that he will increase fuel economy standards, invest in electric vehicles, develop sustainable biofuels, “develop and deploy clean coal technology”, and acquire “safe and secure nuclear energy”.