Monday, September 01, 2008

Beyond The Palin

John McCain has distinguished himself from many Republicans, and a good many Democrats, by adopting a number of political positions grounded more in science than in popularity. Among these are his early recognition that global climate change is most likely anthropogenic in origin, his opposition to oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ("ANWR"), and his support for evolution and embryonic stem cell ("ESC") research. His new vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, appears to disagree on these and other issues.

Palin doubts that human activity is responsible for global climate change. In a 2008 interview with, she stated that "I'm not one...who would attribute it to being man-made." Curiously, in the same interview, she does see the effects of global climate change as serious: "A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location."

The "First Dude", Todd Palin, works for BP, currently as an oil-field production operator, and previously spent 18 years working in the oil fields of Alaska's North Slope. By coincidence, Sarah Palin strongly supports drilling for oil in ANWR. Though the First Dude abides, it is difficult to see how John McCain could, given his strong support for keeping oil drilling out of ANWR.

John McCain has articulated a nuanced view of his belief in evolution. As he stated during a Republican presidential candidate's debate in 2007, "I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also." Sarah Palin appears to have less respect for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. However, both McCain and Palin have usually supported the teaching of both evolutionary theory and intelligent design in public schools.

John McCain has repeatedly pledged to end the ban on Federal funding for stem cell research, at least with respect to stem cells not derived from embryos created soley for research purposes. This has put him at odds with the Bush administration. Palin, by contrast, appears to oppose stem cell research, though her opinions have thus far lacked the nuance of McCain's.

Finally, Governor Palin has led Alaska's attempts to prevent the Bush administration from listing the polar bear as "Threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. This is unsurprising, given the grizzly bear pelt she was photographed sitting on this past week, not to mention her support for thoroughly unsporting aerial wolf hunting. In addition, she and the oil companies are quite concerned that Federal protection for polar bears would burden oil exploration efforts in her state. Though Senator McCain has previously made light of Federal funding for grizzly bear research ("I don't know if it was a paternity issue or criminal, but it was a waste of money"), it is likely that his relatively green-friendly political instincts would balk at opposing Federal protection for this photogenic ursine.

John McCain and Sarah Palin may find it challenging to harmonize their views on global climate change, nature conservation, evolution, biotechnology, and endangered species. It will be fascinating to watch as Palin "clarifies" her views into closer convergence with those of her boss.


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