Horse race update: a personal encounter with John Edwards

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I was part of a group of environmental and business leaders invited to meet with presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth in the San Francisco Bay Area last Saturday. The gathering was a chance to give Edwards advice on environmental policy, especially about addressing global warming. (Please note: I was not representing TerraPass at the meeting, nor am I affiliated in any formal way with the Edwards campaign.)

In person, Edwards is relaxed and approachable. The meeting was low-key — Edwards himself showed up in jeans and a sport jacket. After a round of handshakes and introductions, we quickly got into substance.

Edwards displayed an impressive knowledge about global warming. Not at the Al Gore level, but comfortably fluent in cap and trade, atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, and the likely impacts of melting polar ice caps and sea level rises. He briefly shared his New Energy Economy plan and highlighted opportunities to spur “green collar” job growth in the United States.

Then he asked us questions on the potential for plug-in hybrids, the current limits of battery technology, how to give companies credit for voluntary greenhouse gas reductions, and whether recent evidence of climate impacts made the goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 not ambitious enough. Our answers led to a real back-and-forth that I don’t think happens very often in modern political campaigns. Elizabeth Edwards revealed her own command of carbon-speak, as well.

Among Edwards’ positions:

  • Corn-based ethanol is not the answer to our liquid fuel needs, although it may provide a bridge of practical experience on the path towards more energy-efficient biofuels (Edwards said he tells this same truth to corn farmers in Iowa).
  • Firm opposition to a new generation of nuclear plants because of operational safety concerns and the unresolved problem of nuclear waste.
  • A ban on new coal-fired power plants until carbon-capture technology is proven and commercialized.

Edwards also said that America needed to regain its leadership in global negotiations on a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol and that we would only be successful if we led by example with an aggressive commitment to reduce carbon emissions. He thinks we can bring China and India into a new climate deal by sharing our green technologies. Finally, Edwards articulated a new kind of American patriotism, one that links national security with energy conservation and calls on Americans to make personal sacrifices in the interests of reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

Other presidential candidates have strong climate change proposals, too. (For the Democrats, see Clinton, Obama, and Richardson; for the Republicans, see McCain and the latest GOP climate convert, Huckabee.) But beyond the policy specifics, Edwards really seems to understand the complexity of climate change and the massive economic and energy transformation required to deal with the problem. He showed humility in wanting to learn from experts. And he left me with the sense he might be the guy who could lead the U.S. and the family of nations to a more secure, low-carbon world.

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  1. Tracy - October 24, 2007

    Although I feel John Edwards offers the most compelling views on climate change, I fear he has little chance of doing well in the primaries. I can only hope he’ll surprise me.

  2. Abigail - October 24, 2007

    Tracy, I think that John Edwards has an excellent chance, but the media is giving a distorted view of the strength of his support. I am in San Mateo County, California, and this past weekend the Democratic Party held a straw poll, and Edwards won with a commanding lead.
    I think that the corporate interests that control the media would rather see a business-as-usual candidate; and they have a direct financial interest in fueling a battle between well-funded candidates with a lot of money to spend on television advertising. But at the grassroots level there is tremendous support.
    If you support Edwards, I think the best thing you can do to advance his candidacy is tell your friends! Put an Edwards sign on your house and a bumper sticker on your car. I’ve found that when I start talking about it, just about everyone I talk to also says that they like Edwards the best, too — and if they are undecided, the more they learn, the more they like.

  3. Anonymous - October 31, 2007

    Of the Democrat candidates for president, I believe that Dennis Kucinich had the most well formulated plan early (as expressed in detailed Q/A interviews on Grist.org website), compared to the other candidates at that point he clearly understands these issues and wants the US to go the farthest toward sustainability regarding the climate change question.
    I am encouraged that other candidates including Edwards and my current favorite, Obama, have also started to gain such clarity in their vision for a future America under their leadership. 80% reductions by 2050 will require determination and innovation but America is known for just that kind of response when the chips are down.

  4. Eric Nguyen - October 31, 2007

    I would love to get the Terrapass team’s opinions on which candidate’s energy platform is most likely to address global climate change effectively. Perhaps there are some secondary analyses that you guys trust. Whose plan is the most innovative? Whose is most comprehensive?

  5. richard schumacher - October 31, 2007

    Senator Edwards has the most comprehensive and progressive position on global warming, but it is discouraging that he and all major candidates are paying lip service to the “clean coal” chimera. The current rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere means that we would have to capture and store more than one thousand cubic miles of CO2 every year. This is impossible.
    Nuclear power is the most economical alternative we have which can immediately start to replace coal as a significant part of the world’s energy supply. True leadership on energy policy requires support of safe clean nuclear power, including an international regime to prevent weaponization and oversee safe storage of waste, and a development program to replace uranium with thorium (which cannot be weaponized) as the nuclear fuel of choice.

  6. Adam Stein - October 31, 2007

    Eric — Good question. Also: a little tricky. For example, Dodd is the only who has come out in favor of a carbon tax and a moratorium on new coal plants, which is cool, but he’s not a viable candidate. So looking at frontrunners, and ranked roughly in terms of quality of plan, in my opinion:
    Edwards: most comprehensive plan. Has said also no new coal plants without IGGC, which is…better than nothing.
    Obama: plan almost as good as Edwards. A history of waffliness on coal. Altogether very solid.
    Clinton: supports action on climate change, hasn’t really molded her specific policy positions into a comprehensive plan. Possibly this is still coming.
    McCain: credit where it’s due, he’s been beating this drum for a long time now. He wants a 65% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which isn’t enough, but he seems to actually care about this issue.
    Huckabee: recently came out in favor of cap and trade. This isn’t a signature issue for him, but he seems now to be firmly on board the climate change train.
    Grist also has a good round-up here: http://grist.org/feature/2007/07/06/candidates/

  7. Anonymous - October 31, 2007

    John Edwards, sincere knowledgeable and the only one whod has an agenda that anyone can read. I support these positions and i support John Edwards.

  8. Chad - November 1, 2007

    Frankly, the policy differences between the Democratic candidates are so small as to be insignificant. Assuming you are going to vote for one of them, I would recommend Obama. Why? Because he is likable and personable, and doesn’t give off the air of phoniness of candidates such as Clinton or Edwards (or Romney on the other side).
    Republicans HATE Clinton. They merely disagree with Obama. I hope you understand why 4-8 years of the latter is better than 4-8 years of the former.
    I also like Biden but he is too far back to have a shot at winning.

  9. Adam Stein - November 1, 2007

    Chad reminds me of the other major caveat I meant to mention (but forgot) — there’s only so far you can go evaluating candidates by poring over the finer points of their policy proposals. The policy proposals certainly matter, but mostly as a sort of general guide to a candidate’s priorities and allegiances. Presidents don’t, after all, get to write legislation.

  10. Kaiba - November 1, 2007

    I just want to say that I started off as an Obama supporter, but after he came out in favor of coal-to-liquid technology, I started shopping around. I’m glad I did. Edwards is simply a far better candidate on a variety of issues.

    Most importantly for me, his proposed environmental and climate change policies are well thought out, detailed and progressive. The only point of dissent I have with Edwards is that I believe we shouldn’t used coal even if there is a way to safely sequester the carbon because of the extreme environmental degradation that takes place in the mining process, especially with mountain top removal in Appalachia. Still, I feel like this is the type of issue Edwards could be persuaded to come around on much more easily than the other front runners. On top of that, he is taking public funding. That’s big for me.

    I’ve spent the last couple years working for environmental non-profits and I’m currently in the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning graduate program at Tufts University. These are the issues I care about most and Edwards is the candidate for me.

    And for those who are thinking, “yeah, I like him, he’s great, but he doesn’t have enough support”; start with yourself. Edwards isn’t the front runner right now, but the democratic process can change that. If you like Edwards, say so; let people know you’re voting for him. That alone can start to have a snowball effect.

    John Edwards for President 2008!

  11. robotguy - November 1, 2007

    I too started as an Obama supporter, but after seeing Edwards in person and reading his New Energy Economy plan I have switched to him.

    There are reasons other than his energy policy why I think he is the best candidate however. As Chad said Republicans hate Clinton, and so do many democrats though perhaps not as loudly. She is just too divisive. In national general election polls she has not stood up well. Obama is better but has not and still does not enunciate his plans in enough detail to sound like a presidential candidate, and he has very little experience in politics.

    Edwards has none of these problems. He is likable, experienced, non-divisive, and has few if any real negatives to being our next president.

  12. MNWalleye - November 2, 2007

    What is it with rich people who think their some sort of environmentalist when they’re nothing of the sort? http://carolinajournal.com/exclusives/display_exclusive.html?id=3848
    Do you think just building a 28,000 square foot McMansion just MIGHT release a huge amount of co2 into the atmosphere? Then consider the additional co2 release needed just to maintain it and control the climate inside.
    Hey but lets be fair; http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/03/20/edwards_touts_his_energy_efficient_home/
    Do you think the brain dead media will have the courage to actually ask to see a utility bill?
    Maybe he should take some tips from this guy; http://edc.uoregon.edu/node/572
    If it’s ok for John to live this way, then why can’t we all?

  13. Anon - December 7, 2007

    altho you did not represent terrapass in your interview with edwards, you said you have an opinion and possibly a position on plugin hybrids. what say you?