Can John McCain save the planet?

There has long been a well-understood environmental divide in American politics: Democrats have argued that something needs done about climate change, while Republicans have largely disputed whether a problem really exists and, if so, what government can actually do about.

No more. John McCain has made addressing climate change one of the key planks in his campaign for the presidency, saying the matter is a “national security issue” that can be solved using market forces. But there’s skepticism of McCain on both sides of the political divide.

Is it time to move forward with a national response to climate change? Or does junk science make for junk politics? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.

JOEL MATHIS

Hallelujah.

Sure, John McCain’s proposal to address climate change leaves a lot to be desired. He’s less ambitious than Barack Obama in his goals to reduce carbon emissions, for example. McCain is also more enthusiastic about the possibilities of nuclear power than any environmentalist should ever like.

“It’s hard to see how McCain can claim the allegiance of voters who rank climate change as a top concern,” one environmental writer harrumphed after the Republican unveiled his plan.

The writer is missing the point. John McCain was never going to win Al Gore’s vote. But there’s a whole swath of “real” Americans out there — people who recycle, drive Priuses and like to think of themselves as being environmentally conscious without needing to join the Sierra Club — whose votes are up for grabs. Rather than cede those votes to Democrats, McCain has decided to compete.

That’s an extraordinary moment for the Republican Party.

And that’s good for all of us. The national conversation can finally put aside the carping and misdirection of the denialists to focus on real science and solutions to man-made climate change. Soon, perhaps, McCain’s fellow Republicans will see there is more to be gained than lost politically by joining that conversation. When that happens, we’ll all be winners.

BEN BOYCHUK

You don’t need to be a global warming “denialist” to think that John McCain’s prescriptions for tackling climate change would do more harm than good. Although McCain asserts that his proposal for limiting carbon emissions through a “cap-and-trade” program is “market-based,” it’s ultimately just a massive plan to expand government further into the private sector.

McCain’s plan is market-based only insofar as corporations could sell their surplus carbon credits to other companies. The problem is the cap.

When government puts an arbitrary limit on anything, the market becomes distorted, the state becomes the broker of first and last resort, and costs go way, way up.

McCain’s plan will certainly create jobs… for lobbyists. In his climate change address in Oregon, McCain explained how government would “auction” carbon credits, giving the largest corporations an immediate advantage.

And under McCain’s plan companies that need extra emissions rights would be able to purchase them from a brand new federal agency, meaning more bureaucracy and more special interests seeking influence.

“We want to turn the American economy toward cleaner and safer energy sources,” McCain said. “And you can’t achieve that by imposing costs that the American economy cannot sustain.”

He’s right. America needs more nuclear energy, more hydrogen power, more natural gas exploration, and cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels that pollute the air and put the United States at the mercy of foreign powers. None of that is achievable when government chains private enterprise to a well-intended but fundamentally flawed regulatory scheme.

(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)