The political choice on energy
This post originally appeared on CSRwire.com.
The conventions are over and the election season has revved up in earnest. Both presidential candidates have referred to the election as a “choice.”
When it comes to energy policy, there are some areas of overlap in the two parties’ positions, but the fundamental differences couldn’t be starker. And the implications for the clean energy sector and the sustainability community are make or break.
In a year of record heat waves, fires, floods and drought, the two words “climate change” have been remarkably absent on the campaign trail of both parties -- until Obama made the promise at the DNC that he would “reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax.”
The Democratic Party platform took an even stronger stance -- but few read it and less commented. It was a pointed rebuttal to Mitt Romney’s mockery at the RNC the week before: “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. [Pause for audience guffaws.] Mypromise is to help you and your family.”
Many have pointed out since that global warming is no mocking matter -- it threatens the very survival of us and our families. But truth-to-snark aside, how different are the two candidate’s positions on climate change?
A clue can be found in written answers Obama and Romney both gave post-conventions to ScienceDebate.org’s question on the issue:
Obama: Climate change is the one of the biggest issues of this generation, and we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. Since taking office I have established historic standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles for the first time in history. My administration has made unprecedented investments in clean energy, proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants and reduced carbon emissions within the Federal Government.
Since I took office, the U.S. is importing an average of 3 million fewer barrels of oil every day, and our dependence on foreign oil is at a 20-year low. We are also showing international leadership on climate change, reaching historic agreements to set emission limits in unison with all major developed and developing nations. There is still more to be done to address this global problem. I will continue efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating an economy built to last.
I’ve been reading Michael Grunwald’s fascinating new book, The New New Deal, which is about the huge positive impact Obama’s much-maligned and misunderstood stimulus program has had on the development of the domestic clean energy industry (among others,) and it bears out what Obama claims in the first part of his answer.
However, it’s not clear that the historic low in “our dependence on foreign oil” has much to do with Obama’s promotion of clean energy: it has partly been driven by the boom in hydrofracked gas (which is far from clean, even in greenhouse gas emissions), by the recession, and by the growth in domestic shale oil production -- the dirtiest of dirty fossil fuel production. As with Obama, “energy independence” is a central meme of Romney’s energy policy, but it’s more explicitly tied to oil, gas and coal.
Now for Romney’s answer it’s much longer, so I’ll excerpt and summarize it. (Read the entire answerhere):
Romney: I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue...and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.
So, in effect, Romney thinks the “debate” on climate change is still open, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus (including a former climate skeptic funded by the Koch brothers) that human-caused climate change is real, happening now, and approaching critical tipping points. His nod to the threat of climate change is barely perceptible.
In his answer, Romney goes on to say that science “does not dictate policy;” he opposes “steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system,” claiming they “would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away, all without actually addressing the underlying problem; and proposes instead to promote “economic growth and technological innovation, not economy-suppressing regulation” as the solution to global warming.
The Republican Party platform did even worse.