This article belongs to Theme: US elections 2008 theme.

Next week Americans are going to elect the next president of the U.S. Twenty years ago NASA scientist James Hansen warned that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) were warming the planet. This year Hansen co-wrote a paper with other authors titled "Target Atmospheric Carbon." The paper said, "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 parts per minute (ppm) to at most 350 ppm, but likely less than that."

How long do we have to reduce the amount of carbon to 350 ppm? Hansen and the authors of the paper said, "Indeed, if the world continues on a business-as-usual path for even another decade without initiating phase-out of unconstrained coal use, prospects for avoiding a dangerously large, extended overshoot of the 350 ppm level will be dim." In other words, this next decade needs to be a time of mobilization to reduce GHG emissions.

McCain favours a cap and trade system that would allow entities to buy and sell rights to pollute.
On many environmental and energy issues, the policies of Senators John McCain and Barack Obama are strikingly similar. Both presidential candidates support the creation of a federal cap and trade system, the expansion of domestic exploration of natural gas and oil, advancing so-called clean coal technology and nuclear power, the creation of a smart electricity grid, and the expansion of renewable energy and fuels. However, as the cliché says, the devil is in the details.

McCain favours a cap and trade system that would allow entities to buy and sell rights to pollute, similar to the acid rain trading program of the 1990s. According to McCain's website, "The key feature of this mechanism is that it allows the market to decide and encourage the lowest-cost compliance options."

According to Obama's website, his cap and trade program would draw "on the power of the marketplace to reduce emissions in a cost-effective and flexible manner." Obama's program, like McCain's would set a national cap on GHG emissions.

Here is the biggest difference between the two programs: While McCain calls for a 60 percent reduction of emissions below 1990 levels, Obama calls for an 80 percent reduction.

McCain supports ending the moratorium on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. Obama is against drilling in the Shelf, but he calls for a "use or lose it approach" to oil exploration leases. Oil companies hold exploration permits on 68 million acres of land, over 40 million of which are offshore. Obama would require oil companies to either develop their leases or give them to another company.

McCain would give a $5,000 tax credit to consumers who buy a "zero carbon emissions car." A graduated tax credit would apply to other vehicles with lower carbon emissions. McCain would create a contest for improving the battery technology of plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars. The prize would be $300 million.

McCain supports flex fuel vehicles (FFV) and would call on U.S. automakers to "make a more rapid and complete switch to FFVs." He believes alcohol based fuels "hold great promise" as alternatives.

Obama would call for fuel economy standards to be doubled within 18 years, and issue tax credits and loan guarantees to U.S. auto plants and parts manufacturers so fuel-efficient cars are made in the U.S. He would also expand consumer tax incentives to buy fuel-efficient cars.

When it comes to renewable energy, McCain would "encourage" the wind, hydro and solar power markets with tax credits. Obama would invest $150 billion over 10 years in advanced energy technologies, including job training. He would establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard that requires fuel suppliers to reduce carbon emissions by 10 percent by 2020, and require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables by 2025.

Environmentalists on McCain and Obama

We believe Sen. Obama is the change our nation needs -- he is the leader who will put America on the path to a clean energy economy that creates and keeps millions of jobs.
The League of Conservation Voters (see gave both Obama and McCain low scores for their environmental voting record in 2008. Obama received 18 percent, and McCain received zero percent. Both candidates missed voting this year on what the LCV considers to be key environmental legislation because of their presidential campaigns. In 2007 the LCV scored Obama at 67 percent with a lifetime score of 96 percent, and scored McCain at zero percent, with a lifetime score of 41 percent.

Environmental groups have endorsed Obama. The executive director of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope said of Obama, "We believe Sen. Obama is the change our nation needs -- he is the leader who will put America on the path to a clean energy economy that creates and keeps millions of jobs, spurs innovation and opportunity, and makes us a more secure nation." The Sierra Club is the oldest and one of the nation's largest environmental groups.

Pope said of McCain, "If Senator McCain is really interested in breaking our addiction to oil, putting America back to work, and tackling global warming, we urge him to reconsider his support for the failed policies of the past."

Friends of the Earth president Brent Blackwelder said the group endorsed Obama because "we believe he is the best candidate for the environment."

"Senator Obama has publicly committed to fully addressing the pressing problem of global warming and moving the United States toward a new energy future," said Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America. "He has made clean energy one of the top issues of his campaign and as a public servant representing Illinois at the state and federal levels has a long and consistent record of supporting the environment."

Environment New Jersey's executive director Mottola Jaborska said that Obama "has made environmental issues top and center of his campaign."