DES MOINES -- Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama acknowledged Sunday that Americans would pay higher costs for electricity if his environmental program to vastly reduce greenhouse emissions is successful.
Speaking to about 200 people at Des Moines' downtown library to discuss the relationship of faith and environmental stewardship, the senator from Illinois said his proposals to temper the effects of global warming include a cap on carbon emissions to effect greenhouse gas reductions of 80 percent by 2050.
"On the front end at least, when you set up a cap, that is going to increase the costs, the production costs of electricity, for these companies. What will they do? They are going to pass them on to you," Obama said. "And so, I hope everybody understands, if we are serious about dealing with global warming, there is going to be a spike in the unit costs of electricity."
Obama said his acknowledgment was representative of one theme of his campaign, that "I can't just tell people what they want to hear."
The Democratic contender said some proceeds from an emission credit auction system among polluters would be used to subsidize electric bills for people who are "most vulnerable" to price increases.
"Now, technology I believe, will adapt in such a way that those electricity bills go back down as the technology gets absorbed. But at least on the front end, there's going to be some costs and we can't pretend like there's a free lunch," he said.
The other major Democratic candidates also have proposed so-called cap-and-trade plans for carbon emissions, but the Obama campaign contends it is the only one being honest about the upfront costs to electric consumers.
Obama noted that last week's awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Vice President Al Gore recognized his "extraordinary dedication" to the issue of global warming. But Obama also criticized the refusal of "Washington politicians to bring about real change" on environmental issues.
Although Obama said his plan would take $150 billion in auction proceeds for investment in renewable energy over a 10-year period, he did not rule out a continuation of efforts to produce so-called clean-coal technology.
"If we just say, `Sorry, no coal,' we will lose that fight politically and we will hamper ourselves from potentially dealing with a legitimate energy resource if we have very clear standards about its use," Obama said, noting vast coal reserves exist in Illinois and the rest of the nation as well as in China and that new technology should be shared.
Obama also said raised living standards in developing nations would be the best way to control the world's population growth.
"We should make sure that all our plans and aid include sex education and contraception--all that should be available," he said. "The best way to actually control population growth is to give people more education, more security, better health care so that they have some assurance that those children that they have survive."
Obama also said another key to reducing population growth rates is to provide women with more education.
"I'm a believer in educating women because it turns out when you educate and empower women that they make choices about children and they tend to be more sensible about it," he said.