Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Consequences of Election 2010 on Coastal Environmental Policy
Steffen Schmidt

If you don’t think that elections mater consider this. The probable new Speaker of the House John Boehner recently said that "The idea that carbon dioxide ... is harmful to our environment is almost comical."

Also, some states and some parts within states are more environmentally friendly and others less so. Therefore members of Congress will vary greatly in their position on environmental policy. Also, be aware that generally speaking Democrats have been more supportive of climate legislation and Republicans opposed. So the outcome of the elections in 2010 will have a major impact on the environment and on coastal zone policy (the coastal areas are especially threatened should the oceans actually rise significantly as predicted).

In his column journalist (now promoted to Editor of Grist) Christopher Mims, formerly a writer for Scientific American and other prominent publications, wrote a disjointed piece called, "The Climate Post: Earth will take 100,000 years to recover from the midterms’ effects on climate.” (PS Grist is a wonderful environmental Internet magazine with very smart articles and commentary)

The column is a collection of factoids that are interesting but randomly thrown against the Internet wall to see if any one them stick. I’ve picked a few that are worth noting for those of us interested in Coastal Policy issues.

He notes that, “ … geologists published a paper this week suggesting the Earth will take 100,000 years to recover from the effects of the global warming resulting from our current emissions trajectory.” This article in the British

The take-away quote in the Telegraph piece is this “Prof Jim Zachos [University of California] said that if the world continues to pump out greenhouse gases at the current rate, around 5,000 gigatons of greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere over a few hundred years. He said this will cause a more rapid temperature rise that at any other time in history and could cause “mass extinction of species. The impacts will be pretty severe compared to 55 million years ago in terms of evolution of this planet,” he said.”

Mims continues, “In an election season characterized by countless acts of questionable taste, the lack of climate as an issue in most campaigns could be considered a blessing. Notable exceptions include Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), whose defeat was largely due to his collaboration with the Obama administration on the climate bill, says his former chief of staff. Rookie Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello, a vocal proponent of the climate bill, was also defeated.”

This and other electoral results from election 2010 will need to be more carefully scrutinized because many of the pro environmental votes were also coupled with pro-healthcare reform and bailout and we will need to sort out what variables really drove the voters. Still many politicians were badly burned in this election where the environment hardy caused an electoral ripple and where jobs was the most powerful theme. Numerous politicians and news media personalities call in to question if climate change even exists. Furthermore, they see any climate-related gov't regulations as being a hindrance to creating new jobs and getting out of the recession. If more jobs = NOT imposing environmental restrictions on US businesses as many politicians and much of the news media have argued, then environmental regulation, carbon and green house emission controls, and other practices are in big trouble going forward.

“An analysis by Dow Jones Newswires argued a "yes" vote on the climate bill hurt at least 12 Democrats who lost their seats on Tuesday, but paradoxically, Democrats who voted against the bill "actually fared worse proportionally -- 27 of the 43 who opposed it lost."

Well that’s contradictory! What are we to make of this fact? Americans are ok with a climate bill? Maybe this needs to be shouted from some political rooftops!

It is also noteworthy that two powerful proponents of the climate bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, were reelected in tight, squeaker races.

Mims continues, “Whatever the causes of the shift of power from Democrats to Republicans, the general result is an Obama administration doubtful it will get anywhere close to passing clean-energy legislation until the composition of Congress changes once again.” Noted and I believe that it will be hard for Obama in the next two years to bring up climate change, global warming, rising sea levels and other factors that have a profound impact on earth and on coastal areas especially.

Mims also focused on state elections saying that, “In all the excitement over elections at the national level, a second, even more powerful political riptide went largely unnoticed: The GOP gained 680 state legislature seats, "giving the party unilateral control to remake the boundaries of 190 congressional districts." This level of state legislative control was last seen in 1952, and if the tendency for GOP candidates to view action on climate change unfavorably continues, it will shape climate and energy legislation for the next decade.”

Actually, the GOP hasn't controlled as many state legislatures since 1928.

This is important because in 2011 House seats will be reapportioned with some states losing members and others gaining seats after the 2010 census shows where Americans move to and from. Then at the state level the party in power will redraw the districts and in most places they draw weird shapes (Gerrymander) to favor their party in the Congressional elections for the next ten years.

These projections are the best I can do from browsing all the literature on redistricting but they are not THE final score. States that will gain seats are primarily in the South and Southwest, the regions that have been growing fastest for much of the past two decades. Among the eight states – Arizona (+2), Florida (+2), Georgia (+1), Nevada (+1), South Carolina, Texas, Utah (+1), Oregon (+1), and Washington (+1). Texas could gain an astonishing four seats.

States losing seats are in the Northeast and the industrial Midwest (Rust Belt), Ohio (-2), Louisiana, Michigan (-1), Minnesota (-1), Missouri (-1), Pennsylvania (-1), Illinois (-1), Massachusetts (-1), New York (-2), Iowa (-1) and New Jersey (-1).

Now America’s schools are starting to teach a curriculum that is at beast weak at worst skeptical about climate change. In an interesting article by Chris Mooney “Is It Time to Start Countering Climate Denial at the Local Level?, Discover Magazine, we find out that,

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is teaming up with Scholastic (which makes bajillions off textbooks and Harry Potter) to produce an “energy” curriculum–one that neglects environmental consequences and climate change, at least in the materials presented so far (PDF). Scholastic also offers the “United States of Energy,” another lesson plan/educational program “brought to you” in part by the American Coal Foundation. Meanwhile, in state after state, anti-evolutionists are arguing not only that we should “teach the controversy” around evolution, but that the same goes for other controversial topics as well–and then global warming inevitably gets roped in. And the strategy has been working. In the most infamous case, legislators in South Dakota called for “balanced teaching” about global warming in their state.”

So for those of you who are interested in or concerned about the environment election 2010 and the general trends in the United States are very important markers for the next ten years. As I’ve said elsewhere in several articles and video blogs these trends require agile initiatives and a much more aggressive and political engagement by scientists and policymakers who believe that climate trends are affected by human activity. At this moment the other side on this issue (those who do Not see human activity as a major cause) is winning and their case will be louder and MUCH more influential in Congress.

Steffen Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy and Chief Political and International Correspondent of (Not: A different version of this will appear in my blog

1 comment:

Professor Steffen Schmidt said...

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