Climate Will Be a Big Club for Dems in Election Year
March 1, 2016
It’s Super Tuesday. We may see climate denier Donald Trump become the unstoppable nominee of the Republican Party – which at least, is truth in advertising – but a nightmare for anyone that cares about the future of this country, this planet, or their children.
Above, Democratic ad shows a theme we can expect to see more of as Republicans continue their lockstep denial of science in the face of increasing climate impacts. The water rising around Floridian’s ankles comes to mind – to mention just one electorally important state.
As the election year unfolds, it appears there is a good chance that 2016 will be at least as warm, globally, as the last two record breaking years – and arctic sea ice is in danger of breaking new low records as well.
Republicans have made themselves defenseless on this issue, and we can expect that whoever the Democrats nominate for Pres, as well as candidates up and down the ticket, will beat the living hell out of the GOP for ignoring the biggest issue of the millennium.
But here’s the thing: the next president won’t need to pass comprehensive legislation, or indeed any legislation, to take a big step toward saving the planet. Dramatic progress in energy technology has put us in a position where executive action — action that relies on existing law — can achieve great things. All we need is an executive willing to take that action, and a Supreme Court that won’t stand in its way.
And this year’s election will determine whether those conditions hold.
Many people, including some who should know better, still seem oddly oblivious to the ongoing revolution in renewable energy. Recently Bill Gates declared, as he has a number of times over the past few years, that we need an “energy miracle” — some kind of amazing technological breakthrough — to contain climate change. But we’ve already had that miracle: the cost of electricity generated by wind and sun has dropped dramatically, while costs of storage, crucial to making renewables fully competitive with conventional energy, are plunging as we speak.
The result is that we’re only a few years from a world in which carbon-neutral sources of energy could replace much of our consumption of fossil fuels at quite modest cost. True, Republicans still robotically repeat that any attempt to limit emissions would “destroy the economy.” But at this point such assertions are absurd. As both a technical matter and an economic one, drastic reductions in emissions would, in fact, be quite easy to achieve. All it would take to push us across the line would be moderately pro-environment policies.
As a card-carrying economist, I am obliged to say that it would be best if these policies took the form of a comprehensive system like cap and trade or carbon taxes, which would provide incentives to reduce emissions all across the economy. But something like the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would use flexible regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on major emitters, should be enough to get us a long way toward the goal.
And as I said, no new legislation would be needed, just a president willing to act and a Supreme Court that won’t stand in that president’s way, sacrificing the planet in the name of conservative ideology. What’s more, the Paris agreement from last year means that if the U.S. moves forward on climate action, much of the world will follow our lead.