Category Archives: climate legislation

What the 2014 US Midterm Elections Do and Don’t Mean for Climate


 


 

 


Almost everything you read about what the 2014 midterm elections results “mean” will be wrong.


The results are being over-interpreted

This was always going to be true. It has been the case for every election in recent memory, with pundits careening from pronouncements of permanent Democratic supermajorities, to the the triumphant ascendancy of the Tea Party and back again. Not coincidentally, Presidential election years are typically oversold in terms of Democratic ideas’ strength, while mid-term elections are oversold in terms of support for Republicans.

Regardless of the specific details of the election, the fundamental composition of the electorate was always going to make for a bloodbath for the Democrats. Midterm election demographics favor Republicans. Midterm elections almost always significantly “punish” the party that holds the White House. The Senate seats that happened to be up this year were the most heavily-GOP favoring since WWII.

the Democrats under-performed relative to the polls (but not as badly as people will claim)

They did so by about 4 points. Which sounds like a huge percentage given the relatively tight races, but keep in mind the median “skew” for midterm elections is 3 points. Democrats were hoping for the polls to be wrong, and they were, just not in the way that they hoped. The Republicans did well, but not nearly to the degree that the talking heads will assert over the next few months.

People are soured on government generally, but aren’t embracing conservative policies.

When it comes to generalities- i.e. how is Obama doing, how is the country doing, how is government doing- this election could be seen as a triumph for conservatism. But when you actually look at the support for policy specifics, Democratic positions do about as well or even better than expected.

On immigration, abortion, marijuana legalization, gay marriage, etc. the ostensible refutation of Democratic policies is nowhere to be found. On climate change, a sizable majority say it’s a serious problem:

The exit polls show just over half of voters think the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals, a Republican mantra. About two-thirds feel the nation is seriously off on the wrong track — slightly more than thought that when Republicans won control of the House in 2010.

But on some issues, most voters took positions that align more with the Democratic Party.

A majority favor offering immigrants who are in the country illegally a way to stay. A little more than half think abortion ought to be legal in most cases, and most of the voters consider climate change a serious problem.

Nearly two-thirds think the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy, a common theme among Democratic candidates.

Health care complaints came from both sides. People who said health care is their top issue were about as likely to say Obama’s overhaul didn’t go far enough as to say it went too far. Overall, those people tended to vote Democratic.

People who said either immigration or foreign policy was their top issue tended to vote Republican.

That healthy majority might be surprising given the composition of midterms voters and the unabated partisan divide on the issue:

Obama will almost assuredly approve Keystone XL

I think Obama was always going to approve the controversial pipeline. The question was how he was going to do it while selling it as something other than a big “fuck you” to the Democratic base. Like privatizing education, blaming minorities for the consequences of decades of institutionalized racism, and confusing airstrikes with some sort of imagined “toughness”, there is a strong anti-hippie streak among the Very Serious People who inhabit Washington, DC, and this includes a lot of people in Obama’s orbit (and perhaps Obama himself). The 2014 election will probably give him the political cover he needs, especially with the deluge of pro-Keystone op-eds that will inevitably follow last nights results.

The wrong lessons will be learned

More than anything else, this election was about the economy. Not the top-line GDP figures, but how voters perceived their own economic situation. The US thankfully passed some measure of stimulus rather than following much of Europe into economically-ignorant austerity, but it was too small. While the Obama administration has revised history to say that no one could have known it was too small at the time, in fact there were knowledgeable experts who made their concerns clear as events were unfolding. We have an economy in recovery, but it’s happening achingly slowly. Moreover, the gains are being concentrated among the wealthiest, while the middle and lower classes still feel left out in the cold. And they voted accordingly.

At a time when more stimulus is needed, we will see calls for more austerity. At a time when the only national action on climate is happening through federal agencies, we will see those efforts undermined and those agencies strangled. At a time when income inequality is rampant, we will see calls for tax cuts for the wealthiest and deregulation of the financial institutions that caused the economic crisis in the first place. At a time of strong Latino support for a comprehensive path to legal immigration, we will see calls for token “reforms” at best.

People will blame Obama for things that happened under Bush, and will credit the new Republican Congress for the continuation of positive trends initiated by Obama.

Climate action will happen between the US and China, if it happens at all

For quite a while, the Obama administration has been seeking to achieve bilateral agreements on climate issues with China, side-stepping the UNFCCC process and domestic legislation in the US. This election won’t change that. US pundits have been quick to say that climate will be the big loser in this election, but there was never any real chance of comprehensive climate legislation being passed by the next Congress, even in the unlikely event that the Democrats had maintained their majority. What progress will be made- if any- towards emissions stabilization will take place through direct negotiations between the Obama administration and the big emitters in the developing world like China.

Here are some puppies yawning, for those in despair

Stolen from r/aww_gifs

What the government shutdown can tell us about the politics of climate legislation

This past Friday, the Diane Rehm show had a discussion about the recent shutdown of the Federal Government as Republicans tried to defund the Affordable Care Act.

There was a brief exchange that illustrates a dynamic I have been harping on for years, with respect to the idea of getting Republicans to vote for climate legislation. The panel is talking about the shutdown and the goal to defund the American Care Act, but the dynamic discussed would apply equally to voting for some sort of cap and trade, carbon tax, or fee and dividend program to cut domestic emissions.

Lori Montgomery:  We’ve reported, you know, endlessly, ad nauseam that Boehner himself, you know, told his rank and file not to try to fight Obamacare on the government funding bill. That was his preference. But you had this campaign led largely by outside groups, like the Jim DeMint-run Heritage Foundation and Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, who are Tea Party-backed guys. All summer, they were beating the drum against Obamacare. And they turned the heads of enough Republicans that Boehner could not proceed with a clean CR.

Ari Shapiro:  Lori… referenced outside groups which are a huge factor on this, which has gone under-remarked upon. Any Republican who acknowledges reality, that Obamacare is not going to be repealed, that at some point government funding is going to have to go into effect, that they probably will not get their fullest of demands. Any Republican who comes out and says that right now has a target painted on their back by some of these conservative groups that are very intent on funding primary challengers to force Republicans to adhere to this ideology that says we won’t budge.

[S]o many of these Republicans represent these blood-red districts where the demographic trends are going in the opposite direction from the rest of the country. The rest of the country is getting more diverse. It’s getting younger. These districts are getting more white. They’re getting older.

They represent districts where Romney beat Obama by a huge margin. And so the American people that they are representing do not necessarily look like the rest of the American people, and they have no incentive to negotiate with Democrats because that just means they’ll get primaried and kicked out in the next election.

Jeff Mason:  Well, and exactly. It also means that they won’t get punished for what some people think is really irresponsible behavior. It’s quite the contrary. What they’re seeing is that their political base is quite happy with the government shutdown and quite happy with the stand they’re taking on the Affordable Care Act.

Image courtesy of Flickr user “Fibonacci Blue”, used under Creative Commons

So we’re left with this. Even though there are Republicans who were amenable to funding the government rather than shutting it down as a last ditch attempt to sabotage health care legislation, they are constrained by outside interest groups who will primary them at the first sign of ‘appeasement’, and they’re also seated in districts with an increasingly fringe constituency, who are scared, angry and feel like they have lost control of the country.

The same seems to be true for the time being on climate legislation. Polling shows that while people don’t like what they imagine “ObamaCare” to be, they actually quite like the specific provisions of the actual Affordable Care Act. Similarly, polling shows that climate change isn’t perceived as a terribly immediate problem for the average voter, but specific actions relating to mitigating climate change are quite popular. But any Republican that shows a willingness to work on climate legislation is risking ideologically/industry-backed outside groups funding a primary challenge from their right, and their constituents are increasingly out of touch with the country on support for common sense actions on climate.

There are some people who would have you believe that this opposition to the Affordable Care Act, as well as climate legislation, is an organic, bottom up, ‘will of the people’ type thing. The irony of course is that the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act was a conservative/Republican idea created as a market-based alternative to feared universal health care. Similarly, cap and trade was a conservative, market-based alternative to command and control options for pollution regulation, and until relatively recently, embrace of cap and trade (or a carbon tax) was a standard Republican position. The opposition to the Affordable Care Act and climate legislation does not stem from some organic, principled, groundswell of belief about what is best for the country, but rather is a form of tribal identity politics, which is fueled by special interests and think tank astroturfing and discourse policing.

No one could have predicted

Remember how a few years back, supporters of aggressive climate mitigation legislation were castigated for being shrill, tribal, hippies? And how if only we tried a “third way” of making incremental progress with opponents of greenhouse gas limits, a bipartisan tide would lift us all to new clean energy heights?

Good times.

[Via]

Roy Spencer reveals his motivation for rejecting the climate mainstream- not science issues, but economic concerns

Image courtesy of Flickr user "SarahDeer", used under Creative Commons

Straight from the horse’s mouth, emphasis Spencer’s:

[Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin] provided several paragraphs alluding to why scientists on the [mainstream] side of the issue speak out, but nowhere could I find reasons why WE [i.e. the contrarian minority] speak out.

I had told her that ill-conceived energy policies that hurt economic growth kill poor people. Was that not a sufficiently interesting thing to report on?

I guess after a while, even ostensibly serious “skeptics” like Spencer forget that they’re supposed to pretend they’re arguing science instead of a whacked out, far right wing, “economic” ideology.

Although probably unnecessary, it might be worth pointing out that actual economists think that delaying action on climate change will hurt more than using “cheap” fossil energy will help.

Rumors of cap and trade’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bernt Rostad

The world’s 8th largest economy is going to enact a cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Apparently they didn’t get the memo that cap and trade is “dead”.

Game changer, or hot air?

Image courtesy of Flickr user dirkjankraan.com

The Times of India reports:

In a dramatic move that will alter India’s climate change policy irrevocably, Jairam Ramesh, speaking at the ministerial summit at Cancun, said India was willing to commit to legally binding commitments as part of an international climate deal.

But that’s not really the meat of it, though it might make better headlines. Ramesh explicitly rejects that such an agreement will come at Cancun. But, further down:

US has talked of binding agreement in the past. Brazil and China, I can tell you clearly, in a Basic [Brazil-South Africa-India-China] meeting expressed support for a legally binding agreement. South Africa has consistently talked of of a legally binding agreement. So have the Chinese and and they are willing to live with it. This is the reality.

And here we go

According to Science Insider:

Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) has staked his claim to the chairmanship of the House Science and Technology Committee

Hall announced his intention to run the Committee while saying:

We must also conduct strong oversight over this Administration in key areas including climate change, scientific integrity, energy research and development (R&D), cybersecurity, and science education. Over the past few years the unprecedented growth of the Federal government and the creation of multiple new and duplicative programs occurred without having first assessed the effectiveness and success of existing programs.

Let the show trials begin!

Hall’s current position on climate change is utterly predictable:

I am alarmed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama Administration are forging ahead before Congress has finalized any legislation, and are taking further steps to promote Federal regulations of carbon dioxide. There is growing concern and evidence that scientific data, from which global warming theories emerged, has been manipulated, enhanced or deleted. The IPCC data was used by the EPA as part of the data that went into their endangerment finding. This is especially problematic since the endangerment finding will most likely be used as the basis for a regulatory regime in the U.S.

Recent events have uncovered extensive evidence from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England, which involved many researchers across the globe discussing the destruction, alteration and suppression of data that did not support global warming claims. Leaked email exchanges detail attempts to alter data that is the basis of climate modeling. These exchanges reveal actions that constitute a serious breach of scientific ethics.

Regulations based on the EPA’s endangerment finding could undermine economic growth and destroy American jobs. It is irresponsible for the Federal government to tax energy consumption and put more Americans out of work.

According to OpenCongress, Hall was “one of the largest recipients of oil money” during 2000-2008, and “voted in favor of big oil companies on 82% of important oil-related bills from 2005-2007″. He received a score of 0 during each of the last three Congressional sessions from the League of Conservation Voters.

Bonus Trivia Fact [Via Wiki]: Hall “is the oldest serving member of the House of Representatives and the oldest member of either House of Congress.”