For all those who support climate action, it is hard to find a reason to hope in the wake of the 2014 midterms. The fact that most of the new slate of Republicans deny the scientific consensus on climate change and support fossil fuels warrants our despair. President Obama cautions us to avoid cynicism. As Obama said in a recent mailing to his supporters:
"The hardest thing in politics is changing the status quo. The easiest thing is to get cynical" President Obama said, "So don't get cynical. Cynicism didn't put a man on the moon. Cynicism has never won a war, or cured a disease, or built a business, or fed a young mind. Cynicism is a choice. And hope will always be a better choice. I have hope for the next few years, and I have hope for what we're going to accomplish together."
The President's optimism is supported by the recent climate deal with China, but it is refuted by Republican gains. Obama's climate and environmental agenda will be under coordinated attack from Republicans and the GOP have a diverse array of weapons in their arsenal. The Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of the President's climate action plan and it will be among the first targets in an impending Republican assault.
Prior to the midterms, senator Mitch McConnell said he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop the power plant regulations, and that his top priority will be “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.” More recently, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) told Fox News that she will be “extremely aggressive” in her attempts to roll back the EPA rules, saying “We’ve been picked as a loser, and I’m not going to stand for it. Rolling back the EPA regulations is the way to do it.”
McConnell describes Obama's climate policy as “a massive, big-government boondoggle,“ and he has pledged to try and overturn it. McConnell also pledged to "remove barriers to job creation and lower energy costs for families," which amounts to efforts that will block environmental regulations.
Despite the President's wise words, Republican gains make avoiding cynicism nearly impossible.
Even before the midterms, there were 57 Senators that supported the Keystone XL. None of those Senators lost their seats and there will be an influx of Republicans in the new year bringing support for the pipeline to a filibuster-proof 60 Keystone supporters.
“This really drives home the overwhelming support we have for Keystone. I think you’re going to see us bring up energy legislation right away, and Keystone will be one of the first things we pass,” said North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven.
Although the future looks grim, passage of the Keystone XL is far from a fait accompli. The President said he will only approve the Keystone if it, “doesn’t increase climate change.” If the President holds true to the terms for his approval he will be forced to use his veto power. The pipeline could also be slowed or stopped by the courts.
US climate leadership in doubt
By far the most serious implications of the 2014 midterms comes from the fact that U.S. leadership on climate change will be much more difficult. As the world's largest economy, U.S. leadership is crucial, but now that Republicans beholden to fossil fuel interests are in control of the House, Senate and many state governments, it will be that much harder to secure a global climate agreement.
Americans don't vote for climate
No matter what Americans say about climate change, it is little more than lip service. While polls show that a majority of voters think climate change is happening and want governments to cut emissions, this did not alter the vote in 2014. The cold reality is that although Americans claim to care about climate change, it does not carry over to the ballot box.
As revealed by data from Pew Research Center, climate change is not a top priority (it ranks 8th out of 11 issues) and a Reuters poll showed that only 3 percent of Americans rank climate change as a top priority issue.
At the end of the day, short term economic concerns trumped climate concerns.
Even though the environment was the third most-common topic in political ads, it did not amount to much on election day. Despite spending more than twice the amount of the previous two elections combined, green money did not significantly alter the outcome. Almost 100 million dollars was spent by environmentalists like Tom Steyer and Next Gen ($67 million), the League of Conservation Voters ($25 million), Environmental Defense Action Fund, the NRDC Action Fund and the Sierra Club. Nonetheless, this year’s midterm elections substantially increased the power of climate deniers.
“We lost far too many races...There’s no way, or no desire, on any of our parts, to spin this, to try to throw some sunshine into a story that has some pretty disturbing elements,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
Almost 4 billion dollars was spent on this election cycle, but environmental spending paled in comparison to conservative spending by a margin of more than 10 to 1 ($1 billion vs $92 million). Despite being outspent we must marshal the hope to move forward.
“We were clearly outspent in many of these races,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. “And that’s why we’re all in for 2016, and for next week and next month.”
To his credit, Obama is doing all that he can within the confines of his powers. “The president will use his executive action to take some additional steps,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said, “but he is also going to continue to talk about this issue in a way that lays the groundwork for action by future presidents and future Congresses.”
As our window of opportunity for action closes, hope gets harder by the day. However, we must find reason to hope precisely because we know that pessimism impedes environmental action. Now more than ever, sensible people must come together to demand that the Republican controlled Congress temper its obstructionism.
Our hope should be buoyed by the acknowledgement that the fight against Republican ignorance is supported by the facts and the realization that we simply cannot afford to lose.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.
Image credit: Neil Gundel, courtesy flickr