Obama versus McCain on energy
Given that this is Scientific American, I expect this is a reasonably neutral summary of the two candidate's positions -- and the questions both need to be asked:
Both John McCain and Barack Obama have called for a cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions, although Obama’s proposed reduction (80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050) is larger than McCain’s (65 percent). Both candidates, however, need to answer a crucial question: Why cap-and-trade when so many policy experts, seeing the troubles with carbon trading in Europe, now recommend a simpler carbon taax?
Both candidates oppose Yucca Mountain, the controversial proposed nuclear waste dump. McCain has advocated an “international repository” instead. What is the difference? Where does Obama propose to put the waste? The U.S. has spent 30 years studying Yucca; switching sites will restart the clock. What will nuclear plants do with all their spent fuel in the meantime?
Beyond these generalities, the candidates diverge. McCain would subsidize the construction of 45 new nuclear reactors, costing upward of $270 billion and taking 20 years to complete. Why invest that much public money in nuclear rather than solar or wind power, which could start pumping out watts much sooner? How would offshore oil drilling, which McCain has urged, help wean the nation off fossil fuels?
Obama has spelled out intermediate milestones for emissions reductions and specific targets for biofuels and other renewables. How would these goals be enforced? He has promised $150 billion over 10 years for energy research and development as well as a $10-billion-a-year venture capital fund. What would stop that money, as in so many past efforts, from being allocated by lobbyists rather than engineers? Does the energy industry really need more venture capital? Oddly, he has promised to “fight the efforts of big oil and big agribusiness to undermine” corn-based ethanol. How has agribusiness sought to undermine corn ethanol? If anything, it seems rather the opposite. And why sustain support for corn ethanol when it is the most ungreen of all biofuels?
However, both candidates' proposals seem inadequate compared to the scale of the task at hand. I'm not seeing any integration into Socolow's stabilization wedges, for example.
Are the proposals brilliant? Adequate at best? Wholly inadequate? Off point?