Politics

An interview with John McCain about his presidential platform on energy and the environment

This is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside. John McCain. Photo: hatch1921 John McCain likes to project a tough-guy stance on the issues, and global warming is no exception. “Americans solve problems. We don’t run from them,” he’s quoted as saying on the environment page of his website, which goes on to argue that “ignoring the problem reflects a ‘liberal, live for today’ attitude unworthy of our great country.” McCain has earned the right to put his own conservative spin on the fight against climate change. The first high-profile Republican to …

U.S. food aid low, getting lower

The U.S. donates more food internationally than any other country, but shipping costs and rising food prices (thanks, biofuels!) have contributed to its lowest level of donation in a decade. The situation is likely to get worse: the appropriations bill moving through Congress contains no significant increases in the U.S. food aid budget, and the United Nations estimates that low-income countries will see a 14 percent jump in the price of grain imports next year. A restriction in the farm bill requires food aid to be shipped from the U.S.; in a rare proposal aligned with green values, the Bush …

A look at John McCain’s environmental platform and record

Updated 22 Aug 2008 John McCain has a mixed record on the environment, but he’s long been outspoken about global warming. He introduced the first major bill in the Senate to address it: the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, cosponsored with Joe Lieberman. In May 2008, he unveiled a new plan for tackling the problem, a cap-and-trade system with a series of targets for gradually reducing carbon emissions to 60 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The plan would give away many pollution credits instead of auctioning them off, and would give polluting entities expansive leeway to buy …

British Columbia premier announces climate plan

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has announced a vague plan for reducing the province’s greenhouse-gas emissions by a third by 2020. The plan includes requiring all government agencies to be carbon neutral by 2010, factoring in employee travel; institution of a local carbon-offset provider; installation of residential and commercial smart meters to encourage energy conservation; and emissions caps on industries. Critics of the plan asked what the plan is, exactly, as Campbell provided few new, specific details.

Reshaping market economies

A reply to Shellenberger & Nordhaus

It’s rare for any environmental book to receive the attention garnered by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger’s Break Through, particularly outside the usual green circles. Anything that prompts conversation on these issues is, in and of itself, a good thing. So one hesitates to point out that beneath all the hype — the "death" of this, the "fundamental break" from that — the book’s arguments are fairly modest. Banal even. The word from the "bad boys of environmentalism" is that environmentalists should be more positive and support greater public investment in clean energy technology. Well … OK. The argument about …

DOE hasn’t opened Yucca nuclear-waste dump, must pay millions for breach of contract

As if the saga of Nevada’s Yucca Mountain wasn’t ridiculous enough, a court has ruled that the Department of Energy’s failure to open the nuclear-waste repository on time will have a price tag of $116.5 million, payable to Xcel Energy for breach of contract. And just to remind you of the ridiculousness, in the words of Minnesota State Senator Ellen Anderson: “[E]ven if Yucca Mountain does open, which I’m very skeptical it will, there is no reason to believe it will take our waste away. This problem is one that I don’t expect to be solved in my lifetime.”

Putting your inner political superego on hold

A utopian realist agenda

Recently Nordhaus and Shellenberger (N&S) posted on Gristmill, wrote in The New Republic, and published a book, all with the aim of offering a better alternative to the mainstream environmental agenda. In my estimation, they made three important points: Americans would respond to a positive vision of the future; global warming can only be solved if, in addition to regulatory policies, we embark on a program of public investment; and the public is quite open to the idea of public investment. Unfortunately, they didn't do much with that great start. I think I know why: the central thrust of the conservative movement since Reagan has been to inculcate the idea of "government bad, market good," and the idea of making a virtue of public investment runs totally counter to a conservative world view. So in order to be politically relevant, N&S look to the two institutions that conservatives and moderates have been able to agree are legitimate sources of public investment: the Pentagon and government-supported R&D. But that "won't work," as N&S declare about the possibility of mitigating global warming with a regulations-only policy framework. To be brief, the Pentagon is part of the problem, not part of the solution; and while R&D is always a good idea, the level of their combined program is only $30 billion per year, which would be great in this political climate but won't do much for the global climate. These negatives shouldn't blind us to their advocacy of a positive vision and a public investment approach. One of the reasons public investment is not discussed more often in the environmental community, much less taken seriously as a policy approach, is that we have what I will call the problem of the political superego: before any such policy can even be considered by the conscious mind, the political superego dismisses it out of hand. Which leads me to two of my favorite quotes: "The maximum that seems politically feasible still falls far short of the minimum that would be effective in solving the crisis," spoken by Al Gore at a policy address at NYU in 2006. The other, by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, the authors of Our Ecological Footprint: "In today's materialistic, growth-bound world, the politically acceptable is ecologically disastrous while the ecologically necessary is politically impossible." I want to use the phrase "utopian realism" to express this dilemma, and to point to a possible way out of it. The word "realist" means that the policies advocated are a realistic way out of our global crises, from a technical point of view. "Utopian" has two meanings here -- first, that the political chances of these policies being implemented seem utopian; but second, that the implementation of these goals could inspire action. (The sociologist Anthony Giddens has also used the term "utopian realism", in a roughly similar way.) So I ask you to try to keep your political superego at bay for a few paragraphs, as I lay out a possible positive vision of public investment.

Why is Uncle Sam so committed to reviving nuclear power?

A guest essay from Peter Montague analyzes the nuclear ‘renaissance’

The following is a guest essay from Peter Montague, executive director of the Environmental Research Foundation. —– The long-awaited and much-advertised "nuclear renaissance" actually got under way this week. NRG Energy, a New Jersey company recently emerged from bankruptcy, applied for a license to build two new nuclear power plants at an existing facility in Bay City, Texas — the first formal application for such a license in 30 years. NRG Energy has no experience building nuclear power plants but they are confident the U.S. government will assure their success. "The whole reason we started down this path was the …

Fool me once ...

The real story behind the Bush administration’s climate claims

In preparation for the Major Economies Meeting, the Bush administration distributed a matrix to invited countries, to assist them in documenting their national and international efforts on climate change. The U.S. government circulated a draft documenting activities in the U.S., trying to give the impression that the U.S. is taking meaningful action on climate change. A number of environmental organizations have analyzed the claims in the U.S. matrix. Their analysis can be found in the shaded right hand column of this document, to help reporters understand the real story behind the administration’s claims. Groups contributing to this effort include: • …