Ever since the 2000 election (at least) we’ve been hearing about red states and blue states, that unfortunate artifact of our antiquated winner-take-all electoral college system (why not “one person-one vote”, as in South Africa and Iraq and other bastions of democracy? Seems simple enough. But I digress.)
In reality, the country is more like a tapestry of various shades of purple, with scattered primary-colored highlights. But our two-party system tends to act like a kids’ game of crack-the-whip (showing my age here), pushing our elected representation, and our range of options, toward the two far ends of the spectrum. Unfortunately, this polarization has derailed nearly every public discussion about the environment we’ve had over the last decade or two (it wasn’t always that way — President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act, for example). To a visitor from outer space this would surely seem odd. What could be a more clearly common interest among disparate people than health of the global ecosystem–the single thing we all share? The centrality of an environmentally informed perspective to homeland security, energy independence, long-term economic sustainability, and darn near everything else that concerns us is not a partisan issue. At least it shouldn’t be.
Somewhat suddenly, there are unmistakable signs that we are beginning to emerge from the darkness. Green is becoming purple. To wit:
Seeing the light (and feeling the heat). Witness the warming relation (sorry, I couldn’t resist) between scientists and evangelical Christians on climate change. I mean even Pat Robertson has converted, so to speak. Evangelicals, who have been the single most reliable friends of conservative political candidates in recent years, have got religion on this issue (ouch, there’s another one), emphasizing right up front in a courageous statement signed by 102 evangelical leaders that “Human-induced climate change is real” and citing the IPCC report (which no doubt gained some cred with the faithful from the fact that the IPCC’s assessment of climate science was Chaired from 1988-2002 by Sir John Houghton, a devout evangelical Christian). Not all evangelicals agree, of course, and spinmeisters have been hard at work organizing the opposition. But the call from the Evangelical Climate Initiative bears emphasis:
“In the United States, the most important immediate step that can be taken at the federal level is to pass and implement national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program.”
Getting down to business. A growing number of big corporations have also seen the writing on the wall and are looking for ways to sustain both their business and the environment in the long-term. Most recently, a group calling iself the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) issued a blunt call for mandatory caps on carbon emisions, asking the federal governent to “quickly enact strong national legislation to achieve significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions”. The remarkably purple thing about this is that the group includes both major industrial giants such as Alcoa, BP America, Duke Energy, DuPont, and General Electric, as well as the NGOs Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and the World Resources Institute. Predictably, the old guard is appalled and fighting back, with op-eds in The Washington Times by Steven Milloy, Competitive Enterprise Institute hatchetman, and self-appointed promoter, um, I mean monitor, of “junk science”. But the latter arguments are not sounding very enterprising, and it is increasingly clear that such contrarians are backing the wrong horse on this one.
Gunracks into plowshares. And now this just in: A coalition of hunters and fishermen, who in recent years have been reliable supporters of the GOP, are joining up with a group of labor unions with nearly 5 million members to promote natural area conservation. From the Washington Post article:
“The unlikely marriage of union and conservation interests comes at a time when the Bush administration, with its push for oil and gas drilling in the Rocky Mountain West, has limited public access to prime hunting and fishing areas on federal land. This has triggered a bipartisan backlash from sportsmen and conservation groups, as well as from Western politicians in both parties. The strength of that backlash is making bedfellows of blue-collar workers and old-guard conservationists, who historically have shared little but suspicion and disdain.”
And would ya believe? The President actually admitted, for the first time, in the recent State of the Union speech that climate change is a problem, and even mentioned biofuels from wood chips and other bio-debris (alongside nucular energy and corn ethanol from states with key electoral votes in 2008, of course) as potential parts of the solution. Whether this constututes anything more than lip service is of course another matter.
Terminating climate change. Governator Schwarzenegger, in contrast, is not just talking but doing something about it. He recently signed an executive order to establish the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (the world’s first) for transportation fuels in California. Similar story for the Golden State’s power plants. Go west, young man!
What up? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Is it all just jostling for PR and political advantage in the wake of the Republican bloodbath in November?
Environmentalists might be forgiven for being cynical after the drubbing we’ve had over the last decade. But I dont think political advantage and PR are the whole story or even the main story here. After Hurrican Katrina, and the scorching summers we’ve had, perhaps public opinion really is approaching a tipping point. Whatever the reason, it is a breath of fresh air. Most of these developments would have seemed bizarre, if not unthinkable, even a few years ago. Here’s hoping that the fever catches and leads to real progress, and soon.