The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


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Candidates for President on Climate, Part V: Independents, Third-Partiers, and Republicans

I spent some weeks discussing the many hopefuls for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States–the review took up five separate posts (click here and here and here and here and here). But there are more people running than just Democrats, and we need to think about them, too.

I should reiterate that I’m talking only about climate, here. There are many other important issues that bear on the election, but climate change is the focus of this blog and the one issue we have to get right or none of the other issues can possibly turn out well.

The Field of (Candidate) Dreams

The remaining field of candidates includes Republicans, third-party candidates, and independents (except no independents have declared, yet)–and even a few more Democrats.

Republicans

There are currently two candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president. A third is seriously considering it. It’s interesting to note that while neither potential challenger to President Trump is a climate hawk, both are on record as believing climate change is real and should be dealt with. They are where Democrats were just a cycle or two ago. This is progress.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump is running again, but since we already know he’s terrible from a climate perspective, and climate is the whole perspective of this blog, he can be safely eliminated from consideration; even if you liked everything else about him, his policies, and his performance as President, if you care about the climate and everything that goes with it, you can’t let Donald Trump win a second term.

Bill Weld

Bill Weld is making a serious attempt to challenge President Trump for the Republican nomination. He is currently practicing law, but has political experience (he was governor of Massachusetts in the 1990’s) and has run for national office (vice-president, on the Libertarian ticket, in 2016). He is, in general, a small-government fiscal conservative who favors liberal-to-progressive social policies. Despite his Libertarian connections, he not only calls for climate action, he supports rejoining Paris.

His record on climate is both minimal and a little mixed. As a Libertarian candidate in the previous election, Mr. Weld said humans were “probably” changing the climate and expressed concern about “needlessly costing American jobs and freedom,” but did support “regulation that protects us from future harm,” and he did have a good environmental record as governor. But there are signs his views continue to evolve. The primary thrust of his campaign appears to be a specific rebuttal of Donald Trump, and he has strongly criticized Mr. Trump’s anti-environment policies in terms suggesting that Mr. Weld understands climate change fairly well and accepts its seriousness–and he has invoked Teddy Roosevelt as an example of what he wants his party to be.

Is Bill Weld the Republican environmental leader the country needs? I have argued before that the US does need such a leader, since something as important as climate action should not be left to a single political philosophy. I have not been able to track down any specific policy proposals on his part relating to climate, besides rejoining Paris, but he does appear to be at least a semi-viable option.

Putting my political commentator hat on for a moment, I don’t like Mr. Weld’s chances. Aside from the fact that primary challenges to incumbents are extreme long-shots at best, Mr. Weld’s mix of policy positions puts him in a bad position. He is pro-choice, meaning he essentially cannot compete for the votes of the religious right–precisely those Republicans who might most object to Mr. Trump on moral grounds. Voters who do want a pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, pro-climate action president are likely to find a stronger candidate on the other side of the aisle, in, say Elizabeth Warren.

But I wish him luck.

Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford is not yet in the race, but he is seriously considering it. He is more conservative, more simply Republican, than Mr. Weld, and thus may have a somewhat larger impact on the primary process, if he jumps in. He has more recent political experience, having been governor of South Carolina just a few years ago. And he wrote an op-ed calling for Republican climate action back in 2007.

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of him saying anything at all about climate since.

Democrats

Yes, of course we’ve already covered Democrats. In fact, one of them, Eric Swalwell, has already dropped out. But Joe Sestak hopped in while I was writing the posts, and somehow Mike Gravel escaped mention though he’s been in the race since April and is now making noises about dropping out. Tom Stayer has also recently jumped in.

Mr. Sestak has some modest but real climate credentials and favors a carbon-fee-and-dividend system, plus rejoining Paris. Mr. Gavel has several strong environmentalist positions, but has a history of sometimes breaking with environmentalists. He has supported a carbon tax, and can discuss the economics of fossil fuel thoughtfully. But he doesn’t seem to have said anything about climate in some years. Mr. Stayer is a billionaire who has made a name for himself in climate advocacy, although as a candidate his major focus has been not on climate but on getting corporate money out of politics.

There are still a few others about whom buzz has developed and who have not yet ruled out a run.

Greens

The Greens have not yet entered their candidate-selection process, and do not have any high-profile hopefuls. It’s almost certain that the Green Party candidate for president will have excellent climate credentials; the question will be what his or her other credentials are and how the campaign influences the rest of the race.

Libertarians

There is a large field of Libertarians vying for their party’s nomination. Since even the eventual nominee will be an extreme long-shot, I’m not going to discuss them individually here. It’s also worth noting that Libertarian values are at odds with a President exercising much leadership in climate action anyway–when the US pulled out of Paris, the Libertarian Party Chair said that the content of the Paris Accord was less important than the principle by which such decisions are made–and that the President should not have the power to make the Paris Accord to begin with.

The political philosophy here, according to Chairman Sarwark, is that once the government is out of the way and no longer distorting the market, market forces will prevail and individuals will do the right thing (switch to renewables).

The problem here is three-fold.

  • First, market forces are inherently amoral. Even assuming the relevant body of economic theory is correct, the “invisible hand” of the free market serves only to ensure economic efficiency in the face of consumer demand–and what consumers demand is not always the same as what citizens want for their country, even when the “consumers” and the “citizens” are the same people.
  • Second, we all know that many individuals do not do the right thing in many different life contexts. Climate action is not necessarily an exception.
  • Third, government power is not the only form of concentrated and potentially despotic power that exists. Removing government power will not result in a free society unless there is also some mechanism to prevent the concentration of power through either money or physical force. Such a mechanism could be developed, on that subject this blog remains neutral, but one does not exist yet–and moneyed would-be despots with an interest in preventing the switch to renewables already exist. Removing government from the equation will only result in their operating directly rather than through government proxies.

A Libertarian President who refrained from exercising leadership on climate would be little different, in practice, from a President who actively opposed climate action.

Independents

Somewhat surprisingly, I have not found any confirmation that anyone is actually running for the U.S. Presidency as an independent yet. Most of the likely contenders have either announced they won’t run or declared as either Democrats or Libertarians. Even Vermin Supreme is running as a Libertarian this cycle, according to his Facebook page (although his Mandatory Tooth-brushing Policy would seem to be antithetical to Libertarian principles). Of course, with the election still more than a year away, there is plenty of time for someone to declare.

The Big Picture

The big picture is that for the first time, climate is being placed at or near the center of the agenda by the candidates of one major party, and at least some candidates from the other major party also have climate messages. It’s where we should have been a decade ago, but at least we’re here now.

From a climate perspective (remember, this blog is neutral on all else), I’d be comfortable with any of the Democratic front-runners, and not too uncomfortable with several others in the race. But if you’re looking for an endorsement, Elizabeth Warren has it. She combines serious, thoughtful dedication to the issue with true political grit and real electability.

Now we just have to get some climate sane person in.


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The Climate of Congress 2: The US House of Representatives

The conventional wisdom this year is that the US House of Representatives is unassailably Republican because there are too few Republican seats with a reasonable likelihood of flipping. That sounds like bad news for us because, while this blog is strictly non-partisan, Republicans collectively have built a very bad record on climate in recent years.

But not all Republicans are climate-hostile. In fact, there are Republican members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus. So, even if the House stays in Republican hands, if enough of those Republicans are willing to cross the aisle to support the planet, we should be in good shape.

So, how likely is a climate-sane House of Representatives? What districts need support?

Currently, there are 248 Republican Representatives and 192 Democrats (one seat is vacant, or at least was as of June). According to the Cook Report, 56 are competitive, meaning vulnerable to being flipped. 45 of these are currently Republican, 11 currently Democrat. So, the Democrats are likely to pick up seats, maybe a lot of seats, but are unlikely to gain the majority. Of those 45 competitive Republican seats, almost half are considered “leaning” towards or “likely” to stay Republican. A modestly optimistic scenario is therefore that the Democrats see a net gain of 24 seats. Still not a majority.

But if all House Democrats are climate-sane, the Democrats do gain those 24 seats, and the Republican majority after November includes at least 23 climate-sane people, we will be able to pass real climate legislation at last.

Now, of those 45 competitive Republican seats, just 13 are currently held by avowed climate deniers who are running for re-election (several races have no incumbent this year). Nine of the seats have no incumbent. That leaves 22 Republicans running for re-election who are either climate sane or have not seen fit to announce publicly that they’re not (which probably means they’re convertible). Following so far?

Of the 13 races with denier incumbents, one is actually leaning Democrat. Four more are considered toss-ups, by the Cook Report, and four lean Republican. That means it’s not out of the question that seven climate deniers could lose their seats to Democrats this year.

If the Democrats pick up 24 seats including those of the seven vulnerable deniers and the nine with no incumbent, then only eight other House Republicans have to be climate-sane for the planet to win.

Are they?

Seven Republicans who hold non-competitive seats are members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus. Surely there is one more in there somewhere?

So, make sure to vote in November. If your Representative is currently a Republican running for re-election, be sure to vote Democrat. And if that incumbent Rep is a climate denier, do whatever you can to flip that seat.

The seven vulnerable climate deniers are:

Jeff Denham, CA-10

Scott Tipton, CO-03

Scott Garrett, MN-03

Mike Coffman, CO-06

David Young, IA-03

Bruce Poliquin, ME-02

Frank Guinta, NH-01

Rod Blum, IA-01

Much depends on these people getting their pink slips from the American People in November.


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Racing Bad Weather

I don’t mean to brag, here, but I’m sitting on an island off the coast of Maine. The air is pleasantly cool, foggy with a light breeze. It’s nice.

Elsewhere, I know, things are not so nice. Much of the East and South of the country are way too hot, to the point of danger in some areas–as in the heat could kill you. Towns in Vermont were recently flooded with water and mud, with a bridge and some homes lost. Parts of California, too, have flooded recently, while other parts of that state continue to burn–and the floods don’t necessarily mean the drought is over, either.

This seems like a good time to remind everyone that climate change is still happening–and if we don’t like having years that set records for every possible type of bad weather all at the same time, we’d better do something about it.

At the moment, the most important climate fight in the United States is probably the fight to elect a President and a Congress who take climate issues seriously–in practice, that means Democrats. I’ve written before on the Presidential hopefuls from that party. Personally, I’m leaning towards Bernie Sanders, but Mrs. Clinton and Mr. O’Malley have impressive climate credentials as well. Could they be better? Yeah, they could–and they should get better. And maybe they will if they get enough public pressure. But the important thing is that they have shown themselves willing to act on the issue to at least some meaningful degree, whereas their Republican counterparts have done the opposite.  If we elect a Republican-dominated government this time around, we’re going to have to foment a serious revolution because our chance of making meaningful progress otherwise will be about zero.

And revolutions, I hear, are really hard.

This is why I get so upset when I read about people attacking Bernie Sanders from the left. To be clear, I have to personal allegiance to him yet, nor do I think America owes him any particular trust–he has to earn it just like other candidates do, and if he fails to do so then he’s not the right person for the job. But what bothers me is two-fold–that the attacks take the form of complaining that he’s not perfect and that none of these people are offering an alternative.

Of course he’s not perfect. He’s human–and, worse, he’s electable. Being President involves making deals, period. It involves working with other politicians who fighting for very different things, and many fight dirty. Anyone who expects the election of a single man or woman to any office, even our highest office, to fundamentally change anything is naive. At the same time, anyone who doesn’t recognize the distinction between a good president and a bad one is worse than naive–at the moment, the future of life on Earth may quite literally rest on that incremental difference.

For liberals to attack liberal candidates for not being liberal enough–without offering a competing candidate of their own–is unconscionable. It amounts to campaigning against the closest thing to your own side that you have. No one in the halls of political power is going to wake up one day and say “Jane Smith didn’t vote this year! She’s growing cynical! Well, we’d better fix everything, then.” No. If you’re not for something or someone, you cease to exist politically and the oil barons have a party because they have one less adversary to deal with.

Let me say this very, very, clearly; if we end up with some Kock-addled yahoo in the White House because too many people decided a socialist environmentalist from Vermont wasn’t liberal enough, I’m going to be pissed.

I recognize that not everybody likes Democrats, and that not everybody likes the particular Democrats who are running. That is fine. But if you can’t find a candidate you’re comfortable voting for, for Gods’ sakes, don’t boycott the election and don’t spend your time spewing negativity all over Facebook about how mainstream you think Bernie Sanders secretly is! Instead, find somebody else to vote for. Be heard. Write in your own name as a candidate, if you have to–or, if you’re not a native-born US citizen over the age of 35, write in my name, because I am those things. I haven’t a clue how to run a country, but since I honestly don’t think I’ll win, so I’m not worried about it.

Seriously, people, we have to win this one.


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Our Best Hope

A few days ago, I came across an article stating that Republicans offered our best hope of dealing with climate change. I now cannot find that article anywhere, which is itself interesting, but its arguments were thought-provoking, both for what they got right and what they got wrong. I am therefore responding to the piece from memory–please, if anyone who reads this recognizes the article, leave a link in the comments.

The author said that much of the Republican resistance to Democrat-championed climate measures is really an objection to the Democrats’ approach and not to the idea of climate sanity itself. Democrats, apparently, want expensive, big-government solutions and anyway they are far too alarmist and depressing in the way they talk about the issue. An optimistic, solution-focused, Republican approach, the author contends, could work much better. The message was similar to the position Republican climate advocate Bob Inglis has taken and indeed he could have been the author of the missing article. Whoever wrote the piece, he went on to list several Republicans who could become climate champions, either because they had actually said that climate change exists or because working on the issue is consistent with their other interests and concerns.

Specifically, the author said that our best hope for the climate was a Republican in the White House in 2016, a timeline that makes the claim more interesting and more bizarre. But we’ll get to that.

First, I agree that many people on the right don’t so much object to climate sanity as to Democrats. For many climate skeptics (not the same as deniers), the science on global warming is irrelevant in the face of the cultural and political bad blood that currently exists between different subsets of the American populace. Either they distrust the messenger and therefore don’t believe the message, or their distaste for proposed big-government solutions leads them to discount the problem in the first place. A leader who embraced both the seriousness of climate change and conservative values might well be exactly the thing we need.

It’s also true that doing something about global warming does fit in perfectly with the other concerns and policies of some Republican leaders–and some acknowledge that fact. The Mother Nature Network (MNN) has called out seven Republicans who actually have strong, impressive records on the issue. Actually, MNN called out five–the seventh was a deliberate joke (Sarah Palin) and the sixth, Tim Pawlenty, has, as the text of the list noted, since backpedaled for political reasons and become a climate denier. But the other five give us a sense of what the Republican Party could do if it got serious on the issue:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger championed cap-and-trade legislation as Governor of California and committed the state to an ambitious emissions-reduction program
  • Jon Huntsman, as governor of Utah, enrolled the state in the Western Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program
  • Olympia Snowe earned an impressive 91% score from the League of Conservation Voters as a Senator. She has been a vocal opponent of climate-denial fear-mongering by Exxon-Mobile and she co-sponsored a bill that would have given the entire country a cap-and-trade program to raise money for the transition to clean energy
  • Susan Collins actually earned a 100% score from the League of Conservation Voters for her work in the Senate. She has voted for, or even championed, many important bills and has advocated making the head of the EPA a cabinet-level position
  • Chris Smith actually sponsored his first bill on global warming in the late 1980’s and has not stopped working on the issue.

Unfortunately, none of these people have declared an intention to run for President in this cycle (and of course Mr. Swarzenegger is not eligible). There is buzz about some of those who are running, notably Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham, but that buzz is questionable. Mr. Graham does accept the reality of climate change and has called for the Republican Party to develop a genuine environmental platform, but he has also made denialist statements and his score with the League of Conservation Voters is just 11%. He’s an environmentalist in much the same way that an 8-pound chihuahua is a large dog (most chihuahuas are smaller). Mr. Bush acknowledges that climate change is real, though he isn’t sure humans are causing it. He has made vague calls to lower emissions, but has offered no plan for how to do so, and he regularly attacks the EPA. He appears to be attempting to avoid alienating environmentalist voters without taking any real political risk by doing anything.

The fact of the matter is that just because a politician should accept and care about climate change is no guarantee that he or she will–witness Florida Governor Rick Scott’s unofficial ban on the use of the word “climate change.”  While Mr. Scott has denied issuing the ban, and could be telling the truth in a technical sense, his administration does seem to discourage discussion of the issue, both internally and publicly. Florida, of course, has every reason in the world to fight climate change, being a low-lying coastal state vulnerable to hurricanes and dependent on tourism, but it is also the recipient of massive political intervention on the part of the Koch brothers.

In a similar way, a candidate’s flirtation with the idea of accepting climate change is no indication whatever that he’s going to commit. Although people do sometimes change, and I’ll applaud any denier who does, most potential Presidential contenders are at a point in their careers where if they were going to come out for climate sanity they would have done it by now. After all, the issue is hardly new. So why did this one author write as if we could expect a climate-sane Republican President this cycle?

Clearly, that party is starting to feel some political pressure on the issue. Candidates and other party leaders are starting to think they need the votes of people who care about climate change. On the face of it, that is excellent news. But we need to distinguish between genuine calls for the party to get with the program and political plays meant largely to attack Democrats without offering any real alternatives. Obviously, a savvy politician could attempt to court diametrically opposed voters by offering the right rhetoric, and it is very important we do not allow any green-washed climate-deniers to succeed. We must have a president who not only believes climate change is real but is also politically courageous in addressing it.

The complaint that Democrats are “too negative” is one indication that our mystery-writer is green-washing. I’ve discussed this principle here before; those who do not want to move on an issue, whether the issue is racism, sexism, gay rights, or climate justice, often attack activists for being too extreme.

If only you black people weren’t so demanding, we’d give you civil rights eventually. If only gay people weren’t so in-your-face about it we’d have no problem with them. If only environmentalists weren’t so negative all the time, we could create some real solutions!

It all comes down to the same neat little rhetorical trick; “I want to help you out, but your stridency forces me to oppose you. Therefor your lack of progress is your own fault.”And we all know what happens if that neat little trick works; nothing. As Dr. King wrote, “this ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'” That the mystery-article came out specifically in favor of a pro-climate Republican Presidential candidate for 2016 (when there is no such thing) is another good indication that the rest of us were being given the old bait-and-switch.

Rather than calling for public support for a candidate who does not currently exist, the author (who may have been Bob Inglis) should concentrate on calling such a candidate into existence. We need a climate-sane President now, and that means voting Democrat in 2016. It just does. And I’m not even a Democrat (registered Green Party, thank you very much). But I would love to see a Democrat incumbent challenged from the right by a genuinely climate-sane Republican in 2020. We need more than one voice suggesting solutions, here.

I’ve explored the possibility of such a climate-sane Republican before, using the image of Theodore Roosevelt as a model. But other than seeking the reincarnation of Teddy where should we look for such a person? What would tell us that a Republican hopeful was the real thing?

First of all, we’re looking for someone with a track-record on the issue, not a climate-denier who has a change of heart fifteen minutes before entering the race. Most serious presidential candidates have prior political experience, usually either in the Senate or in a Governor’s mansion. In such a case we’re looking for a good voting record, probably a 90% score with the League of Conservation Voters or better, plus a history of fighting for powerful pro-climate programs even when doing so involved real political risk.

Occasionally political outsiders become front-runners on the basis of their experience in other fields, generally business or the military. These days, the Republican businessman is the most likely scenario, but business leaders have even more scope to demonstrate concern for the environment than politicians do, because businesses aren’t democracies. So, we can look at the company’s policies–what is its total carbon footprint? Are its buildings LEED certified? What is its supply chain like? How does it handle the transportation of goods and personnel? What kinds of other companies does it invest in? Where do its facilities get their electricity and what do they do with trash? If it owns a private vehicle fleet, what kind of fuel do those vehicles use? A Republican who has already made a genuinely green business financially successful actually would make an excellent Presidential candidate.

If this theoretical 2020 candidate exists, he or she is probably already out there, working towards climate sanity in whatever capacity he or she can. We’ve probably already heard the name. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Already, the Republican electorate is rather more interested in climate action than their leaders are. Almost half (44%) believe climate change is real and support limiting CO2 emissions from existing power plants. Over half favor regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (56%) and rebates for people who buy solar panels or energy-efficient cars (64%). And while a majority (55%) of Republicans are currently against government action on climate, according to some polls, but there is a significant age gap among Republican-leaning voters, such that the younger generation is significantly more climate-friendly. That means that voter-receptiveness to our 2020 candidate should be much greater.

It’s worth noting that the disparity between the Republican electorate and its leadership is not a result of changing demographics or anything else so benign. Climate denial is largely created and maintained through calculated (and HUGE) donations from people in fossil fuel-dependent industries, notably but not exclusively the Koch brothers. Arguably, their appeal to conservative concerns (by deliberately evoking worry about government overreach) counts as a sort of cultural parasitism–the business interests of a single ultra-rich family have nothing to do with the populist bent of the Republican base. Nevertheless, Republican candidates who might wish to stand up for climate must be careful not to offend denialist donors because otherwise they risk not having the funds to run their campaigns.

Republicans who dislike being used in this way might want to vote Democrat this one time. That might be the only path to having a real choice, and a real debate about how to deal with climate, in future elections.