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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Climate on the Campaign Trail

Air Date: Week of

Democrats debate who's best suited to tackle global warming as they try to stand out in the crowd on climate change. ((c) Drexel University)

What would the Democratic presidential candidates do about global warming? Living on Earth's Jeff Young finds out most have aggressive plans on climate change, but they're squabbling over which would have the will to really do something.



CURWOOD: From Public Radio International in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, sitting in for Steve Curwood. Global warming is one of the defining environmental issues of our time, but only now has it become high profile among presidential hopefuls. Today, we take a look at where the Democratic candidates stand on climate change.

Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports the debate is not so much over climate change policies, but who has the political will to really do something if elected.


YOUNG: When Democrats stood on a Philadelphia stage for their most recent debate, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd tried to stand out on the issue of global warming. Dodd says his call for a tax on carbon emissions has support from some unexpected places, but not his fellow Democrats.

DODD: I find it somewhat startling here that Ronald Reagan’s former secretary of state and George Bush’s first economic advisor are frankly more courageous and bold on energy policy than my fellow competitors for this job. So the corporate carbon tax, taxing carbon, is a critical element if you’re going to achieve this kind of energy change we need in our country.

YOUNG: Dodd’s plan would tax sources of greenhouse gases like oil companies, manufacturing and power plants and spend that money on cleaner energy sources, like wind and solar. But a tax is a tough thing to sell, and Dodd’s campaign is floundering.

All other Democratic candidates favor a cap and trade approach to cut greenhouse gases. Most of them aim for an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by mid-century—about what climate scientists say is likely needed to avoid the risk of the most harmful warming.

Those proposals win kudos from conservation groups but that leaves a political problem—when their climate platforms are so similar how can candidates stand out in the crowd? New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who once led the nation’s department of energy, says it takes leadership experience.

Democrats debate who's best suited to tackle global warming as they try to stand out in the crowd on climate change. ((c) Drexel University)

RICHARDSON: When the planet is polluted by fossil fuels and manmade pollution, it is American leadership and it’s presidential leadership, and it has to be an energy revolution not these little energy bills that the congress keeps passing that are meaningless.

YOUNG: The global warming debate among Democrats has shifted from a comparison of plans to a contest of wills: which of them would really get it done? Illinois Senator Barack Obama says it means standing up to powerful economic interests.

OBAMA: We've got major global challenges like climate change. And that's going to require big, meaningful change. It does not mean, I think, changing positions whenever it’s politically convenient. When I go to Detroit and I say to the automakers that they need to raise fuel efficiency standards, not in front of some environmental group, that’s the kind of consistency and principled leadership I think is what’s going to move us in the next direction. That’s what I’d provide as president.

YOUNG: The implication, of course, is that other candidates lack such principle. Obama didn’t name names, but former North Carolina Senator John Edwards did.

EDWARDS I think that if people want the status quo; Senator Clinton is your candidate. The reason we haven’t tackled global warming is because of oil companies, power companies, and their lobbyists. And the question is, what are we going to do for our children? Are you wiling to look your children in the eye tonight and say I’m going to turn this mess over to you.

YOUNG: New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner, was ready for attacks from her Democratic rivals. She responded with a pledge to take on Republicans, who she says obstruct efforts to deal with global warming.

CLINTON: On every issue, from health care for children to an energy policy that puts us on the right track to deal with climate change and to make us more secure, I have been standing against the Republicans George Bush and Dick Cheney and I will continue to do so and I think Democrats know that.


YOUNG: The spat continued in the spin room after the debate. Joe Trippi, with the Edwards campaign, painted Clinton as too tied to Washington special interests.

TRIPPI: If you’re not going to take on the oil industry and stop taking the money from their lobbyists, how the hell are you going to do anything about global warming?

YOUNG: Campaign finance records show Clinton has taken about a million dollars from energy and natural resources interests in her senate and presidential campaigns—that’s more than her Democratic rivals. But Clinton strategist Mark Penn echoes his candidate’s words—that it’s the record that really matters.

PENN: Well, she has a 35-year record of fighting for issues, which neither Obama nor Edwards have. You know, change is—as she said—change is just a word unless you have the strength and experience to make it happen.

YOUNG: The Democrats will hear much more about climate change from voters. One example: South Carolina has an important early primary contest. And 100 South Carolina mayors just sent candidates a letter urging them to make global warming a top priority when they campaign in their towns. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Philadelphia.

GELLERMAN: We’ll take a look at where Republican candidates stand on climate change in an upcoming show. In the meantime, learn more about global warming politics on our website loe.org.



The League of Conservation Voters is tracking candidates on climate change

Read the transcript of the Democratic debate in Philadelphia

Living on Earth's Report: The Hottest Global Warming Bill in Congress

Living on Earth's Report: Global Warming Guides Voter Concern

Living on Earth's Report: Giuliani Candidate Profile


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