Heat waves, wildfires, droughts and flash floods are among the weather phenomena that will become more intense and frequent due to global warming. Theres more in store, as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, primarily flowing from our tailpipes and smokestacks, build up in the atmosphere.
The consequences of not doing anything about global warming pale in comparison to the costs. It will cost the world less economically, in the long run, to wean itself from fossil fuels. It will prevent costly epidemics, natural disasters and possibly even wars spurred by the migrations of people fleeing climate-ravaged regions.
Potential solutions range from asking industry to reduce pollution, as President Bush did to little effect, to taxing carbon, as only a handful in Congress favor. In between are various strategies to encourage the use of renewable energy and clean coal, popularize efficient vehicle technology, boost building efficiency, manipulate the market to drive down the level of pollution, and prepare the nations infrastructure for the changes to come.
Worldwide, emissions in 2050 must drop below 1990 levels by at least 50% likely much more. That means the decisions made by the next president will be critically important, since industrialized nations will have to make steeper cuts to meet the goal. Until recently, the United States was the worlds top carbon polluter (China now pollutes more), and it remains the worlds per capita leader and the nation with the longest legacy of pollution.
Both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain agree that global warming is real, that humans are largely responsible, that unabated it is likely to have serious consequences and that the federal government should take an active role to reduce the threat. Both support a cap-and-trade regulation that would set nationwide limits on the amount of carbon that could be emitted and allot pollution allowances to individual plants and industries so that those that exceed their limits must buy credits from those that do not.
Heres where they differ:
Obama would aim to cut emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, in line with the scientific consensus for avoiding the worst consequences of global warming. His cap-and-trade regulation would also include an auction of all pollution credits (so no polluter retains the right to pollute for free), and he plans to use the money generated to pursue aggressive renewable energy and energy efficiency goals that would also, he says, create millions of new green collar jobs.
McCain was an early champion of cap-and-trade in the Senate and last supported a 60% cut below 1990 levels of pollution, short of the goal articulated by the worlds scientists. He would allot credits to existing polluters, rather than auctioning them off.
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