Thursday, August 21, 2014

An eighth reason to be pessimistic about climate change action

My 7 reasons America will fail on climate change mostly resolve into skepticism about the American political system. Climate change attacks American politics where it's weak: in its ability to respond to slow-moving crises where the worst effects will fall on other countries and future generations, and where the consequences, once they become too great to bear, are also too far gone to reverse.

But Andrew Prokop's look at the Democrats who oppose efforts to fight climate change reminds me of another way climate change is particularly difficult for the American political system to deal with: the costs of action hit some states and some congressional districts much, much harder than others.

The American political system is built, if nothing else, to protect the interests of individual states. And some of those individual states have economies built on fossil fuel extraction. In the Senate, Montana, with its one million people, has the same clout as California, with its 38 million residents. And what is Montana's top export? Coal. They produce more of it than any other state in the US.

Kentucky was the third-largest coal producing state in 2012. And so its no surprise that the Kentucky Senate race features Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes trying to outdo each other in their criticisms of President Obama's climate initiatives. Grimes is now running radio ads that say, "I'm running for Senate to protect our coal jobs." Forget all the slick PR about "clean coal." Protecting coal jobs is flatly incompatible with protecting the planet.

West Virginia is also a coal-dependent economy. And so when then-Gov. Joe Manchin decided to run for Senate he made his position on climate change crystal clear. He printed out the text of the Waxman-Markey climate bill and shot it. Yes, with a gun.

States like Kentucky and Montana and West Virginia care much more about pulling fossil fuels out of the ground than other states care about keeping them in the ground. And the American political system, which makes action hard under any circumstances, cares much more about the strong objections of individual states than the weak preferences of the country.

As I wrote in the original piece, "if you were going to weaponize an issue to take advantage of the weak points in the American political system - to highlight all the blind spots, dysfunctions, and irrationalities - you would create climate change. And then you would stand back and watch the world burn."

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