Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election Offers Distinct Options

Worldwatch observes the importance of Tuesday's election on the future of green jobs, and notes that there are "distinct options":

With less than a week until the United States elects its next president, and at
a time when Americans are losing their jobs in record numbers, the two leading
candidates are suggesting that the financial crisis can be resolved by addressing the country's worsening energy crisis.

Combining job creation and energy policy into one economic stimulus plan is gaining steam among political and environmental leaders worldwide. Yet despite similar rationales, the plans presented by the Democratic and Republican candidates offer distinct options. And not all of the proposed jobs would truly be "green."

I've posted several items on the Green New Deal, and some of the other ballot measures in different states. As is typical of the election season the candidates are never wholly specific about what they will do, but despite the uncertainties of what is promised and what might be delivered, there are plenty of substantive elements voters should consider. While down-ballot races and initiatives certainly matter, the largest impact will come from who we elect as President for the next four years.

John McCain's energy plans heavily emphasize oil and nuclear, adding only a perfunctory nod to other approaches in a so-called "all of the above" policy. Oil is not the way forward. With 3% of the world's reserves and 25% of the world's consumption the United States cannot drill its way to energy security, even if all the oil could be feasibly extracted. Recent reports suggest peak oil may be much closer than previously thought--as soon as 5 years away. Nuclear power has gained adherents and public support; even some environmentalists such as Stewart Brand have softened their opposition in the face of climate change fears. However, nuclear has very long lead times, arduous permitting, unsolved waste disposal problems ("blah blah blah"), and uneconomical costs. Even if McCain succeeds in spurring the construction of 45 new nukes by 2030, it won't come close to solving our problems. Nuclear is not the way forward either. McCain offers nothing new.

Barack Obama's energy plans (PDF) emphasize updating the electrical grid, creating a national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), and investing $150B over 10 years in renewable energy development. Updating the grid is a critical infrastructure need and will allow better integration of variable renewable sources such as wind, as well as allow significantly greater energy efficiency at all levels. The cost for this is potentially astronomical (or should I say economical?) A national RPS is a good idea, and would prevent the kind of sophistry proposed by Washington State gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi to redefine the term "renewable" in a way that would vitiate any new renewable energy development under the state RPS. There are several problems that will be difficult to resolve, especially deciding what qualifies as renewable, and making it appropriate for windy states like North Dakota, states with big solar resources like Arizona, states with large hydrokinetic resources like Washington, and states with few renewable resources like those in the southeast. Obama's $150B is a good step, but more is needed, the neo-Hooverite objections must be met, and there are questions about how it would square with free trade agreements under the WTO. There are questions about Obama's proposals, yes, but they aren't nearly as fatal as those posed by McCain's proposals, and it is easier to see how answers might be found.

In summary, Obama offers an approach where America can lead in the global energy economy of the future, while McCain offers an almost nostalgic reprise of the policies that got us here. I don't like where we are, and the last thing we need is more foot-dragging in the face of a future that makes the old ways of thinking not only obsolete but dangerous to our economic and environmental health. Whether Obama can deliver, and whether it will make enough difference are questions not yet answerable, but what McCain offers, even if delivered in full, will not suffice.

I will vote for Obama. For the future of our environment, our energy needs and our economic well-being, I urge you to do the same.
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