The link between the environment and the economy is hard to miss; just watch the numbers at the pump spin madly upwards as you fill the tank. Now, as talks of a national recession grow from rumor to reality, clear-cut environmental economic plans are becoming the summer accessory of the presidential candidates, especially as they clamor for pivotal swing states like California and New Mexico.
Some environmental experts say the greening of economic policy is the positive side to an unpleasant financial forecast. In the June issue of Outside magazine, Elizabeth Hightower writes: "As the economic clouds continue to rain frogs, regular earthlings have been asking: If construction and consumption falter, will the environment finally get a break?"
Hightower writes that revenues in biofuels, wind and solar power went up 40 percent in the last year, bringing in more than $77 billion. While headlines of foreclosures, airline bankruptcies and plummeting stocks flashed across CNN, Rocky Mountain Institute Chairman Amory B. Lovins told Hightower that the private-capital market was busy investing $117 billion into global investments in clean energy.
A new face stepped onto the environmental stumping block last week, Sen. John McCain. The Republican presidential hopeful spent much of last week reaching out a green hand to the elusive independent voters and undecided Democratic voters in the West.
"You would think that if polar bears, walruses and seagulls have the good sense to respond to new conditions and new dangers, then humanity can respond as well," McCain said on May 12 at Vestas Training Facility in Portland, Oregon, as reported by Reuters. While these species are responding by dying, the McCain campaign is responding by pushing cap-and-trade programs and nuclear power.
McCain's plan calls for incremental reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, incentives to reward companies for lowering emissions and the ability to purchase emission permits through auction in order to finance the "infrastructure of a post-carbon economy." Among these infrastructure changes would be the construction of new nuclear reactors throughout the country. "It doesn't take a leap in logic to conclude that if we want to arrest global warming, then nuclear energy is a powerful ally in that cause," McCain said in a statement at his website.
McCain's environmental plan was immediately criticized by the Democratic National Committee because of his strong ties to oil lobbyists (including several present and former McCain advisers who were lobbyists for big oil in the past). Whether or not his green-speak swayed the crowd remains to be seen.
It also remains to be seen if his environmental plan will turn off conservative voters who consider an environmental plan to be an exercise in hippy-mysticism. His plan does put him at odds with other Republicans, including President George W. Bush, who continues to largely ignore alternative fuel technology and instead sticks to his guns on "environmentally safe" oil exploration in Alaska. Bush spent the past weekend in the Middle East where he tried -- unsuccessfully -- to get his Saudi hosts to boost oil production in order to put some of the pressure off rising gas prices in America.
McCain's May 12 speech included an obvious commander-in-chief-dis when the candidate promised not to "shirk" his environmental responsibilities or "permit eight years to pass without serious action on serious challenges."
No matter what political goal belies McCain's new environmental agenda, the increasing focus by all presidential candidates on alternative energy--and the mere indication that life could go on should our fossil-fuel based economy continue to falter--sends a strong signal that the American voter is ready for true environmental and economical policy change.
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