By Matt Owens September 26, 2013
The "lesser of two evils" is a phrase often associated with Virginia’s gubernatorial two-party candidates. But does this characterization fit when it comes to climate change - an issue potentially more important than any other... you know, the whole survival of the human race thing? On the one hand, Ken Cuccinelli (R) led what has been widely called a witch-hunt against climate science, specifically against University of Virginia professor Michael Mann. [Full disclosure, I was a student of Mann's at UVA.] On the other hand, Terry McAuliffe (D) has used his money and time to buy a Chinese electric vehicle (EV) company and reestablish it as Green Tech Automotive in the US (with headquarters in Virginia). So, at least when it comes to climate change, it seems like there actually is a stark difference, but is it real?
McAuliffe's history is one of fund raising and well-timed investments, so his involvement with the EV industry is actually potential fodder for the small but vocal faction of conspiratorially-minded people who think climate change is a hoax perpetrated for a panoply of reasons, among which apparently include professors who are scheming (but to what end?).
Ken Cuccinelli does not actually have a platform on climate change, or even the environment. The only statement in his published platform that even mentions the environment is a desire to use energy "in an environmentally safe way." However, it's not at all clear that he accepts the indisputable fact that greenhouse gases cause greenhouse warming. So it's no surprise that his energy policy supports an "all of the above" approach and without any restrictions on greenhouse gas pollution, which would be patently dangerous, the opposite of safe. My attempts to reach the Cuccinelli campaign for comment were unsuccessful.
So as things stand now, the only grade to give Cuccinelli on climate is an unequivocal "F." His position, or rather lack of one, is a blind rush in the wrong direction.
Protecting the commons from destruction at the hands of short-sighted industries is a critical function that government must be involved in. This fact has been demonstrated time and again, both in successes and failures, for example how most of our waterways are no longer open sewers or on fire.
Because Cuccinelli's example sets the bar so low, I was actually surprised at how far McAuliffe has gone on climate change. He has publicly affirmed that global warming "is a fact," and his platform does address climate change adaptation. Its main points (as of September 26) deal specifically with sea level rise. His platform also supports offshore wind in Virginia and other "clean" energy jobs. These are positive. But, when looking at his platform as a whole, the urgency and importance of climate issues are still too low.
For example, McAuliffe's energy policy is essentially, "all of the above" and would include building more fossil fuel power plants that emit more greenhouse gas pollution. In other words, continued investment in the absolute wrong way.
At this point, investing more resources in expanding the use of fossil fuels - including natural gas - is placing what looks like a potential death sentence on our youth. This fact is no secret, especially to the youth. And I don't think they're especially pleased. This is a socially corrosive situation that must be reversed. Building more natural gas or coal power plants is a morally bankrupt choice.
Still, considering the widespread confusion and misunderstanding that somehow spending trivial amounts of money on renewable energy now will harm the economy, McAuliffe's emphasis on the counter position is welcome news. Renewable energy is good for our future and our economy now. So, after much deliberation, my verdict on McAuliffe's climate stance is a surprisingly better-than-expected "C+." That's actually an impressive result, and it's in full understanding that the actual greenhouse gas emissions from Virginia under Cuccinelli vs. under McAuliffe would probably be the same. [More full disclosure: I never valued A's very much.]
For McAuliffe to get a better grade, I'd recommend that he stop taking sleeping pills before his public speaking engagements, and then that he start making a forceful case that renewable energy is our path to economic prosperity, as a state, as a nation, and as a planet. In counterpoint, he should make the case that fossil fuels are a path towards economic collapse (to say the least). For Cuccinelli to get a better grade, well, quite frankly I think he demonstrates such lack of interest that it's not worth wasting my breath.
Fossil fuels are a dead end.