For some time, the received wisdom has been that a post-Bush administration will herald a new era in which the world can move boldly forward on climate change. But the present political – and financial – climate is calling that wisdom into question, as I’ve written in my latest editorial, and below.
Whether Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain wins the White House next month, the elected president will face a daunting list of challenges in making climate change a priority both on the home front and internationally. Yet there are several reasons to believe that reducing greenhouse gases may not be given the high priority it deserves.
Firstly, while both candidates made climate change a signature issue early on in their campaigns, McCain’s choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as vice-presidential nominee weakens the Republican message. Having publicly questioned the contribution of human activity to climate change and championed aggressive offshore drilling, Palin is positioning herself to the right of the existing administration on the issue, casting doubts on whether a McCain–Palin administration would carve out a new direction for the Republicans.
Secondly, and arguably of graver concern, is the escalating financial crisis, which is reverberating worldwide and, which teamed with rocketing fuel prices and insecure energy supplies, could push rising emissions far down the political agenda regardless of who is in office.
Indeed, both presidential candidates have already had to pull back from positions held early on in the election. As oil prices soared to over $140 a barrel earlier this year, McCain and Obama were forced to rethink their opposition to offshore oil drilling, though Obama has done so a lot more cautiously than his opponent.
Now the proposed $700-billion scheme to rescue Wall Street from free-falling will leave the president-elect with little money in the coffers for spending elsewhere. Obama’s ambitious plan to invest $150 billion over ten years in renewable energy may have to be phased in, should he win the White House. Similarly, McCain’s commitment to spending $2 billion annually on clean-coal technologies may have to go on the back burner. And with the average American family feeling the credit crunch in their pockets, less popular still will be any measures that increase energy costs.
Yet climate change won’t slow with the global economy, making it imperative that the post-Bush administration rise to the challenge of setting a high priority on climate policy, regardless of what obstacles stand in the way.