Presidential Debate: Candidates Agree, Cleantech Can Fix Economy and Planet

Energy emerged as a major topic of discussion in the second presidential debate on Tuesday night, and while Obama and McCain disagreed on the details of their energy plans, both candidates largely agreed that clean technology is necessary to both help fix the economy and fight climate change.

When the moderator Tom Brokaw asked what the fastest and most positive way to bail people out of economic ruin was, McCain’s first response was:

“I have a plan to fix this problem and it has got to do with energy independence. We’ve got to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t want us very — like us very much.”

Later on in the debate, McCain emphasized that energy independence, specifically “drilling offshore and nuclear power,” are fundamental ways to get the economy moving again.

When Brokaw asked the candidates to rate in order their priorities of health care, energy, and entitlement reform, Obama put energy at the top:

“Energy we have to deal with today, because you’re paying $3.80 here in Nashville for gasoline, and it could go up. And it’s a strain on your family budget, but it’s also bad for our national security, because countries like Russia and Venezuela and, you know, in some cases, countries like Iran, are benefiting from higher oil prices. So we’ve got to deal with that right away.”

McCain dodged picking one priority over another, saying they could all be done at once; he also delivered his basic energy plan:

“We can work on nuclear power plants. Build a whole bunch of them, create millions of new jobs. We have to have all of the above, alternative fuels, wind, tide, solar, natural gas, clean coal technology. All of these things we can do as Americans and we can take on this mission and we can overcome it.”

Later on in the debate, McCain said nuclear was the best way to fix climate change and called nuclear power “safe,” “clean,” and able to create “hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Unlike McCain, Obama isn’t emphasizing nuclear or offshore drilling as more important solutions, and he said:

“We can’t simply drill our way out of the problem. And we’re not going to be able to deal with the climate crisis if our only solution is to use more fossil fuels that create global warming.”

Later on, Obama said, “I favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix.”

McCain had the chance to answer the most interesting question of the night for the cleantech industry, also from Brokaw: “Should we fund a Manhattan-like project that develops a nuclear bomb to deal with global energy and alternative energy or should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?”

McCain’s answer was truncated and didn’t display much knowledge as to how technology innovation works in Silicon Valley. He said:

“I think pure research and development investment on the part of the United States government is certainly appropriate. I think once it gets into productive stages, that we ought to, obviously, turn it over to the private sector.”

No wonder the cleantech industry backs Obama over McCain so heavily.

But overall, both McCain and Obama both emphasized the fact that the creation of cleantech will be a major driving force in remaking the U.S economy:

McCain: We can move forward, and clean up our climate, and develop green technologies, and alternate — alternative energies for — for hybrid, for hydrogen, for battery-powered cars, so that we can clean up our environment and at the same time get our economy going by creating millions of jobs.

Obama: “It [an energy economy] can be an engine that drives us into the future the same way the computer was the engine for economic growth over the last couple of decades…We’re going to have to come up with alternatives, and that means that the United States government is working with the private sector to fund the kind of innovation that we can then export to countries like China that also need energy and are setting up one coal power plant a week. We’ve got to make sure that we’re giving them the energy that they need or helping them to create the energy that they need.”

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