In the 2008 Election Home Stretch: Review the Candidates Positions & Go Vote!

If you're anything like me, you're both thrilled and relieved that the 2008 presidential elections will actually be happening tomorrow, and on Wednesday we will finally (barring technical, judicial malfunctions...fingers crossed) be able to, as fellow TreeHugger Lloyd Alter puts it, get back to green instead of red and blue.

But we're not quite there yet, and in the spirit of helping out the handful of TreeHugger readers who haven't yet made up their minds and to stimulate post-election policy discussion, I'd just like to again point out and summarize some of the differences between Barack Obama and John McCain on energy and climate change policy:

Obama v McCain on Renewable Energy


On renewable energy the primary difference between the candidates at the broadest level is how they prioritize greater implementation of renewable energy.

John McCain—while paying lip service to greater use of wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels—clearly and consistently believes that in the near future (certainly in the time he would be in office) greater reliance on nuclear power as well as increased offshore oil drilling is the path to increased energy independence in the United States. To his credit, John McCain has spoken out against continuing subsidies to the corn industry, which I believe to be a good thing.

On the other hand, Barack Obama—while not ruling out the use of greater nuclear power, clean coal, or even offshore oil drilling with qualifications—has expressed much greater confidence in the ability of renewable energy technology to supply a greater percentage of our energy needs in a shorter time period. He also clearly believes that it is the role of the federal government to stimulate growth in the renewable energy industry. On the down side though, Obama has shown at times an affinity with the corn lobby that is somewhat uncomfortable.

...On Offshore Oil Drilling

This one is more clear cut: "Drill, Baby, Drill" is all but a McCain-Palin mantra at this point and despite all their rhetoric as to why increasing offshore oil drilling will really achieve greater energy independence, I find their explanations pale in comparison to the statistics about how much oil is actually contained in areas which would newly be opened to offshore oil drilling, and the time before it would actually be able to be brought online. In fact if all the energy independence talk stopped and replaced with simply, 'we want to wring every last drop of oil out of the planet and turn a nice profit on it' I'd have less of a problem with it...even though I'd still ask whether it wouldn't be better to invest that sort of money into cleaner energy sources.

For his part, though Barack Obama has indicated in speeches that, as part of compromise legislation, he wouldn't be entirely opposed to offshore oil drilling, he does acknowledge the very real limitations of doing so. In short, there isn't that much there (an estimated 200,000 barrels per day...), it will take a while to bring it online (...by 2030), and it will have little impact on oil imports or prices that consumers pay at the pump.

...On Clean Coal

Both candidates express too much support (sometimes bordering on techno-faith it seems) for the oxymoron 'clean coal'. Unfortunately, no matter who is elected we will have to be on rhetoric watch to remind people about why carbon capture is far from commercially viable on a large scale and why there's more wrong with coal than carbon dioxide emissions.

There is some wisdom in Joe Biden's expressed support for exporting cleaner coal burning technologies overseas, but that's no excuse not to phase out coal burning as quickly as possible.

...On Nuclear Power

Here's a big distinction between John McCain and Barack Obama: The cornerstone of the McCain energy policy seems to be the building of up to 45 new nuclear plants (perhaps ignoring how much money this would cost...). In contrast, Obama consistently has expressed support for nuclear power with the large qualification that strict safety guidelines be followed for both the production of power and the storage of waste.

While some may disagree with Lester Brown's cost comparison between wind power and nuclear power, it's harder to dispute his numbers on the rising costs of nuclear power plant construction. Which leads me to ask whether if we've got the money and will to build 45 new nuclear plants (which I'm not sure we do...) would not it be better if expanding renewable energy with at least a large portion of those funds. The power will be greener, and it will create more jobs in the process.

...On Climate Change

Both candidates express support for carbon cap-and-trade as the best way to control rising carbon emissions and deal with global warming. McCain supports a plan which would set the US on a reduction strategy which would lead to a 65% reduction (from 2005 levels) by 2050. Obama supports a strategy which would reduce emissions 80% by 2050.

While at least their heads are in the right place on this, by many estimates neither plan will act quickly enough to stop the worst effects of global warming. The Obama plan's reduction levels are sufficient but would need to take place too slowly; McCain's plan has reduction levels that are both not enough and occur to slowly.

In short, no matter who's elected we will have to push for greater and faster decreases in the carbon intensity of the US economy, as well as in other nations. The good news is, that unlike during the past eight years, we won't have to waste our time debating whether climate change is actually happening.


No matter who you support, and no matter whether you think your vote doesn't matter, or even that you think the election is already rigged in the machines (and I think I'm cynical sometimes....) please, please, please get out there and vote.

If you need a ride to the polls, see if Carpool to the Polls can help.

If you want to follow and discuss the election online, check out the Official Election Night TreeHugger Forum.

2008 Elections
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On Energy & The Environment Joe Biden and Sarah Palin Probably Have to Agree to Disagree

Tags: 2008 Elections | Carbon Emissions | Energy | Nuclear Power | Oil | Renewable Energy | United States

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