In the first presidential debate to include YouTube clips of people asking questions from around the country, a snowman took center stage to ask about global warming.
"Hello, Democratic candidates. I've been growing concerned that global warming, the single most important issue to the snowmen of this country, is being neglected. As president, what will you do to ensure that my son will live a full and happy life?"
Whether this is a good sign for democracy or not -- that a high-pitched and cartoonish video snowman asks a tough question shrouded in a silly conceit -- is a question being tossed around the blogosphere this morning. Putting that on hold for a moment, here's how the candidates responded to that, and other questions about the environment during Monday's debate.
Anderson Cooper, the CNN moderator, reminded the audience that it was "a serious question" and then allowed a single candidate to answer, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
"When we start talking about wars for oil, we're essentially keeping the same approach to energy. So I'm saying we need to move away from reliance on oil and coal and toward reliance on wind and solar. ... That's the basis of my WGA, Works Green Administration, where we take an entirely new approach to organize the entire country around sustainability, around conservation. We don't have to have our snowmen melting, and the planet shouldn't be melting either."
A second YouTube question covered the environment and got more candidates talking:
"Hi, I'm Stephanie. We're in the Bay area, in my bathroom, because this is one of the places where I use compact fluorescent light bulbs. I use these to decrease my personal energy use, and I hear politicians talking about alternative energy to delay -- to decrease our energy impact as a whole. So my question for you is, how is the United States going to decrease its energy consumption in the first place? In other words, how will your policies influence Americans, rather than just using special light bulbs, to do this?"
Sen. Mike Gravel said the country should change its tax code. "Have a fair tax where people are taxed on what they spend rather than what they earn. And our tax system is totally corrupt right now. And so if we now have a retail sales tax, you'll take this nation of ours from a consuming nation to a savings nation. And that's the most significant thing we can do to alter climate change."
Senator Christopher Dodd said fuel efficiency -- including a 50 mph car by 2017 -- should be part of the solution, and a carbon tax is another.
"You've got to tax polluters. You've got to separate the price differential so that we can move away from fossil fuels that do so much damage to our environment, to our economy, to our future, to jobs in this country. Until you deal with the issue of price, until you impose a corporate carbon tax, we will never get away from fossil fuels. It's the only way this can be achieved. You have to advocate that if you're serious about global warming."
Finally, a third YouTube question centered on global warming:
"Hi, my name is Shawn and I'm from Ann Arbor, Michigan. There is a scientific consensus for man-caused climate change, and I've heard each of you talk in previous debates about alternative energy sources like solar or wind, but I have not heard any of you speak your opinion on nuclear power. I believe that nuclear power is safer, cleaner, and provides a quicker avenue to energy independence than other alternatives. I am curious what each of you believe."
Sen. John Edwards said: "Wind, solar, cellulose-based biofuels are the way we need to go. I do not favor nuclear power. We haven't built a nuclear power plant in decades in this country. There is a reason for that. The reason is it is extremely costly. It takes an enormous amount of time to get one planned, developed and built. And we still don't have a safe way to dispose of the nuclear waste. It is a huge problem for America over the long term. I also don't believe we should liquefy coal. The last thing we need is another carbon-based fuel in America. We need to find fuels that are in fact renewable, clean, and will allow us to address directly the question that has been raised, which is the issue of global warming, which I believe is a crisis."
Sen. Barack Obama said: "I actually think that we should explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix. There are no silver bullets to this issue. We have to develop solar. I have proposed drastically increasing fuel efficiency standards on cars, an aggressive cap on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted. But we're going to have to try a series of different approaches. ... You can take a look at how Dick Cheney did his energy policy. He met with environmental groups once. He met with renewable energy folks once. And then he met with oil and gas companies 40 times. And that's how they put together our energy policy. We've got to put the national interests ahead of special interests, and that's what I'll do as president of the United States.
Sen. Hillary Clinton said: "First of all, I have proposed a strategic energy fund that I would fund by taking away the tax break for the oil companies, which have gotten much greater under Bush and Cheney. ... And we could spend about $50 billion doing what America does best. It's time we start acting like Americans again. We can solve these problems if we focus on innovation and technology. So, yes, all these alternative forms of energy are important. So is fuel efficiency for cars and so is energy efficiency for buildings. I'm agnostic about nuclear power. John is right, that until we figure out what we're going to do with the waste and the cost, it's very hard to see nuclear as a part of our future. But that's where American technology comes in. Let's figure out what we're going to do about the waste and the cost if we think nuclear should be a part of the solution. But this issue of energy and global warming has the promise of creating millions of new jobs in America. So it can be a win-win, if we do it right."
Questions and answers are taken from the New York Times transcript of the debate.
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