Kolbert Casts Cold Eye on Candidates Climate Credentials

The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert, author of an acclaimed magazine series and book about climate change, takes a wary look at the two U.S. presidential candidates in the latest issue of OnEarth, a quarterly published by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Though both McCain and Obama have sponsored legislation to curb carbon, "both [also] have supported laws whose goals are directly at odds with cutting emissions," Kolbert observes. Obama, for example, has favored incentives for corn ethanol, despite evidence that it is about as bad or worse than oil. Last year he sponsored legislation to support conversion of coal to liquids, "about the worst possible move the country could make," as Kolbert puts it.

Obama has since amended his position on the issue to say he only supports coal-to-liquids if the technology emits at least 20 percent less carbon over its lifecycle as competing conventional fuels. About the best that can be said about that--I'd add--is that the otherwise brilliantly well informed Obama seems to have been not so well informed about an issue he claims to care a lot about.

As for McCain, his outspoken support for offshore oil drilling is hardly consistent with the notion that we should use less oil so as to emit less carbon, Kolbert points out. And with benefit of additional experience we may add: why, if the cares so much about climate, would he pick a vice presidential candidate who considers the jury still to be out on the science, ignoring the effects of global warming all around her?

As Thomas Friedman noted in The New York Times, McCain had stood apart from President Bush by opposing drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and by advocating action on climate. But now, as the Sierra Club's Carl Pope says, he has picked a running mate who's dismissive of alternative energy. "While the northern edge of her state literally falls into the rising Arctic Ocean, Sarah Palin says, "The jury is still out on global warming.' "

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