Describing the last seven years as "a very dark time for the planet" in terms of environmental policy, Woodrow Wilson fellow Robert Musil said he believes the 2008 presidential campaign represents a chance for a fresh start.
"Whoever you vote for will be a sea change from the Bush administration," Musil told an audience of close to 100 people at a Feb. 26 address in the Soda Center.
Musil was executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility when it won the Nobel Peace Prize for its nuclear nonproliferation work in 1985. He is currently scholar-in-residence at American University's School of International Studies and is spending the week at Saint Mary's lecturing in classes as a visiting Woodrow Wilson fellow.
In his analysis of the environmental stakes of the current campaign, Musil said it is imperative that the next president lead the way in "reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent before 2050 to avoid an environmental crisis."
Musil said he believes that the remaining Democratic candidates are better positioned than John McCain to bring about this policy change, but added that McCain also represents "a vast advance over the current president."
"McCain is for capping and trading (carbon emissions) and there would be mandates on CO2 emissions. That's certainly better than nothing, but it's not the best out there," he said.
On the Democratic side, Musil said both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are committed to the 80 percent carbon emission reduction goal, but could get caught up in other political considerations during the campaign.
He cited the challenges Obama has faced in negotiating environmental policy issues in Illinois, the state with the largest concentration of nuclear power plants.
"These are the kinds of things that can have an impact on a candidate, and neither Clinton nor Obama are free from that," he said.
No matter who occupies the Oval Office in 2009, Musil said that the impetus for environmental change will come from voters who hold elected officials responsible for their policy decisions.
"These candidates will be as green as you make them," Musil said, adding, "All politicians have to respond to polls and the political climate, which still comes from citizens."
Musil recounted that even "someone as green as Al Gore" - who shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change issues - had to be pressured into attending the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997.
Whatever the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, Musil said he is heartened to see the beginnings of a coalition of individuals from across the religious and political spectrum take the threat of global warming seriously.
"Ultimately, this is not about parties. Climate change is a civic, moral and scientific challenge of the first order."
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Photo by Gorbachev Lingad '10