Magazine article Science News

The Science Vote: On the Surface, the Presidential Contenders Appear to Take Similar Stances and Technology. but Probe a Bit, and Differences Emerge. Because Senators Barack Obama and John McCain Have Never Formally Debated S&T Issues, and Don't Intend to, Science News Runs Down What These Candidates and Their Campaigns Have Been Saying

Magazine article Science News

The Science Vote: On the Surface, the Presidential Contenders Appear to Take Similar Stances and Technology. but Probe a Bit, and Differences Emerge. Because Senators Barack Obama and John McCain Have Never Formally Debated S&T Issues, and Don't Intend to, Science News Runs Down What These Candidates and Their Campaigns Have Been Saying

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Political Climate

Linking energy to greenhouse risks

Science and technology have not played out as major presidential campaign issues this year. And following Sen. John McCain's unexpected announcement that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would be his running mate, even foreign policy and major energy issues have been relegated to the back seat as the media feverishly probe the views, background and administrative history of Palin--a newcomer on the national scene.

But B.P.--before Palin--a diverse body of video clips, Internet-posted position statements and campaign remarks by McCain and Sen. Barack Obama had already emerged, and some did touch on S&T issues. Most focused on energy or the climate and shared common themes.

For instance, both candidates have described an urgent need to wean Americans from fossil fuels. An escalating risk of catastrophic climate change is one reason, but hardly the only one, the candidates give for their concern.

"Climate change is real," McCain said at the Clean Cities Congress in Phoenix as early as May 2006. "While there are still a few skeptics of climate change, the evidence supporting the causes of rising global temperatures as human-induced is overwhelming." Acknowledging that skeptics remain, he argued that "almost any credible organization will tell you that the evidence is growing and becoming clearer every day, despite the reluctance of the [Bush] administration to do anything meaningful about climate change."

Obama also contends on his website that the nation faces major challenges from global climate change and from a dependence on foreign oil, "both of which stem from our current dependence on fossil fuels for energy." As such, "we have a moral, environmental, economic and security imperative to address our dependence on foreign oil and tackle climate change in a serious, sustainable manner."

It's how each candidate would manage these problems that differs.

Both claim they would lower the nation's carbon footprint by shrinking reliance on oil. Explained McCain: "We face the reality that oil supplies will fall in this century.... Growing demand [for oil] and limited supplies mean one thing: higher prices. And that's particularly so for oil, which accounts for about half of gasoline's price at the pump." Last year, he said that "the answer to high gas prices cannot be to produce more oil.... Gas prices are nothing less than a call to action to wean ourselves off of oil."

As those prices bumped up dramatically this year, McCain modified his stance. He now enthusiastically backs new drilling at offshore U.S. sites, especially in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Obama's energy strategy also calls for cutting oil use within the next decade. In his case, it would be by an amount that exceeds what the United States now imports from the Middle East and Venezuela--some 3.7 million barrels per day.

Although he has not been much of a proponent of oil drilling as a route to energy independence, Obama applauded an August 1 proposal floated by a bipartisan coalition of Senate colleagues, the "Gang of 10." That group wants to dramatically increase oil drilling off U.S. coasts (see the August 2 Science & the Public blog at www.sciencenews.org), he noted, and "would repeal tax breaks for oil companies so that we can invest billions in fuel-efficient cars, help our automakers retool and make a genuine commitment to renewable sources of energy like wind power, solar power and the next generation of clean, affordable biofuels."

No amount of drilling will sate America's escalating appetite for electricity. McCain would end what has essentially been a roughly 30-year moratorium on utilities' purchases of new nuclear plants. "Nuclear power is a key technology for addressing climate change," he said at the Clean Cities Congress. "We simply cannot ignore this emissions-free technology. …

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