Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize for his years of work on climate change has caused considerable speculation about whether he might be a late entry in the race for the White House, a subject on which he remains coy. But where does the former vice president's award leave the declared presidential candidates on global warming?
Their positions range widely: from a corporate carbon tax (Sen. Christopher Dodd) and an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 (John Edwards) to a cap-and-trade system on such gases (Sen. John McCain) to a pooh-poohing of the kind of climate threat Mr. Gore warns about (Rep. Tom Tancredo).
Asked by the Associated Press to name "the last work of fiction you've read," Republican Congressman Tancredo said it was Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."
Inevitably, global warming and the gases scientists say are largely responsible – principally carbon dioxide – are tied to fossil fuels and energy policy.
Among Republicans, Sen. Sam Brownback says the country's energy security depends on more oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Gulf of Mexico. Rep. Ron Paul would end "all subsidies and special benefits to energy companies."
Among Democrats, Sen. Joseph Biden wants to raise vehicle fuel efficiency standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2017, "which [he says] will save approximately the amount of oil we import from Saudi Arabia."
Not surprisingly, the most Gore-like positions on climate change have been staked out by Democrats. Even so, it's a politically tricky issue, one on which a candidate wants to be neither too hot nor too cold. Recent voter surveys show why.
Seventy percent of those polled by CBS News in January agreed that "global warming is an environmental problem that is causing a serious impact now." A Washington Post-ABC News survey in April found 33 percent – twice the figure from a year ago – identifying climate change as their main environmental concern. At the same time, according to the Pew Research Center "the public continues to be deeply divided over both its cause and what to do about it."
"Moreover, there are indications that most Americans do not regard global warming as a top-tier issue," Pew reported earlier this year. "In Pew's annual list of policy priorities for the president and Congress, global warming ranked fourth-lowest of 23 items tested…. Roughly twice as many Democrats as Republicans say that dealing with global warming should be a top priority for the president and Congress this year (48 percent compared with 23 percent). However, the issue is a relatively low priority for members of both parties, as well as for independents."
Of more concern to most Americans, polls indicate, are terrorism, education, the economy, illegal immigration, Social Security, and healthcare.
Still, several candidates are putting forth climate-related programs that are sure to be controversial if they're selected to lead their party's ticket.
Last week, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama detailed his plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. That's also Mr. Edwards's goal, but it goes further in requiring industries to pay for their quotas to emit greenhouse gases.
League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski says Obama's proposals amount to "an aggressive plan that would point America in the right direction toward a clean, renewable energy future."
But President Bush and many of the candidates who want to succeed him say Obama's approach would be too burdensome on US manufacturing businesses.
Bill Richardson, secretary of Energy during the Clinton administration, also has one of the more aggressive plans on climate change. He wants to cut US oil demand 50 percent by 2020, obtain half of all the country's electricity supply from renewable sources by 2040, double the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for autos to 50 miles per gallon by 2020, and cap CO2 emissions at 90 percent below 2006 levels by 2050.
Among the GOP candidates, only Senator McCain has been outspoken on climate change, having sponsored the first major Senate legislation to reduce greenhouse gases four years ago and criticizing the Bush administration for lack of action on climate change.
This year's version of the McCain-sponsored bill would cap greenhouse-gas emissions at 2004 levels by 2012 and then reduce them by 65 percent by 2050. He also favors increased spending on nuclear power and opposes oil drilling in ANWR.
So far, however, no candidate has used Gore's Nobel-inspired rhetoric to describe climate change: "a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."