Obama, McCain on Our Ocean's Health

by Kevin Zelnio

Sd2008_2Sheril and Chris at The Intersection
have worked tirelessly to get the candidates to answer 14 questions
related to how science will be treated in their administrations. The
fruit of the efforts is a side-by-side comparison of Obama’s and
McCain’s responses to ScienceDebate ’08.
There is certainly some discussion about the wording of the questions,
the need for a science debate and so on, but lets face it, to get a
serious political discussion about science at any level is a much
welcome change from lipstick on pigs. They are well worth a read. The
questions cover all the hot topic science issues: innovation, climate
change, energy, education, national security, pandemics and
biosecurity, genetics research, stem cells, ocean health, water, space,
scientific integrity, research, and health.

If you haven’t gotten it by now, we here at Deep Sea News care a lot about our oceans. And not just because the three of us make our living by it as scientists. Oceans drive weather and are intimately connected with society on many levels. Healthy oceans equals healthy us.

For centuries, people have used the oceans – once considered a bottomless pit of resources. Fish were plentiful, the ocean was huge. What difference would it make if we dumped our waste into the sea? It is an enormous volume. Any effect humans might have should be minuscule because of dilution, right? The ocean is so big that we couldn’t possibly harvest out all the tasty sea morsels we collectively call "fish", right? Well at least a century of research, from a variety of angles from fishing to nutrients to biodiversity, has pointed to one conclusion. We are screwing up the oceans.

Like royally.

I’m totally serious.

While Obama actually answered the questions over 2 weeks ago, McCain, being very typical in this election competition, follows Obama’s lead. I posted my thoughts on Obama’s answer to the question on the ocean’s health over at ye ole DSN.The question formulated by the ScienceDebate ’08 team was:

"9. Ocean Health. Scientists estimate that some 75
percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline and habitats
around the world like coral reefs are seriously threatened. What steps,
if any, should the United States take during your presidency to protect
ocean health?"

It is a bit of a vague question. Ocean’s are very complex. Ocean health can connote a wide variety of issues ranging from habitat loss, coral reef bleaching, munitions dumping, dead zones, the list goes on. Obama and his staff repsonded with several good points and targetted issues such as ocean acidification, cross-agency collaboration and pooling of resources, and Coastal Zone Management, National Marine Sanctuaries and Oceans and Human Health Acts among others.

McCain and his staff didn’t really answer the questions with targetted responses to specific issues, but vaguely and openly acknowledged that there wee issues with the ocean and we should do ‘something’ about it. I whole-heartedly agree with Miriam (not just becuase she agrees with me) that overall, McCain’s responses were "… mostly boilerplate. There’s a lot of words but little content." Sam, a commenter at The Oyster Garter also noticed how McCain kept referring back to his experience in the Navy as if it made him qualified to address concerns about the ocean as president. But as Miriam points out, Obama’s answer are written better and shows a better grasp on ocean policy. For an example of McCains fluf compare the first few sentences of his long winded first paragraph:

"As a former Navy officer I was constantly reminded of the power, wonder
and complexity of our world’s oceans.  As Americans we are blessed by
our location, surrounded by two of the world’s great Oceans, along with
the magnificent Great Lakes along our Northern border.  Oceans and
coastal waters provide us with critical resources, hours of recreation
and protection.  The environmental health of the oceans and the Great
Lakes is a complex, multi-faceted issue requiring attention and action
from numerous perspectives.[…] "

with Obama’s entire first paragraph:

"Oceans are crucial to the earth’s ecosystem and to all Americans because they drive
global weather patterns, feed our people and are a major source of employment for
fisheries and recreation. As president, I will commit my administration to develop the
kind of strong, integrated, well-managed program of ocean stewardship that is essential to
sustain a healthy marine environment."

Obama is more to-the-point while McCain attempts to wax poetic. Obama sets out immediately to state a few items that he will pursue as president. McCain, on the other hand, doesn’t make any such points but recognize that there are certain problems. I will give McCain 2 points for recognizing the cause of coastal dead zones as a result of "human activities across the midwest", namely nutrient runoff from farms and residential lawns.

Head over to the ScienceDebate ’08 website. Read their answers to the questions (especiall #9) and let us know what you think about the candidates responses to problems affecting our oceans.

7 Replies to “Obama, McCain on Our Ocean's Health”

  1. Very nice analysis, Kevin. I agree with the overall tenor of McCain’s responses, although it was nice to see him respond at all — and on some S&T issues, he and Obama are actually close to agreement. That’s probably some much-needed good news for science in a year that hasn’t had much in the way of good tidings. :)

    The more serious issue, for me, is what appears to be a major disconnect between McCain’s 2008 Science Debate responses and the things outlined on his own Website, particularly when it comes to issues like education and stem cell research. I’m (perhaps naively) assuming McCain adheres to his own SD-2008 answers, but would very much like him to confirm that these are, indeed, his S&T policy views — and perhaps comment on why they diverge from the “official” position in critical areas.

  2. I haven’t gotten around to actually looking at the McCain website yet. I feel dirty just thinking of going there (yes I am a flaming liberal, the far left wing of the liberal democrats). But now that you’ve noticed this disconnect, I am curious (I can shower later).

    When I read the responses to both candidates’ responses, I wondered whether they are read and approved of the final responses. Obama’s at least meshes well with what he’s said and written.

  3. Joe Romm has done a great job documenting how dishonest McCain has been with respect to climate and energy issues. There’s no reason to assume said dishonesty does not extend to science.

    I would add a link but it got flagged by typepad’s antispam filter. (Please re-think the settings of that antispam filter.)

  4. How does being a Navy Pilot make someone uniquely qualified to understand how important the oceans are? Did he gather data from 15000 feet as he headed in to Vietnam on a strafing run?

    Wait I forget. He was a POW. Shouldn’t criticize a hero. I am glad that the candidates answered the questions, but I would still rather have had a debate with cross-examinations.

  5. llewelly, I’ll talk to the overlords about the overly aggressive filter.

    mike, an unscripted debate would be great. hopefully they will answer some questions on science during the regular debates (aside from energy policy)

  6. llewelly, Sorry about that spam filter. I actually didn’t know we even had one. You original comment is now published. I’ll make it a point to check it often. I do have html allowed for commenting so not quite sure why it got flagged. Drop us a line if it happens again.

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