The coming climate election: Tea party extremists backed by Big Oil and corporate polluters want to stop and then reverse all efforts to advance clean energy or avoid catastrophic global warming

The chattering class predicts this will be the year of the Tea Party because its members feel more passion about their issues. Despite repeated blows to its moral during the past year, the climate action movement must not lose its passion — or this November’s elections.

Guess blogger Bill Becker is Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project,

On November 2, America’s attention will focus on the mid-term elections for Congress. But those of us who believe government must act against global climate change had better pay attention to another set of races:  the election of 37 governors and scores of state legislators.

In the years ahead, the people we elect to our 50 statehouses may be more important than the people we elect to Congress.

Consider the impact on international climate treaty negotiations. At the end of November, negotiators from more than 190 nations will gather for the 16th Conference of the Parties in Cancun to continue working on a global climate pact.

Few experts expect that a treaty will be signed in Cancun, but there’s hope the meeting will narrow the gaps nations have failed to bridge in the negotiations so far. One positive development would be a concrete, credible, verifiable plan by the United States to cut its greenhouse  emissions.

The chief U.S. negotiator, Todd Stern, has just reaffirmed Obama’s goal to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. But with no climate bill from Congress again this year, U.S. negotiators reportedly are pondering how to show the United States will achieve the goal with “other available tools”.

There’s the Clean Air Act, of course, but it’s a path with lots of litigation ahead. Many other tools belong to states and cities and already are in place – for example, utility regulation, energy codes for buildings, public benefit funds, renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standards, and zoning that influences how much energy people need for mobility.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) issued a report in July that put a number on what states are doing with their tools. WRI counted the climate actions announced or put into effect so far by 25 states and the federal government. Fully implemented, the combined policies would cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 14 percent by 2020, most of the way to Obama’s goal.

Other policies in the pipeline could result in deeper reductions. For example, WRI’s calculations did not include:

  • Federal policies to reduce vehicle miles traveled;
  • Measures to decrease net emissions  by increasing carbon sequestration in forests and farmlands;
  • Actions cities are taking beyond the requirements of state or federal law. Of special interest are the more than 1,000 U.S. cities that have signed the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.

Armed with WRI’s documentation, U.S. negotiators can go to Cancun with more than aspirations.  They won’t have one big national climate bill, but they will have an inventory of national and sub-national commitments that show the United States is moving in the right direction.

WRI’s calculations must be considered qualified evidence of progress, however, because the states’ contribution to emission reductions depends on whether they fully implement the policies they’ve announced.

That’s where the November 2 election comes in. The danger is that voters will elect governors, legislators, mayors and city council members who are opposed to, agnostic about, or frightened to implement the climate and energy policies their predecessors embraced.

Although global climate change is not an inherently partisan topic – some Republican governors have been vocal supporters of climate action, while some coal-state Democrats have been opposed — conservative Republicans are trying hard to make it a wedge issue. Politico reports that Republican candidates for Congress and governorships are becoming more vocal in denying climate science and opposing climate action.

Opinion polls show that while a national climate bill has bipartisan support among likely voters, considerably more Democrats than Republicans favor action. So, however imperfect, domination by one political party or the other has become an indicator of whether a state will move boldly to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The governorships up for reelection this year are evenly split between Democrats (19) and Republicans (18). Democrats control both houses in 27 legislatures, while Republicans control both houses in 14. Control of eight legislatures is split between the parties.

The Washington Post reports that at the national level, the Republican and Democrat organizations are focusing on about 100 competitive legislative races.

The national parties are said to be approaching statehouse elections with the intensity usually given presidential elections. The reason: The outcome will determine the composition of Congress for years to come.

Every 10 years the Census results in reapportionment of House seats among the states based on their newly counted populations. States that gain or lose seats redraw the boundaries of their congressional districts. The process invites  gerrymandering – the manipulation of district boundaries to favor one political party over the others. As a result, the party that controls the state capitol usually controls redistricting. As the Washington Post explains:

Redistricting plays a central political role very 10 years, but the stakes seem particularly high this cycle”¦Republicans see an opportunity to improve their prospects for winning back Congress and controlling it for years to come by shaking loose the Democrats’ grip on state governments.

The Post quotes Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, that legislative races in 16 states could control the remapping of districts for nearly 200 congressional seats.

Current polls notwithstanding, the biggest issue on November’s ballots is not illegal immigration, health care, the federal deficit, greed on Wall Street, creeping socialism, Glenn Beck’s megalomaniacal ownership of godliness and patriotism, same-sex marriages or even jobs.  The most enduring, destructive and irreversible damage to God’s creation and our way of life will be global climate change, and it already has begun.

For that reason, November 2 is more than a mid-term election; it’s a climate election. It will influence public policy at all levels of government in the United States during a decade that leading scientists tell us is crucial if we are to avoid the worst consequences of an unstable climate.

The chattering class predicts this will be the year of the Tea Party because its members feel more passion about their issues. Despite repeated blows to its moral during the past year, the climate action movement must not lose its passion, or this November’s elections.

Bill Becker is Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, an initiative to help the next President of the United States take decisive action on global warming and energy security in his or her first 100 days in office.

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14 Responses to The coming climate election: Tea party extremists backed by Big Oil and corporate polluters want to stop and then reverse all efforts to advance clean energy or avoid catastrophic global warming

  1. Daniel Ives says:

    Great post. ALthough we indeed have had repeated blows to our morale, those of us who truly understand the stakes know that giving up is simply not an option. Staying home this November is not an option. We need to reward politicians who support climate action and punish those who do not, no matter what level of government we’re talking about.

    So what can you do? Inform yourself and then inform your friends and family members. They will listen to you. We can’t just lay down and take a beating this November because we are bummed about the lack of a climate bill. Don’t lose hope.

  2. Anne says:

    So, to be more accurate, it’s the OIL PARTY. I’ll drink to that!

  3. PurpleOzone says:

    Keep in mind, the Tea Party, specifically those behind it, intend to “investigate climate scientists for fraud”. James Inhofe has a list of scientists to investigate if he becomes chairman of the Senate committee on energy.

    Cuccinelli, the AG of Virginia, already launched an aborted investigation into a researcher at UVa years ago. A judge refused permission unless/until he can state his case to investigate.

    The Maine Republican party platform was taken over by the Tea Party. It includes a plank to investigate climate scientists. It’s hard to believe this was a grassroots idea; it’s known that the front groups of the Koch brothers are providing guidance on policy to local tea groups.

    Count on witch hunts of scientists anywhere the tea party takes over. The furor is a powerful way to discredit global warming, as we have seen in the East Anglia incident. As well as a time and energy soak of the scientists involved in analyzing data. One of the things at stake in this election.

  4. Michael Tucker says:

    I heard an interview with Tim Kaine, Chairman of the DNC, and he did not mention global warming or climate change legislation. President Obama is making speeches but he is not talking about the climate. It is as if that problem is behind us or something we can work on later…much later.

    I really really wish that after all the wasted years, after finally getting a Democratic president who seemed to be concerned about the future of Earth, after he appointed John Holdren and Steven Chu to his administration, that we could get something done. I guess I was fooled by the rhetoric or I just don’t understand politics. The political thinkers decided to pass other legislation and to focus on other issues while Holdren and Chu seem to be not at all worried about the continued delay in action.

    So either we really do have plenty of time to eventually get to addressing climate change or the president has decided it is just too hard to pass legislation and has given up. His speeches are not about the climate and no race is being determined by a candidate’s position on global warming.

    So if this really is the “climate election” no one told the candidates. Yes, we will be stuck with the winners for years to come but if we elect Democrats who perform as the president, and the Democratic congress, has over the past two years what do we hope to accomplish? Surely Republicans will do absolutely nothing because they don’t believe in global warming but even the Democrats are no guaranty for action.

  5. Andy says:

    This was a really great post. Unfortunately the PCAP website does not seem to have any follow-up information available, that I can find at any rate.

    So I guess the take-away is “vote Democratic and convince your friends and family to do the same, especially in the State-level races?”

    Frankly, I’m pretty PO’d at the Dems right now and inclined to vote Green party on all races where I have that option and where the Dem does not have a strong position on Climate Change. Of course, I live in Utah where Republicans will always control the districting, so no worries on that front. And losing Matheson in Congress wouldn’t really be a loss of a Dem anyway.

    But, for those living in States where their votes matter a little more, this post does provide a pretty compelling arguement to vote Dem.

  6. Dan B says:

    The election I’d like to see is for replacement of Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod. They seem to operate in the political realm that demonstrates no moral core. Their replacement would boost my morale.

    Then there’s Geithner (trading money is good, growing a real economy – who cares?, not my buddies) and Bernanke.

    A sustainable growth path for this country requires vision and the marketing savvy to make it seem like a real possibility to people who see their jobs vanishing.

  7. Meanwhile, north of the border: Nova Scotia implements feed-in tariff to grow renewables share in power generation from *present* 11.3% to 40% in 2020:

  8. Albert says:

    Our morals are just fine. I think you mean morale.

  9. george ennis says:

    As a Canadian I can only hope for a miracle at this point when it comes to the American public waking up and understanding what is at stake not only for themselves but their children and grandchildren.

    We have a Conservative government partly as a result of our peculiar parliamentary system of government and a first past the post method for determining who wins in each electoral seat. This government will not move seriously on climate change until such time as it is forced to by changes in the US. Alternatively if the GOP wins in the mid-terms then even a change in government here in Canada will be constrained as to what is possible to do on climate change policy.

    The world is looking for US leadership but it seems that leadership will go AWOL after November.

  10. riverat says:

    James Inhofe has a list of scientists to investigate if he becomes chairman of the Senate committee on energy.

    When I read that my mind flashed on Joe McCarthy. Will climate science become the new communism? {shudder}

  11. Leif says:

    The Democratic politicians may not have the stones to take on climate mitigation on their own but unlike the GOBP, most will not throw sand in the gears of the global warming mitigation faction. There are numerous businesses, states, sustainable energy providers, research and development programs, scientific research papers and much more that will be able to proceed. GOBP control will be the “Shrub” in spades. It is obvious to me that in spite of the rhetoric, Politicians will not lead in todays climate. They will only follow and that means WE the People must step up to the plate.

  12. _Flin_ says:

    The whole “Tea Party doesn’t want action for mitigation, green jobs, sustainability and energy independence” seems rather pointless to me.
    This is a known fact (at least to CP readers), and, given the Koch sponsorship, will not change.
    The essential problem for warming mitigation legislation are the Democratic senators that do not vote for these measures.
    As much as the Tea Party pressures Republicans, citizens caring for Climate Mitigation need to make clear that Democrat candidates who oppose green energy legislation will not get their votes. Democrats opposing green energy legislation need to be removed from Congress.

    Climate legislation failed because of Democrats. Republican oil and coal barons, lobbyists etc. never since Nixon have always voted for pollution and against mitigation.

  13. Chris Winter says:

    Riverat wrote: “When I read that my mind flashed on Joe McCarthy. Will climate science become the new communism?”

    To a certain segment of the political class, it already has. Indeed, all environmental causes are equated with communism by this group. Read the books by Christopher C. Horner, for example. It’s the empty rhetoric of demagoguery — empty of validity, but not effectless.

  14. TAFL says:

    If the democrats are looking for a cause to help them win elections, it is probably not climate change. So being on the right side of climate science for the dems would most likely lose most if not all elections for them.
    The cause they need to push is that their GOP competitor is a part of the mega-polluting corporate takeover of the GOP. I know, there are plenty of dems who are indistinguishable from the GOPs on this, but if they are exposed as sitting in the pockets of the likes of Koch, Massey, etc., then good riddance.
    The key is to neutralize the influence of Koch and their ilk. Only then can we expect any positive progress in politics and policy.