Red State v. Blue State: Climate Action Splits America

June 23rd, 2019 by Steve Hanley 

In the 2016 election, the 14 US states with the least carbon-intensive economies voted for Hillary Clinton, while 26 of the 27 most carbon-intensive states voted for Donald Trump, reports the New York Times. Of the 15 state governors who now support 100% zero emissions electricity, only one is a Republican — Larry Hogan of Maryland. Last month he allowed a new, more aggressive renewable energy mandate approved by the Democratic legislature to become law.

political divide in America

As the Times notes, states with strong carbon emissions goals are attracting companies in the technology sector while states along the Gulf of Mexico and in Appalachia that don’t have such strict emissions standards are attracting the most carbon intensive industries such as fracking, petrochemicals, and cement manufacturing.

Yet the political divide does not always determine where each state gets its electrical power from. Texas, Ohio, North Dakota, and Montana are solidly red on the political map but have strongly embraced wind power — not because of its low carbon impact but because it blows away the competition when it comes to the cost of electricity. Even conservatives can do basic mathematical calculations and figure out that lower costs mean higher profits.

“Some of these [blue] states are hoping to build an advantage for themselves by establishing rules and expectations that make new clean energy investments possible,” Dallas Burtraw, an energy policy expert at Resources for the Future, tells the Times. “But to some extent, there will be winners and losers.”

The state of New York has just enacted legislation that will see it dramatically reduce its carbon emissions in coming years. California has taken the lead in this regard for more than a decade and is facing a major confrontation with the Trump administration over emissions standards for vehicles sold within its borders. 14 other states have signed on to the California rules, most of them blue states.

In theory, Congress could establish national emissions standards that would preempt such state rules, but the conflicting rules that exist between the states “potentially make the question of how you weave together a future federal climate policy very challenging,” says Barry Rabe, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. “What we’re seeing is a tale of two climate nations,” he says. “The split has become much more pronounced in recent years.”

Renegade Republicans In Oregon

The political divide could not be clearer than it is in the state of Oregon at the moment. Democrats have a majority in both houses of the state legislature but do not have the quorum that state law requires before any bills can be voted on. Oregon Democrats and Democratic governor Kate Brown are anxious to pass a new law that is modeled on rules in effect in neighboring California for over a decade, including a cap and trade carbon emissions program. Republicans contend that if Oregon is going to do such a thing — “Don’t Californicate Our State” bumper stickers are very popular in the Beaver State — it should be approved by the voters directly, not imposed by the legislature. To block a vote on the law, Oregon’s Republican senators fled the state — most of them to Idaho. In response, governor Brown has ordered the state police to arrest any of them they can find and drag them back to the capitol so they can do their sworn duty.

That has led to a potentially dangerous escalation of the conflict, with one senator — Brian Boquist — issuing a statement saying that the police should only “send bachelors and come heavily armed. I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”

Politics doesn’t get any more extreme than threatening to murder police officers who dare to do their jobs. One might expect such rhetoric from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the Bolivian army closes in on them, but not from an elected official who has a policy disagreement with his colleagues.

A spokesperson for Oregon Republicans told The Guardian the cap and trade plan should be a referendum question on the next ballot, saying, “Oregonians should have a right to vote on this legislation that will put Oregon jobs and businesses at serious risk with significant fuel cost increases.”

That’s a defensible position but underlines the basic disconnect between Democrats and Republicans. The latter advocate for a “business as usual” approach and think it is unfair to ask them to pay anything to prevent the extinction of humanity. As is typical of Republicans, their only thought is for what is best for them personally. Any notion of representing all of their constituents is simply foreign to their world view.

A House Divided Cannot Stand

Thanks to Republican insistence on ideology over rationality, America will forfeit any leadership role it might play in addressing the challenges of a warming planet. A great nation would do the hard work of leading civilization toward a sustainable future. A second rate nation prefers to focus on dictating what women can do with their bodies and making sure we are all permitted to tote a bazooka around under our arm every time we venture outside.

Republicans believe ideology takes priority over rationality. It’s like telling passengers on the Titanic that if they just believe hard enough, the ship can’t sink even as the waves begin washing over the deck. Raging forest fires, powerful storms, melting ice caps, and rising sea levels are just figments of our imagination that will prove to be illusions if we just drink the Kool Aid and believe hard enough.

We can’t afford to do anything serious about climate change because doing so will cost too much. But what is the cost of millions if not billions of climate refugees? What is the cost of our great cities and hundreds of thousands of homes underwater? What is the cost of food riots when farmers can no longer grow crops because of flooding and drought? Where will business get its profits when all its customers are dead?

A great nation leads on important issues. A great nation is a benefactor to all persons. A great nation behaves like a functioning adult instead of a reactive child. Squabbling among ourselves as the warming of our planet accelerates is the least helpful thing we can do — sort of like shooting ourselves in the foot at the start of a marathon.

Ideology will not make the waters recede, the storms subside, or lower average global temperatures. America needs leaders who are committed to finding solutions to climate change. If you agree, please join in the global day of protest scheduled for September 20. If the people will lead, their leaders will follow. It’s not too late to take action, but the window of opportunity is closing fast.