Global Warming. The general consensus among Democratic candidates is that the United States should reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, a goal that is in line with projections designed to limit global warming to about 2 degrees. Several leading scientists and policy makers believe will prevent some of the more catastrophic consequences of climate change. (Though Al Gore has suggested the U.S. and other industrialized nations need to cut emissions 90% by 2050 in order for the world as a whole to meet that goal.)
There are two exceptions to this Democratic consensus: Sen. Mike Gravel hasn't stated a goal, and Gov. Bill Richardson has set a more aggressive target of reducing emissions to 90% below 2006 levels. (If you're not dizzy yet, do the math, and see that Richardson's target would result in a level of annual pollution about 40% less than the Democratic consensus.)
Most Democrats favor a cap-and-trade regulation, whereby companies would have to restrict pollution to within a national cap, and those that pollute less could sell credits to those who pollute more. This system has worked to dramatically reduce industrial pollution that causes acid rain and smog. Thre is variation within that consensus, with Richardson, Sen. Barack Obama, and Sen. Chris Dodd calling for an auction of all pollution credits (in other words, giving nothing to existing polluters.) Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Edwards have also mentioned auctioning credits, but it's not clear if they mean some or all.
Then there's the carbon tax crowd, if you can call Dodd and Gravel a crowd. Both have called for a tax on carbon, a position some economists have said is a more equitable and efficient -- if less politically palatable -- way to encourage efficiency and a switch to renewable energy. (After all, if a gallon of gas includes the incremental cost of a melted Arctic and an inching-up coastline, it might make you think twice about bicycling to work.)
Building and Vehicle Efficiency. That, in theory, takes care of industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, which account for about one third of the nation's greenhouse gas pollution. The Democrats have not ignored the other contributors: Buildings (about one third) and Transportation (about one third).
For buildings, all (with the exception of Gravel) support a renewable energy portfolio requiring local utilities to derive a percentage (for the majority of candidates 20%) of their energy from renewable sources like wind, solar or hydropower, by a certain date (for the consensus candidates 2020). There is variation in the goals, with Richardson supporting 30% by 2020 and 50% by 2040. Obama also goes farther than the pack, with a 25% goal by 2020, as does Clinton whose goal is 25% by 2025 or 2030. Kucinich hasn't settled on a number, offering up in different interviews 10% to 40% by 2020. And Edwards supports 25% by 2025.
The numbers are even more messy when it comes to the fuel economy of the American vehicle fleet. Here's how things are shaping up, more or less in descending order from most aggressive (though not necessarily most feasible) to least, by mileage, but then by date:
The goals related to renewable fuels, including ethanol, are similarly muddled. For details, check out each candidate's profile.
Unique Goals. The Democratic candidates have proposed a variety of initiatives to reach their goals. Here's a look at some highlights, in alphabetical order by candidate:
For much more detail about each candidate's policies, review The Daily Green's Green Your Vote 2008 election guide.
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