mccain.jpgMcCain’s astonishing doubletalk on climate in the Florida GOP debate — denying that a cap and trade system is a mandate — made me start rethinking what a McCain presidency would mean for the fight to prevent catastrophic global warming. The more I researched McCain’s views, the more I talked to others, the more I felt forced to change my previous view.

Salon has just published my long analysis, which concludes that while he would be vastly superior to Bush on climate …

… a President McCain would not be the climate leader that America and the world requires. He is a conservative who happens to be on the only intellectually defensible side of the climate change debate. But he is still a conservative, and the vast majority of the solutions to global warming are progressive in nature — they require strong government action, including major federal efforts to spur clean technology.

Of course, as I argue in my book, it is precisely because they know that the solutions to global warming are mostly progressive in nature that most conservatives are so close-minded on the subject. My basic argument is:

As increasingly desperate climate scientists have been telling us, the effects of global warming are occurring faster than anyone had thought possible.

The next president must make reducing GHG emissions a central focus of his or her administration if we want to avoid the worst impacts of global warming: catastrophic sea level rise, widespread drought and desertification, and loss of up to 70 percent of all species.

While McCain may understand the scale of the climate problem, he does not appear to understand the scale of the solution. He understands the country needs to put in place a mandatory cap on GHG emissions and a trading system to energize American innovation. But in a recent Republican debate, he denied that a cap and trade system is a mandate, even though it would arguably be the most far-reaching government mandate ever legislated.

Moreover, like most conservatives, he doesn’t understand or accept the critical role government must play to make that system succeed. Besides initiating a cap-and-trade system, the next president must:

1. Appoint judges who won’t gut climate change efforts.
2. Appoint leaders and staff of key federal agencies who take climate change seriously and believe in the necessary solutions.
3. Embrace an aggressive and broad-based technology deployment strategy to keep the cost of the cap and trade system as low as possible.
4. Lead a change in utility regulations to encourage, rather than discourage, energy efficiency and clean energy.
5. Offer strong public advocacy to reverse the years of muzzling and misinformation of the Bush administration.

As I explain in the piece, McCain is unlikely to do any one of those things, let alone all of them.