(Part 3 of the Slouching Toward Suburbia series.)
The Green New Deal (GND) has clearly struck a chord with climate defenders. The most remarkable things about the GND, at the moment, are the breadth of its vision and how quickly the concept is being embraced by Democrats and environmental groups. It is even being talked about by deniers.
It is all the more remarkable for the support it has garnered because it isn’t actually there. The Green New Deal is the title of a story that’s yet to be written. It being a work in progress is both blessing and curse.
As positive as it is to have climate policy back on the front pages of newspapers and social media sites, there are danger signs having to do with the polarization of the Democratic party in much the same way the Tea Party impacted Republicans. Part 3 of Slouching Towards Suburbia continues the discussion of how the Green New Deal is affecting the political debate on national climate and what it might mean for the Democrats’ chances to capture both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2020.
The Green New Deal came roaring into Capital City along with a very assertive group of progressive freshman Democratic House members. Originally part of the policies proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported by the youth climate organ-ization the Sunrise Movement, the concept is now being signed onto by members of Congress and hundreds of and social justice environmental organizations.
Conceptually the GND rests on three primary pillars.
Although there is hardly a quibble in the climate community over the need to make a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy, there are and will be battles fought over how to get there.
As the bones of the basic concept are fleshed out over the next year or more, there will be myriad proposed additions and subtractions—some of which will lead to contentious disputes within Democratic ranks. These will be the kind of arguments that reflect the core beliefs of identity groups within the Democratic Party, e.g., progressive, establishment and blue dog. I don’t think it an exaggeration to suggest that how these battles are fought and decided could determine the outcome of the 2020 elections.
It’s useful—as well as heartening—to begin Part 2 of Slouching Towards Suburbia saying that most Americans agree that the climate is changing, and government is doing too little to combat it. Opinion surveys conducted in 2018 by Gallup, Pew, Stanford, Yale, and other reputable institutions all support the conclusion.
As deeply divided as Americans are these days about—well everything—who would have thought it to be true? According to the latest Yale/George Mason (GMU) survey, climate plays well in the aggregate with voters, particularly Democrats and independents. Figure1 shows, with hardly an exception that adults in the US believe that global warming is happening—as illustrated by the overwhelming yellow-to-dark red colors on the map. Large majorities believe climate change is real and majorities, in most communities, attribute it to human activity.
‘was the day before Christmas and all through the White House the only creature stirring was Donald Trump—everyone else jetted to Florida. The image of a president roaming the halls of the Nation’s principal residence—stirring the partisan pot with his tweets—is more than a little depressing—both for he who stirs, and the nation being stirred to no useful purpose. It is, however, a nearly perfect political meme for the moment.
The first lady and her son were not the only ones to flee. Growing numbers of senior presiden-tial advisors are also exiting the House Trump’s trying to gild. Given the outcome of the mid-term elections, it appears that some members of the much vaunted #Trumplican [voting] core have also begun to leave the fold. Only time will tell if their flight from Trump is temporary or permanent.
Republican candidates in 2018 continued to lag the Democrats in the total number of votes cast nationwide. It is a replay of the 2016 elections when Democratic Senate and presidential candidates out-polled Republicans by several million votes. One thing that has changed since 2016 is that Democrats running for the House in 2018 garnered more support nationally than their Republican opponents.
As reported by MarketWatch, a nationwide poll of 115,000 participants found fractures in the Trumplican base. Correlating the poll data with the outcomes of the 2018 midterms leads easily to the conclusion that America’s suburbs will be the battlefields on which the 2020 election will be fought—and with it the fate of the nation’s energy and environmental policies for the decade of the 2020s.
Forty percent of Congressional districts are comprised mainly of suburban communities. Once decidedly more Republican than Democrat, the suburban rings around major cities across the country are showing themselves more evenly divided but with a distinct portside tilt. In the 2016 election, 49 percent of suburban voters cast their lots with Trump, while 45 percent did the same with Clinton. Just two years later, suburban voters sent a majority of Democrats to the US House of Representatives.
Whether the perceived fractures in Trump’s 2016 voter-base bode well or ill for the environment will depend in large measure on how successful efforts are to convince suburban swing voters that climate matters enough to make it an actionable priority when marking their ballots.
This first part of the series on wooing suburban swing voters is meant to establish a defensible foundation for why suburban voters are critical to the overall effort first to stop—or at least slow—the Trump administration’s dismantling of existing climate-related policies; and, second to begin putting in-place the aggressive policies needed to heed the warnings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Trump’s own climate scientists.
‘Tis the season when food is on most of our minds. What if next year or the year after some of that food was no longer available or even edible? The question is far from idle—ask almost any climate scientist. Better yet, ask a crab fisherman on the California or Oregon coast if climate change is having an impact on her catch and income.
A California court granted the Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations standing to sue major oil producers just before Thanksgiving. It appears to be the first time a food industry has sought to recover lost revenues and wages from fossil fuel companies. The suit, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Inc. vs. Chevron and some 30 other companies, stems from the delayed opening of Pacific Ocean waters off the coasts of California and Oregon.
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) is the largest commercial fishing trade group on the west coast. On behalf of Dungeness crab fisheries, the organization is seeking compensatory payment for the financial losses incurred as a result of toxic algae blooms. The US Department of Commerce has already allocated $15 million from the $200 million of available disaster assistance funds to help the fishing industry after hurricanes. The allocation falls far short of the Association’s estimated loss of $445 million.
The group is claiming the defendant oil companies have known for nearly a half century that “unrestricted production and use of their fossil fuel products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet, changes our climate, and disrupts the oceans.” According to the complaint:
These changes threaten both the productivity of commercial fisheries and safety of commercially harvested seafood products. In so doing, they also threaten those that rely on ocean fisheries and ecosystems for their livelihoods, by rendering it at times impossible to ply their trade.
It appears from all reports that the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland is not going well for the environment. The UN climate conference, in the heart of Poland’s coal country, is being attended by delegates from 200 countries and 30,000 more from governments, businesses, industries, environmental organizations, various issue and technology exhibitors, journalists, and various and sundry other places. The goal of the COP24 is to write the rules to be followed by the signatories on the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
The Paris Accord was truly historic in its having gotten 195 nations to agree to it. In this day and age getting any agreement between nations on a matter as politically sensitive as climate change ranks as a minor miracle. Getting everyone of the nations to live up to the agreement is quite another matter.
Technically every country on Earth, including the US, are still signatories to the Accord. Syria and Nicaragua, the two original holdouts, penned their signatures to the document in 2017 right around the time Trump announced the US was backing out. Whether the two late signers saw the environmental light or just an opportunity to punk Trump is anyone’s guess—although I have my suspicions.
Enthusiasm for the Accord has clearly cooled since 2015. The first hint that something was amiss in Katowice was a dispute over the words “welcomed” and “noted.” The US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia refused to accept the wish of all the other nations in the room to “welcome” the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into the record of the proceedings.
It is the report released in October that bluntly states the need to cut global net CO2 emissions by 45 percent over the next 12 years through "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" to have any hope of keeping rising temperatures below the Accord’s aspirational target of 1.5 degree Celsius. The three nations—now being called by some the Axis of Evil—demanded that the Report be only “noted” by the conference.
The turmoil of this election year continues. A month after balloting there remains one contest yet to be decided. Voter fraud is suspected in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional district, and it is not known who will emerge victorious. The soon to be Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has intimated that the chamber will refuse to seat the nominal victor, Mark Harris, until a full investigation is completed. It is even possible that the incoming 116th Congress will take the extraordinary step of calling for a new election.
The suspected fraud in the 9th District is not the worst of it. Several states are now embroiled in post-election maneuvering by Republican lawmakers hell-bent on stripping away the powers of incoming Democratic governors, secretaries of state and attorneys general. Although the very definition of a rigged system, neither Trump nor Kris Kobach, the discredited head of Trump’s disbanded voter fraud commission, have had anything to say about these travesties. The national Republican Party stands equally mute.
In the following paragraphs, I describe some of the targets, tactics, and actions of Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina who would wantonly steal their state’s elections for their own purposes. November balloting in each case has resulted in a split state government, i.e., Republican legislative majorities and Democratic executives.
More than the natural environment is under attack. Should these assaults on democracy succeed, the same or similar tactics will be used in the future to defeat hard won victories to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, preserve wetlands, increase the use of renewable energy source, and all that is necessary to maintain a habitable environment. It is vital for climate hawks to be aware of the tactics being used to diminish not just the duly-elected individuals but the offices they will hold.
Neoliberal establishments are collapsing…around the world
The 2015 Paris climate accord (Paris Agreement/Agreement) was hailed as a historic breakthrough in global efforts to combat climate change. Will history judge the COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland as a breakdown of the three-year-old Agreement? Between then and now much has changed and not necessarily for the better.
The Paris Agreement established an aspirational goal of limiting Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius /2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and a binding target of 2 degrees Celsius/3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. Within the past eight weeks, two assessments of the looming impacts of Earth’s warming have been released. Both warn the world it has far less time than initially thought to meet either of those goals and highlighted the human and capital costs of failing to respond in time.
According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) released by the Trump administration:
Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future—but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius gives meaning to the NCA’s use of the word “faster.” The Panel estimates that the currently pledged nationally determined reductions (NDCs) in CO2 emissions by the signatories to the Accord will push global warming to at least 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. The Panel further predicts that the 2 degrees Celsius threshold will be crossed in only 12 years.
It is hardly surprising that the current voluntary pledge levels are proving inadequate to the task of keeping temperatures below the 2 degrees Celsius target—let alone the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark. Many in the scientific community knew when the 2 degrees Celsius goal was settled on that it would be too little and the year 2100 too late to be spared the more crushing consequences of climate change, e.g., shortages of food and water, rising rates of mosquito-borne disease, strengthening storms and droughts.
(This is the fourth installment in the Civil Notion series on the impact of the 2018 midterm elections on national climate policy. The previous articles are at www.civilnotion.com)
"One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it. " -- Donald John Trump on climate change
November’s midterm election purged Congress of moderate Republicans leaving in its wake hard-core Trumplicans willing to follow their namesake on to the slag heap of hyper-partisanship. Although I remain a man of the middle—still believing in compromise and collaboration—I recognize the near impossibility of finding common ground in the polluted political environment now surrounding Congress—made worse by the bleating of a petulant president. I’m far from alone in my judgment.
A Gallup poll was taken a week after the election and showed that Americans are largely pessimistic that President Donald Trump and the Democrats in Congress will cooperate much over the next two years once Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives in January. The poll compared the 2018 election with the last time Democrats won control of the House. It too was a time when the blood of partisans ran hot.
What Just Happened?
The Trump administration has once again filed a motion to dismiss Juliana v. United States before the trial even begins. Although rebuffed for the second time by the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on November 2, 2018, government attorneys thought to go back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with the same hackneyed request to deny the youthful plaintiffs in the case their day in court—hoping for a different outcome.
What is it they— whomever they are—say about insanity and doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome? In the case of Juliana, the Administration’s attorneys are not so much insane—as they are fearful of what the case might mean to Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental protections to a time before Nixon and peddle coal to developing nations.
On November 5th Administration lawyers filed their latest emergency dismissal motion. On November 8th the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court again halted the case pending its decision on the motion. In the November 8th order the appellate court “invited” the trial court judge, Ann Aiken, to reconsider her earlier decision denying the government’s request for an interlocutory review. On November 21st the trial court issued an order certifying Juliana for an interlocutory appeal.
Now that the district (trial) court has certified its orders in Juliana, the Ninth Circuit again faces the question of whether the case needs to go to trial. Interlocutory reviews by appellate courts are matters of judicial efficiency in that the level of legal doubt surrounding a plaintiff’s cause of action is so high as to suggest to the trial judge that a case would be a waste of the court’s and litigant’s time and resources. In Juliana’s case, the doubted matter of law is whether the plaintiffs have a constitutional right to a habitable environment.
Such certifications are “exceptions rather than the rule” as they preempt the role of the trial court to hear and decide questions of fact and law. As a first of its kind lawsuit, it is natural for there to be some doubt about the legal/constitutional basis of the plaintiffs’ suit. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and SCOTUS have both recognized the novelty of the youthful plaintiffs’ claims as has the trial court.
(This is the third installment in the Civil Notion series on the impact of 2018 midterm elections on national climate policy. The previous articles may be seen here and here.)
Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, and drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever.
When the 116th Congress opens for business in January, it will mark the first time in a decade that the House of Representatives will be controlled by a Democratic majority. Like my neighbor’s Basset Hound who just caught the postal truck, it appears the Democrats are not quite sure what to do with the House now that it is theirs.
November’s balloting served to purge the Republican ranks of its more moderate members in Congress. Some of the more establishment Republicans like Senator Flake (R-AZ) chose retirement over forced fealty to Trump. Others like Representative Curbelo (R-FL) who had distanced themselves from The Donald lost their bid for re-election.
It was a much different story for the Democrats. Sheryl Gay Stolberg describes the incoming freshman class of House Democrats as the most diverse, most female freshman class in history — a group of political neophytes, savvy veterans of the Obama and Clinton administrations, as well as the first Muslim women and Native American women ever elected to Congress. Although ideologically diverse, many of the first-timers share a common concern for the environment and a suspicion of the establishment—incarnate in the form of Nancy Pelosi.
Some 17 or more incoming and incumbent House Democrats have vowed to oppose Pelosi’s assuming the Speaker’s chair for the second time in her career. They, like Trump, have used the Californian as a convenient foil post in campaign speeches although for very different reasons. Trump waves Pelosi in front of his core supporters much like a matador flaps his cape before a bull—to much the same effect. House Democrats in opposition see her as an impediment to putting a progressive agenda in place—much like Sander’s supporters saw Clinton in 2016.
Energy and the environment are playing a prominent role in the Democratic leadership debates with all sides agreeing that climate policy should be near the top of the House agenda in the two years leading up to the 2020 elections. Pelosi along with Democratic members likely to move into leadership positions on key committees have wasted no time in singling out climate as a priority.
Ranking Democrats expected to take over as chairs of their existing committees—Science, Space, and Technology’s Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Energy and Commerce’s Frank Pallone (D-NY) and Natural Resources’ Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ)—have indicated they would be calling hearings shortly after the 116th Congress comes to order. Pelosi has expressed her support for resurrecting a special committee on climate change that was disbanded in 2011 by the then newly elected Republican House majority.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.