Friday, October 31, 2008

Nature bites man

In a unique editorial, Nature has endorsed Barack Obama. They have some complimentary things to say about John McCain but when the rubber hits the road

"Some will find strengths in McCain that they value more highly than the commitment to reasoned assessment that appeals in Obama. But all the signs are that the former seeks a narrower range of advice. Equally worrying is that he fails to educate himself on crucial matters; the attitude he has taken to economic policy over many years is at issue here. Either as a result of poor advice, or of advice inadequately considered, he frequently makes decisions that seem capricious or erratic. The most notable of these is his ill-considered choice of Sarah Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, as running mate. Palin lacks the experience, and any outward sign of the capacity, to face the rigours of the presidency.

The Oval Office is not a debating chamber, nor is it a faculty club. As anyone in academia will know, a thoughtful and professorial air is not in itself a recommendation for executive power. But a commitment to seeking good advice and taking seriously the findings of disinterested enquiry seems an attractive attribute for a chief executive. It certainly matters more than any specific pledge to fund some particular agency or initiative at a certain level — pledges of a sort now largely rendered moot by the unpredictable flux of the economy.

This journal does not have a vote, and does not claim any particular standing from which to instruct those who do. But if it did, it would cast its vote for Barack Obama.

Usually the bunny keeps politics out of the blog, but this is where policy meets the road. You can read Obama's and McCain's answers (well actually their advisors answers) to science policy questions. Popular Mechanics has a nice matrix of the policy positions of the candidates including those who dropped out of the primaries. You can find some of Biden's positions there and compare the primary season answers of the candidates to the election positions. Palin asked for a make-up.

UPDATE: Science reports on a debate between Daniel Kammen and representing Barack Obama and Kurt Yeager representing John McCain. Among the topics,

Cap and Trade Programs for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Both candidates reject a federal tax on carbon emissions of the sort that was advocated by former Vice President Al Gore. Both Yeager and Kammen said that the candidates see a cap and trade regime as being stronger and more sensitive in its ability to control carbon emissions.

Generally, a cap-and-trade program sets limits for greenhouse gas emissions. The government would sell the permits or give them away; utilities and industries that emit the gasses could buy them and sell them. Over time, fewer permits would be available, and the cost presumably would be higher. That would help reduce overall emissions.

Both campaigns have staked out their objectives: Obama would auction the permits to reduce carbon emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. McCain's goal is a 60% reduction by 2050.

At the Stanford debate, Kammen said auctioning the permits would essentially set a price for polluting, and that proceeds could be used for a variety of purposes, including efforts to promote green development and green jobs in low-income urban and rural areas. He was critical of McCain's program, joining other analysts who have found that it would initially give some of the permits away. That approach that has been questioned by some critics who say that creates insufficient incentive for polluters to stop polluting.

Yeager insisted that McCain's plan would not give away permits. It would set firm objectives in five-year increments and hold polluters accountable for meeting them. That would be effective without bankrupting private industry, he said. A cap-and-trade regime has to be a "sustainable strategy that gets beyond the enthusiasm of the moment" so that it can endure long-term, he added.

Read the comments. . .


Anonymous said...

a commitment to seeking good advice and taking seriously the findings of disinterested enquiry seems an attractive attribute for a chief executive"

That hits the nail on the head.

The biggest problem with Bush and with scientifically illiterate Americans in general is that they do not take science seriously. Worse yet, they actually have contempt for science and for knowledge in general.

They have fooled themselves into believing that the assessment of the scientific community is just another "opinion", no better than that of Joe the plummer.

Peter Wood said...

The most important test of the next US president is the position of the US in international climate negotiations leading up to Copenhagen in December 2009. What stabilisation target will they aim for? What 2020 targets will they accept? Will they recognise that as a high per-capita emitter, will the US accept deeper reductions than low per-capita emitters?