Tag Archives: climate change

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

Richard Alley – The Biggest Control Knob: Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s Climate History

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Climate-related book sale at Amazon!

After a tip from Chris at The Intersection, I discovered that a number of books from my Books of Interest page are on sale around 70% off:

You can get them all with free shipping for a measly $25.96! That’s an incredible deal. They’re all great reads, and together comprise an excellent primer on the basics as well as the politics of climate change.

Of moles and whacking: “Alarmists stopped using global warming in favor of climate change”

NASA’s shiny JPL climate change site has a new post up that does a decent if incomplete job of pushing back against this particular myth.

Image from NASA JPL’s Global Climate Change site

It hits the right initial points, giving a brief background on the usage of the terms. Climate change and global warming have both been used to describe what is happening, from Wally Broecker’s 1975 Science article “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”, to the 1979 Charney Report, (I would add as well the 1988 creation of the IPCC and the 1992 creation of the UNFCCC, both of which have “climate change” in their names).

This is of course the case because there are anthropogenic changes to the climate apart from increased surface warming (e.g. aerosol and particulate cooling, ocean acidification), and anthropogenic warming affects changes to the climate beyond increased surface temperatures (e.g. changes in precipitation norms).

However, this isn’t the whole story. Continue reading

Meme watch: “The economic crisis has kneecapped climate legislation”

There is an unusually dimwitted bit of “conventional wisdom” circulating among conservative economic (“That almost certainly means, at least according to the crack political team on the panel with me, that we will not get any sort of cap and trade”) and energy (“Climate change may be on the back burner for now due to the economic slump”) blogs that an Obama administration and its majority Democratic Congress are going to do little or nothing about climate change due to the current/impending economic crisis.

This is ludicrous on its face. President-elect Obama has stated numerous times that his number one priority is implementing a comprehensive alternative energy program as the key to creating a new economy. He understands how the climate, food, health care, energy, economic, and infrastructure challenges plaguing our country and the world are intertwined and need to be addressed holistically.

Senator Henry Waxman from California, who has been relentless in his efforts to root out the Bush administration’s obstructionist tactics in the EPA on climate change, is now challenging Senator Dingell for the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce committee. Dingell has long been in the pocket of Detroit’s auto industry, and has a history of blocking legislation that would help reduce climate change. There is only one possible reason for Waxman’s challenge in the midst of what should be a time of Democratic celebration and solidarity- the coming Obama administration correctly views Dingell as an obstacle to its goals on energy and climate change, and Waxman has received at least a tacit go ahead to take him on. [It looks like Joe Romm is following this as well, so far here and here]

For those looking for a sign that an Obama administration is serious about climate change, this couldn’t be clearer. Rather than preventing action on climate and energy, this crisis will provide the Obama administration with a decisive path to action, and he obviously isn’t afraid of playing hardball to achieve his goals.

[LATE UPDATE: Gristmill has more on Waxman vs. Dingell.]