Where the race stands

Just a few months ago, many observers saw the 2008 presidential hopefuls in matching shades of green. “Climate change will get the aggressive attention it deserves from the White House, no matter which party wins in November,” editorialized the Washington Post in mid-May. “It will be a refreshing change.” Now, though, with the dust settling from the Democratic and Republican conventions and John McCain and Barack Obama essentially tied in the polls, it’s time to think again.

When the Post prematurely celebrated the next president’s commitment to environmental reform, it was on the strength of John McCain’s promise to follow Barack Obama’s lead and implement a national cap-and-trade system designed to harness the marketplace and cut America’s greenhouse emissions. McCain’s plan may not have been as strong as his rival’s - his decision to give away carbon credits rather than auctioning them off was particularly lamentable - but it was a dramatic break from the environmental apathy of the Bush administration.

Since then, though, McCain has been remarkably quiet about his cap-and-trade pledge. Instead he’s shifted his focus from climate change to energy independence, appointed Big Oil cheerleader and climate denier Sarah Palin as his number two, and begun to tout offshore drilling at every opportunity. Now, he’s busy presenting unchecked domestic drilling as his party’s killer app: while Democrats want renewables and energy efficiency, McCain’s GOP promises renewables and energy efficiency plus more drilling.

In fact, though, that’s back to front: it’s Obama who’s promised to allow offshore drilling as part of a package of more meaningful reforms. McCain, by contrast, says that “truly clean technologies don’t work” and will make only a “very small” part of America’s total energy portfolio. (That’s despite Bush administration projections that wind energy alone could provide a fifth of US energy by 2030.)

The truth of the matter is that McCain isn’t the clean-energy-plus-drilling candidate; he’s the drilling candidate, period. That may well be enough to win him an election; it’s certainly been serving him well in the polls. But it won’t be enough to put America on the path to true energy independence, and it won’t be enough to win the battle against global warming. As the 2008 election campaign enters the home straight, there’s still plenty to choose between the candidates - and plenty for America’s greens to fight for.