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Presidential campaigns have climate change on agenda

Both leading Democrat and Republican candidates vie to show they can tackle global warming.

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For one thing, McCain has backtracked on his earlier opposition to ethanol subsidies, critics say. He also stresses the role of the marketplace and the profit motive in addressing the challenge of cleaner energy. In an interview published in the environmental news website,, McCain says:

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"I think most, if not all, of the ways that we can address this issue are through profit motive, free-enterprise-system-driven green technologies. General Electric dedicated itself to green technologies, and guess what? They're still making a lot of money…. Cap and trade, to me, is far more capitalistic and free-enterprise oriented [than a carbon tax].

In short, McCain's front-runner position now puts him in sharper contrast with the two Democrats, not with those of his own party who are more skeptical of climate change. In his guest blog on The Nation, David Roberts writes:

"Relative to what's offered by other Senate cap-and-trade bills (and the plans of his Democratic rivals), the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act – even in its 2007 incarnation – is weak. Unlike other such bills, McCain's specifically sets aside massive and unnecessary subsidies for the nuclear industry. Its emissions targets are exceeded even by the lowest-common-denominator bill now heading to the Senate floor, the Lieberman-Warner America's Climate Security Act…. In short, McCain's take on cap-and-trade legislation is now anachronistic, lagging well behind what's current, what's possible, and what's needed.

Still, Republican leaders like former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman see climate change as an issue that could bolster key parts of their base while attracting independent voters. Reuters reports:

"Economic conservatives see the technological solutions to climate change as a way to create more wealth and jobs, and many corporate leaders have pushed for a federal limit on carbon emissions to prevent a patchwork of state laws. Religious conservatives embrace cutting carbon emissions as an aspect of human stewardship of divine creation. National security conservatives argue that reducing dependence on foreign oil would cut off funding for anti-U.S. elements in the Middle East and elsewhere."

There's another political dynamic at work here: With younger voters apparently newly active, climate change becomes a more important issue, particularly among those born well after the first Earth Day in 1970. The Associated Press reports:

"Say hello to Generation Green. They're young, well-researched and mad as heck — inspired by an outpouring of movies, TV shows, books, Web sites and "green classes" at school. They've been learning how to save the planet since toddlerhood, and they're taking on their parents to do more, do better."