Obama and McCain Take 14 Question Science Test

WASHINGTON, DC, September 16, 2008 (ENS) - Both presidential candidates say that if they are elected in November, they will fight global warming by reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, using methods that include a cap-and-trade system, but then their climate change positions begin to diverge.

Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama of Illinois says his administration would put the United States on track to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by the year 2050. "I will restore U.S. leadership in strategies for combating climate change and work closely with the international community," Obama says.

On the other hand, Republican nominee Senator John McCain of Arizona says his administration would aim for a reduction of at least 60 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. He does not mention international engagement but promises a $5,000 tax credit to every customer who buys an American zero-emissions car.

The candidates gave these answers in response to 14 questions posed by a new organization ScienceDebate2008 trying to raise the profile of science in this presidential election.

"We are grateful for both senators' detailed responses," said Matthew Chapman, president of the initiative. "Now we hope the candidates will want to discuss their differences. Science Debate 2008 and its partners once again extend an invitation to both candidates to attend a televised forum where these vital issues can be discussed in front of a broader audience."

ScienceDebate2008 is a citizens initiative started by six people last December. Signers now include nearly every major American science organization, the presidents of most major American universities, and dozens of Nobel laureates and top American CEOs.

The 14 questions address energy policy, national security, economics in a science-driven global economy, climate change, education, health care, ocean health, biosecurity, clean water, space, stem cells, scientific integrity, genetics, and research.

"Most of America's major unsolved challenges revolve around these 14 questions," said Shawn Otto, CEO of the initiative. "To move America forward, the next president needs a substantive plan for tackling them going in, and voters deserve to know what that plan is."

On the role of nuclear energy, the candidates differ widely in their views.

McCain supports a greater role for nuclear power, saying, "As president, I will put the country on track to building 45 new reactors by 2030 so that we can meet our growing energy demand and reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Nuclear power is a proven, domestic, zero-emission source of energy and it is time to recommit to advancing our use of nuclear energy."

Obama does not rule out nuclear power but looks towards developing, "A new generation of nuclear electric technologies that address cost, safety, waste disposal, and proliferation risks."

On the production tax credit for renewable energy facilities that is due to expire at the end of December, Obama offers to extend the credit for five years.

McCain says he supports the idea of a production tax credit although he has voted against it. "I've voted against the current patchwork of tax credits for renewable power because they were temporary, and often the result of who had the best lobbyist instead of who had the best ideas. But the objective itself was right and urgent," he said.

On the question of improving ocean health, McCain, a former U.S. Navy officer, says, "Ocean health and policy requires better management focus; however, we also need a better scientific understanding of the oceans," but offers no specific actions.

Obama says he will "work actively to ensure that the U.S. ratifies the Law of the Sea Convention – an agreement supported by more than 150 countries that will protect our economic and security interests while providing an important international collaboration to protect the oceans and its resources."

Obama links global climate change to "catastrophic effects on ocean ecologies" and says his plan to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases 80 percent below 1990 by 2050 can help.

He promises to expand the research budgets of federal scientific agencies such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

On the essential question of coping with the water shortages expected in 39 states during the next decade, McCain offers nothing new, but the senator from the arid state of Arizona says, "I understand the importance of state law and local prerogatives in the allocation of water resources, and that all levels of government must work together with stakeholders to ensure that our lifeblood is protected, managed, and utilized in a wise, just, and sustainable manner."

Obama says, "Solutions to this critical problem will require close collaboration between federal, state, and local governments and the people and businesses affected. First, prices and policies must be set in a ways that give everyone a clear incentive to use water efficiently and avoid waste."

Obama says he will "establish a national plan to help high-growth regions with the challenges of managing their water supplies" and will provide "information, training, and, in some cases, economic assistance" to farms and businesses shifting to "more efficient water practices."

The 14 questions were developed from over 3,400 questions submitted by more than 38,500 signers of the ScienceDebate2008 initiative.

The questionnaire is a joint effort led by ScienceDebate2008, with Scientists and Engineers for America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and the Council on Competitiveness, among others, together representing more than 125 million Americans.

To read the two candidates' responses to the 14 questions, click here.

A national poll, commissioned by Research!America and ScienceDebate2008.com and conducted in May by Harris Interactive, shows that 56 percent of respondents strongly agree and 29 percent somewhat agree that the presidential candidates should participate in a debate to discuss how science can help tackle key problems facing the United States, such as health care, climate change and energy.

"This is not a niche debate," said Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel and one of the supporters of the Science Debate initiative. "Without the best education system and aggressive investments in basic research and development we will become a second rate economic power. We expect the candidates for president to take this very seriously."

{Photo: Stirling Energy Systems SunCatchers use mirrors to concentrate the Sun's energy and convert it to electricity without harmful emissions. (Photo courtesy SES)}

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