CBS News has been running an interesting series called "Primary Questions." They ask the candidates a variety of policy and personal questions. Sometimes this format seems closer to what we’d like from a debate in terms of clarifying policy differences. However, it doesn’t always result in the nice contrasting sound-bites that you might otherwise get.
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Tonight, the candidates are answering the question: "Do you think the risks of climate change are at all overblown?" I have discussed the real-world politics (what real people actually think) and some of the beltway politics of the issue. It is clear in New Hampshire, at least, that Republicans think that global warming is an issue that the government must act on, even if it is one that is a low-priority for primary voters.
In the end, as I have said, I think that this is an issue that is more important as a credibility issue than a ballot issue. Very few people are going to vote on the specifics of plans on global warming. But people, including Republicans, are increasingly seeing this as an issue that candidates need to have a credible position on to be a credible candidate. Anecdotally, it seems clear to me that this is something that is important to a number of Evangelical and Catholic groups.
I have summarized the responses in a table. I think it is revealing.
The main proposal on the table is cap-and-trade. Greg Mankiw, a Romney economic advisor and a former Bush Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors has a very cogent criticism of cap-and-trade, but calls for carbon taxes instead. The quotes from the candidates are after the jump.
McCain, who has been the most vocal of the GOP candidates on this issue — he even talks about it in his stump speech — and has legislation that the Senate has voted on several times.
I have been to Greenland, I have been to the South Pole. I’ve been to the Arctic and I know it’s real. I believe that we’ve got to go back to nuclear power. We’ve got to do alternative energy. We’ve got to have a cap in trade proposal which Joe Lieberman and I have proposed. … And unfortunately, we have not acted either as a federal government or a Congress.
In response to a follow up about why nothing has happened, McCain returns to a standard riff:
Special interests. It’s the special interests. It’s the utility companies and the petroleum companies and other special interests. They’re the ones that have blocked progress in the congress of the United States and the administration. That’s a little straight talk
Huckabee has also been fairly vocal, but doesn’t have much specific to say:
I don’t know. I mean, the honest answer for me, scientifically, is I don’t know. But here’s one thing I do know, that we ought to not let this become this big political football and point of argument. We all ought to agree that we live on this planet as guests. I think Republicans have made a big mistake by not being more on the forefront of conservationism.
I consider myself a conservationist. I think we ought to have some cap and trade. It worked with acid rain. I think it could work with Co2 emissions. I think we ought to be out there talking about ways to reduce energy consumption and waste. And we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade, bold as that is.
Like McCain, Giuliani has had fairly strong positions on global warming, while not making it a fundamental part of his pitch in the primary. Interestingly, it has a big shout-out to coal. In the Democratic primary, a similar statement about coal by Barack Obama led to allegations that he "wasn’t serious about global warming."
There is global warming. Human beings are contributing to it. I think the best answer to it is energy independence. We’ve got more coal reserves in the US than they have oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. If we find a way to deal with it and use it so it doesn’t hurt the environment, we’re going to find ourselves not contributing to global warming and also being more energy independent. I think we have to take another look at nuclear power. France is 80 percent nuclear. We’re 20.
Romney embraces that global warming is human caused. He explicitly rejects Kyoto (a conservative button, which he is happy to press) and blames China. And he talks about nuclear. But he does offer very few specifics:
I think the risks of climate change are real. And that you’re seeing real climate change. And I think human activity is contributing to it. I would develop sources of energy which would allow us to be free of foreign oil. But sources that don’t emit Co2. And that’s nuclear power, clean-burning coal, all of our renewable resources and so forth. I also wanna see greater efficiencies in our autos, in our homes, in our businesses. That’ll get is energy independent.
I don’t wanna have America unilaterally think it’s somehow gonna stop global warming. They don’t call it America warming. They call it global warming. And that means China, which is the biggest Co2 emitter in the world, as well as other nations like Indonesia and Brazil are gonna have to be a part of the global effort. So Kyoto was wrong, because it left major polluting nations out.
Thompson just doesn’t seem to address the question:
There are a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t know to the extent this is a cyclical thing. This may or may not effect very much. The extremists are the ones who want to do drastic things to our economy before we have more answers as to how much good we can do and whether people in the other parts of the world are going to contribute. It’s the fact that our entitlements are bankrupting the next generation. We’re spending the money of those yet to be born and we can’t continue that way. … I mean, ultimately global warming may be a greater problem. I don’t think we know the answer to that. I can’t give you a list of specific items I would address. I think research and development has got to be at the top of that list.