Too Little, Too Late? McCain v. Obama on Global Warming


photo: Muzammal

Will These Emissions Reductions Be Enough?


The good news on the candidates' views on global warming is that, apart from Sarah Palin, they all agree on the cause of global warming, they agree that regulating carbon emissions is of the utmost importance, they agree that a cap-and-trade system will be essentially in reducing emissions, and they agree that reengaging the United States with the global community on the issue will be required.

Unlike on some of the other energy and environment issues in this campaign, I can say that the candidates’ heads are in the right place on what needs to be done—though Palin's seeming naivité in not acknowledging that the cause of global warming has a direct impact on the steps needed to combat it is disconcerting, to say the least.

The big question is whether the levels of emissions reductions proposed, and in the timeframes proposed will really be enough to prevent the worst effects of global warming.

80% Reduction By 2020 Needed...
For an answer to that I will defer to fellow TreeHugger contributer Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute. In a post earlier in the summer Brown indicated that an emission reduction of 80% by 2020 would be required, adding that,

This will allow us to prevent the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, already at 384 parts per million (ppm), from exceeding 400 ppm, thus keeping future global temperature rise to a minimum.

Cutting CO2 emissions 80 percent by 2020 will take a worldwide mobilization at wartime speed. First, investing in energy efficiency will allow us to keep global energy demand from increasing. Then we can cut carbon emissions by one third by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources for electricity and heat production. A further 14 percent drop comes from restructuring our transportation systems and reducing coal and oil use in industry. Ending net deforestation worldwide can cut CO2 emissions another 16 percent. Last, planting trees and managing soils to sequester carbon can absorb 17 percent of our current emissions.

None of these initiatives depends on new technologies. We know what needs to be done to reduce CO2 emissions 80 percent by 2020. All that is needed now is leadership.


Candidates’ Plans Probably Not Enough
So in short, while both Obama and McCain proposals may sound significant (and are both certainly motivated by right intentions), they very well may not be enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control, beyond a point of no return. Obama’s reduction levels are likely sufficient, but need to be enacted more quickly that proposed. McCain’s planned reductions are well short of what is needed: by 2020 only a 15% reduction from 2005 levels; a 66% reduction by 2050 is closer to the mark, but 30 years too late.

2008 Elections
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The Nuclear Option: McCain v. Obama on Nuclear Power
It’s Still a Dirty Business: McCain v. Obama on Clean Coal
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“Drill Baby Drill” Screams Punctuate McCain’s Energy Policy in Acceptance Speech
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Tags: 2008 Elections | Carbon Emissions | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Causes | Global Warming Solutions

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