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Climate Hustle

What are the climate change consequences of the midterm elections?

Posted on 12 November 2018 by dana1981

This is a re-post from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Over the past two years, the Trump administration, aided by the Republican-controlled Congress, has eroded the Obama administration’s policy efforts to curb global warming. Climate activists had hoped to reverse some of those losses in this year’s midterm elections, but the results were a mixed bag. Here is the rundown of where we stand.

What can House Democrats do with the majority? 

The Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and will hold about 232 seats (53 percent) starting in 2019. This gives them control over legislation in that chamber of Congress. Democrats will become House committee chairs, who choose the bills that receive a hearing and a vote in a given committee. Democrats will also be able to choose the Speaker of the House – likely to be Nancy Pelosi – who decides what bills come to the floor for a vote after they’ve passed out of committees.

We’re thus in a similar scenario as in 2009, when House Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act carbon cap and trade bill. At that time, Democrats had a majority in the Senate, but not a 60-vote supermajority. Because the bill lacked the votes to defeat a Republican filibuster, it was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote. Republicans now hold the Senate and White House, so climate legislation has no chance of passing until either Democrats take control of those branches (and overcome a Senate filibuster), or a significant number of Republican lawmakers stop denying the need to address the existential threat posed by climate change.

In the meantime, Democrats can now play a major role in setting the federal budget, which means they can protect funding for climate science research and for federal agencies like the EPA. So, we can at least keep learning about the dangers posed by climate change as the Trump administration tries to increase the carbon pollution that’s creating those threats. The House Science Committee will now be controlled by Democrats rather than some of Congress’ worst science-denying Republicans like Lamar Smith (retired) and Dana Rohrabacher (defeated), and thus will thankfully no longer hold theatrical hearings to deny basic climate science.

Democratic governors can play a big climate role

Democratic candidates gained seven governorships and will now lead 23 states representing 173 million Americans (53.5 percent of the population). Given the federal government’s inability to pass climate legislation, states are playing an increasingly important role. Governor Jerry Brown has made California a world leader in implementing policies to meet the Paris climate targets.

Consider North Carolina, whose Republican governor in 2012 signed a bill blocking state agencies from considering climate science research in coastal sea level rise projections. He was replaced by Democratic governor Roy Cooper in 2017, who signed an executive order calling on the state to meet the Paris climate targets. Or New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, who reversed Chris Christie’s decision to withdraw from the regional carbon cap and trade system. Or consider Virginia Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who has pledged to join the cap and trade system.

In the midterm elections, Michigan, Maine, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Illinois elected governors who have endorsed 50 percent renewable energy standards or higher. We can now expect to see more states take up the climate leadership role abandoned by the Trump administration.

Oil industry spending killed several green ballot initiatives

Washington voters rejected the state’s second carbon tax proposition in the past two elections, after the oil industry spent $30 million on ads to defeat it. However, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee is determined to implement climate legislation in Washington.

In Colorado, the oil and gas industry spent nearly $40 million to defeat an anti-fracking amendment, and was successful. In Arizona, the state’s biggest utility spent $30 million to defeat a proposition to require the state to obtain 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

But there was also some good news for climate advocates in the ballot initiatives. Californians voted to keep the state’s gas tax. Floridians passed a measure to ban offshore drilling. And Nevadans approved an amendment requiring electric utilities to acquire 50 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030.

Climate Solutions Caucus shrinks

The Climate Solutions Caucus was a bipartisan group of 45 Republicans and 45 Democrats whose goal was to explore climate policy solutions. However, the Caucus was heavily criticized for its lack of action, and its members were labeled ‘Climate Peacocks.’ For example, in a purely symbolic vote, only four of the Republican Caucus members voted against condemning carbon taxes. Republican leader Carlos Curbelo introduced a carbon tax bill of his own, but only two fellow Republican Caucus members were willing to co-sponsor it.

It was a rough night for Republican Climate Solutions Caucus members. Curbelo lost his election, along with a dozen of his cohorts. Eight more Republican members retired from Congress. That leaves about 23 of the 45 Caucus conservatives in office starting in 2019, having lost their leader.

This was an expected outcome – the moderate Republicans who are more likely to be relatively realistic about climate change also tended to be the most vulnerable in a wave election. Democrats can now control the legislative agenda in the House, but there are fewer moderate Republicans left in office who might work with them on climate bills. On the one hand, that means climate legislation won’t be watered down by compromise; on the other hand, even fewer Republicans will sign on.

Climate change will regrettably remain a politically polarized issue in America until at least 2021. But Democrats gained the critically important control of the House and its committees, and even more importantly, of a number of state governorships. Over the next two years, it will be up to the individual states to advance the climate agenda by accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 9:

  1. Please explain why you post political material - especially directly on your home page? I spend a great deal of time trying to combat all the fossil-fuel-funded propaganda out there - trying to convince other conservatives that ACC is real. Occasionally after much effort, i get a denier to come to your site, but they still want to know if your site is funded by some liberal elite.  If they see a post like this, their confirmation bias is confirmed and they discredit everything else on your site.

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  2. @1 - Hunabku

    Thing is, regardless of what gets shown on our homepage, those who want to deny that human-caused climate change is real will aways find an excuse to not read what we publish. If they really are interested about who is running Skeptical Science, please point them at our Welcome page. The article includes this relevant information regarding "funding":

    "There is no funding to maintain Skeptical Science other than Paypal donations to cover hosting & domain expenses. John Cook has no affiliations with any organisations or political groups. Skeptical Science is strictly a labour of love. The design was created by John's talented web designer wife."

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  3. Very good. Thanks for the explanation and huge thanks to John and his wife. Perhaps that statement about funding on the Welcome page needs to be more forward facing - or perhaps a prominent link to it that says something like "How Skeptical Science is Supported?"  Keep up the great work!

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  4. We have to be able to talk about the interface of politics and climate, occasionally anyway. Provided its done in a measured, fact based, non aggressive way, like the article above, I dont see it discouraging climate sceptics from taking the website seriously. If it does, it will be a small minority of people that will never be convinced no matter how things are worded.

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  5. I think lobby politicians relentlessly especially now the democrats have the house, but keep the written message concise, with references if they want to explore the issue more. They don't have all day to read a lengthy treatise. Ideally meet with them and talk to them.

    They all know the basics or can be given a very, very brief synopsis of the greenhouse effect and its consequences, like one paragraph. There are a couple of points I would hammer home to them that are not getting enough attention:

    1) We aren't just warming the climate. People think a few degrees is nothing. We are at high risk of causing a complete climate shift with extensive changes to the atmospheric circulation and very damaging consequences and no realistic technical fix.

    2) Hammer home the wide benefits of renewable electricity. Politicians are like anyone they get a lot of information from the media and it is mostly climate doomery, and this can swithch people off and misses the positives like successes with renewable energy around the world.

    3) Accentuate the value of free markets, but that it doesn't legitimise lobby groups and wealthy business people highjacking the idea to mean anything is permissable, and it doesn't mean carbon tax and dividend schemes are somehow wrong in principle. 

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  6. I agree with nigelj, except more needs to be said about free markets.

    Leaders (preferably business leaders, but if necessary political leaders) need to govern and limit the activity in free markets to sustainable activity. That is the only way that perceptions of wealth and progress will actually be sustainable and have a chance of sustainable growth.

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  7. Like it or not, the whole problem is political.  We have the technical knowledge and ability to halt the progress of global warming in its tracks (that is, if we are not already past a critical tipping point) but won't do it because of politics.  As Hansen said often, he would much rather be in his lab doing research instead of becoming a public figure.  I'm sure we would all prefer that the facts spoke for themselves and politicians would respond with simple logic.  Unfortunately it is not so.

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  8. Yes the climate issue is utterly and frustratingly political, and in fact I can't remember any other environmental issue becoming remotely this political.  I suppose its a result of a combination of the scale of the issue, a well funded denial campaign, and its come at a time of huge political tribal polarisation and climate change has been dragged into this, and its come at a time of an unfortunate GOP and Trumpian ideological and business orientated rejection of regulatory laws and systems, and a time of growing power of lobby groups and billionaires financing election campaigns. This combination is quite a cocktail.

    And one side is essentially wrong in this debate, they both can't be right.

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  9. Recommended supplemental readings:

    With Democratic Majority, Climate Change Is Back on U.S. House Agenda by Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News, Nov 7, 2018

    Blue Wave in Midwest Could Resurrect Climate Compact by Daniel Cusick, E&E News/Scientific American, Nov 12, 2018

    Backed by Ocasio-Cortez, Youth Climate Activists Arrested at Pelosi's Office Demanding Democrats Embrace 'Green New Deal' by Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, Nov 13, 2018

    Wins By Democratic Attorneys General Threaten To Multiply Climate Suits Against Big Oil by Alexander C Kaufman, HuffPost, Nov 10, 2018

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