The shape of the race


Now that John McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee, the shape of the debate over climate change takes on different contours. Hillary and Obama are offering substantively similar climate plans, so there’s no need to wait for the Democratic contest to be decided before we start gaming out a few scenarios.

1) Will climate change take on more or less prominence as an issue in the general election?

Argument for less: with everyone preaching from the same book, the media sees no hay to make. This suits the candidates fine. McCain knows the topic alienates conservatives. Hillbama knows their policy position makes them look liberal and McCain look independent/centrist. Under different circumstances, the Dem could have tried to portray the Republican as reactionary, but no longer. Everyone changes the subject to war and the economy.

Argument for more: candidates might want to ignore the issue, but they won’t be allowed to. Seeing the writing (now bold-print, 198-point font) on the wall for 2009, interest groups go nuts. Environmental Defense and the Competitive Enterprise Institute take out dueling ads in swing states. Slow-witted reporters find a story angle: whose climate change plan wrecks the economy more? “Energy independence” and “green collar jobs” become dominant buzzwords of the election cycle.

Safe prediction: an escalating contest to prove who loves biofuels more culminates in one candidate chugging a gallon of ethanol on live TV.

2) With all candidates agreeing on the need for a carbon cap, will proposed legislation become weaker or stronger?

Weaker: with McCain providing cover on the issue, Hillbama and Democrats in general delightedly tack to the center. By erasing any difference between themselves and McCain, they hope to neutralize wedge issue politics and rob anti-environmental voters of a clear choice. McCain himself implicitly backs away from his previous commitments by ostentatiously bear-hugging a bunch of poison pills (nuclear energy, etc.) and daring his opponent to follow him.

Stronger: recognizing that most of the public isn’t following the weedy details, candidates and lawmakers engage directly with the relevant interest groups. The policy momentum strongly favors greens, who are increasingly happy to let the question simmer until 2009. For its part, industry is newly ready to make concessions.

Safe prediction: the eventual legislation will contain provisions for creating jobs, battling terrorism, and whitening teeth.

Anyone care to place some bets?

Author Bio


Comments Disabled

  1. Anonymous - February 13, 2008

    To the Author:
    I understand the your article is meant to be light-hearted yet I got absolutely nothing from it! Where do the candidates stand? (More detail)! What are the likely obstacles they face? From whom? What can we do to make a difference? It is an important topic which should be covered with more sincerity and depth from an organization like Terrapass.
    Please do better in the future.

  2. susanna - February 13, 2008

    Yes, I too was expecting more insight.

  3. ewoc - February 13, 2008

    If you accept the conclusions of the IPCC, the next President may be the last to have the opportunity to take bold action on curbing emissions and limiting global warming before we pass critical thresholds and lose any ability to control the ultimate outcome around us. That’s why a glib take on the race – in this space, of all places – is especially unwelcome – you folks know this as well as we, your readers, do. This is not a “horse race,” but you treat it as if it is. Alas…..

  4. Anonymous - February 13, 2008

    And another agreement on the initial comment. I found this article pointlessly snarky and insubstantial, and was disappointed because the teaser made me think it would advance my understanding of the candidates’ positions. To be fair, Mr. Stein usually puts out thoughtful and well-considered content.

  5. MT - February 13, 2008

    this article did not clarify the answer, but clearly the Democrats will be more responsive than McCain. What can one expect from someone who said we may be in Iraq for the next 100 years? Pressure in the way of letters, e-mails should be sent to Hilary and Barach so they understand that a stand on the question is needed.

  6. MD - February 13, 2008

    I kept reading the initial paragraphs, thinking they were the appetizer for the meat, figuratively speaking, that was to follow. Then I kept looking for the second page. Then I gave up, incredulous that nothing had been said.

  7. Adam Stein - February 13, 2008

    Hi all,
    Well, the people have spoken. But, yes, this was a horse race post, and I think the horse race is a fine thing to write about. It’s legitimate to ask how climate change will be treated as an election issue. I agree that focusing on nothing but horse race stuff is a bad habit, but we don’t really do that here.
    Anyhow, I’ll post a comparison of candidates’ climate plans next week.

  8. MT - February 13, 2008

    this article did not clarify the answer, but clearly the Democrats will be more responsive than McCain. What can one expect from someone who said we may be in Iraq for the next 100 years? Pressure in the way of letters, e-mails should be sent to Hilary and Barach so they understand that a stand on the question is needed.

  9. lance - February 13, 2008

    Not to sound too pessimistic here, but does anyone really think any of these candidates are going to behave much differently from the previous 30-50 years of elected national politicians? Our government model is fundamentally a corporatist rubric, with politicians of all stripes beholding to their corporate masters. The Politico-Media-Military-Industrial Complex that now sets our direction only cares about the environment to the extent that it gets them elected and keeps the people appeased to the point of not storming the barricades. Personally, I think it is not any one candidate’s “green cred” or even their stated policy positions that matter as much as his/her degree of corporate indebtedness. For this reason, which is enough, Obama is the only candidate that will advance the issues of the environment and all the people ahead of corporate profits.

  10. Evan Little - February 13, 2008

    ??When will the massess learn that the real problem with nearly EVERYTHING is the federal reserve??
    That the printing of money out of thin air has turned us into slaves without even knowing it.
    Tax credits are funded by poor and middle class tax payers. These funds are fought over by lobbyist and eventually take shap as some sort of tax incentive. The energy used to collect money from tax payers and give it back to them is a waste. We need to keep our earned income and elect leaders daring enough to look us in the eye and tell us how it is. Take on responsibility for our own lives and communities.
    !!PLEASE!! Look at Ron Paul with an open mind and be willing to rethink the way you’ve been brought up.
    By the way, the Federal Reserve is owned by private banking individuals, the Federal Reserve Act was written by banking lawyers, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson’s election campaign was founded by the same banking interests.
    Like Democratic Senator Mike Gravel says, “FOLLOW THE MONEY!!”.

  11. ewoc - February 13, 2008

    Hi Evan,
    Simple solutions for our complex problems are great……except when they’re wrong. Which unfortunately they often are.
    Libertarianism presumes that giving people the “freedom” to do what they want will lead to a better life for all. That includes developing land without regard for your neighbors (“it’s my land and I will do with it what I damn please!”); emitting greenhouse gases up the wazoo because we all have a “right” to use energy……(again, we’ll do as we damn well please”, etc) and the “solutions” to environmental problems, according to my libertarian acquaintances (who include some of the leading intellectuals of the movement) is to give everyone the right to sue for damages if someone harms them. Been in court lately? Sounds like fun to me!
    Don’t know about you, but I don’t wish to live in that Brave New World. If you do, I suggest you move to Houston – I hear they have no zoning and the right to pollute is firmly entrenched in the EPA regs declaring it permanently out of compliance with the Clean Air Act. Then again, if you don’t like regulation (i.e. if you are a libertarian) you don’t support the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act or the EPA or the Wilderness Act or…………….you name it.
    As to the allegation that our financial mess is due exclusively to the Fed (though Greenspan must take some credit for our mess, BUT one must recall that he was actually a devotee of Ayn Rand, the Goddess/High Priestess of Libertarianism…) some of the same folks who have tooted that horn for decades also say that Jews control the world’s finances and governments too. And the Queen of England conspires with the Jews on a regular basis.
    Again, conspiracy theories are awful nice to calm the mind if complexity threatens stormy weather ahead……..

  12. Ernest - February 14, 2008

    Carbon cap & trade is a weak device, full of opportunity for abuse, and very complex. A simple carbon fee is the better choice but then citizens would know up front what they are doing and politicians certainly prefer the sneaky route.

  13. Anonymous - February 14, 2008

    Please! I need information not light hearted humor. This is hugely important for my grandchildren. I will be dead before the worst strikes but they will not. lej

  14. Mark - February 15, 2008

    Here’s my bet.
    Politicians from either side will push for carbon cap legislation if they can figure out a way to weasel a new layer of tax revenues out of it. The “soak the rich and the evil corporation” Dems will be more aggressive and less apologetic about it, but both sides of the aisle has a huge tax and spend problem.
    Another layer of taxes and regulations in my view will do about as much for the issues we face as more funding for education. Important-sounding platitudes on the surface, but relatively little substance or return on investment when government agencies get involved. (i.e. – Homeland Security, Dept of Education, FEMA, the IRS…)
    The test of time and effectiveness proves out for meaningful incentives and good old private sector American capitalism vs. goverment-run programs every time.

  15. Thea in Austin, TX - February 17, 2008

    I definitely don’t look at this as a news piece since more detailed distinctions between candidates are absent.
    Note: Obama believes in removing federal oil/gas tax breaks and re-investing that money into renewable energy sources. He also spoke to Detroit’s automakers (in person) stating that their efforts to go green will get his support (financially) as president so they can re-tool plants, remain competitive and keep their jobs. This is one of the most depressed cities in our country and he’s speaking to the issues that affect them directly.
    If you’d like to see more about his stance on the environment, check is official website:
    Yes We Can!
    Obama ’08