Per Capita Davis: The climate crisis is on the ballot
This column finds its way into the print version of The Davis Enterprise the first and third Wednesday of each month, meaning that it will land in your driveway on Nov. 7, the day after the election. I can’t tell you how many past elections have frustrated me because no one spoke about the climate crisis. It almost never came up in debates, it was seldom included in “literature” that arrived in my mailbox and media coverage of it was scant.
The partisan divide apparently discouraged campaigns from bringing it up. “Talk about pocketbook issues,” consultants advised. All this ignoring of an existential crisis seemed to vanish when a president or members of Congress got elected. Turns out everyone has strong views on the subject.
President Obama tried to do everything possible to make America a leader; President Trump is dismantling all that and doubling down on fossil fuels. Democrats in Congress want to talk about climate policy, but, for the most part, Republicans don’t, and the current leadership of both the House and Senate won’t allow a bill to come forward for discussion and a vote.
This standoff mirrors the results of a recent Pew Research survey of registered voters that found almost three of every four people supporting Democratic candidates consider the climate crisis to be a “very big” problem, compared to only one in 10 people supporting Republican candidates.
Voters in the state of Washington, for example, are voting to adopt or reject a tax on carbon pollution. Proponents collected more than a quarter of a million valid signatures of registered voters to put this on the ballot, the result of which will either encourage or discourage voters in the other 20 or so states with an initiative process. The measure, if adopted, will, starting in 2020, place a tax of $15 per ton on carbon dioxide pollution; the proceeds would be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state and promote the development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Adoption of the tax is not a sure thing. Massive amounts of money are being spent by the fossil fuel industry against the measure.
As an aside, Canada recently adopted, beginning in 2019, a price on carbon. In this case, not a tax, but a “fee and dividend“ program that collects a fee of $15 per ton of carbon emitted from polluters. Rather than the government keeping the money, it’s instead returned to citizens as a dividend. Personally, I’d rather see the money used as Washington state intends: investing in further emission reductions. But the Canada model is based on the theory that this type of price on carbon will be more palatable to voters and will garner support from both political parties.
In California, Grist reports that more than 60 percent of persons in “toss-up Congressional districts” are “worried” about climate change. This is important, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, because, more than fear, anger, disgust and guilt, “worry is a stronger predictor of policy support.”
In Florida, the contest for governor is between a Republican who, when speaking about the climate crisis, says he doesn’t want to be known as an “alarmist” and a Democrat who has stated he “believes in Science.”
In New Mexico, voters will elect a Public Lands Commissioner with, among other powers, the authority to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations including fracking. The Democrat promises to crack down on methane emissions, while the Republican candidate, backed by oil companies, has assumed a softer stance on the issue. The two are neck and neck. Also in New Mexico, the Democratic candidate for governor climbed to the top of a wind turbine to demonstrate her interest in that renewable resource’s potential to create “clean jobs.”
Opponents claim these increases will cost too much. Proponents argue that setting these goals will stimulate a market-driven reduction in the cost of clean energy. More than half the states have enacted RPS. Dallas Burtraw, a former Davis resident and now an electricity policy expert at the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, speaking about the steep declines in cost of renewables, points out that, “We’re already seeing this as a result of state programs in place, and growing the club of states with these very ambitious mandates will take this further.”
So, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, check out the results of these and other races. Who knows — perhaps the climate crisis will have found a voice in representatives elected to Congress and also at the state level.
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise
Cool Davis is a coalition of citizens, the City of Davis, and community organizations working to empower our community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.