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US Midterms: Major loss for Democrats, and Climate action

28th Nov 2014

The recently held US Midterm Elections mark a major turning point in the allotment of power in the Federal Government, as Republicans gained a majority in both the House of Representatives as well as the Senate, controlling Congress. The biennial election turned out to be a serious defeat for Democrats, which many attribute to President Obama’s extremely low approval rating, despite record job growth and low levels of unemployment nationally.

 

However, the biggest blow may prove to be exercised upon environmental protection policies. The US lags woefully behind the rest of the world when it comes to acceptance of the science of climate change. Many policyholders deny that human-induced climate change is actually occurring, and therefore, propose no measures to prevent or mitigate the effects.

Climate change is still not a topic widely discussed in political arenas in the United States, although, during this campaign season, one group aimed to change that. NextGen Climate, a Super-PAC led by investor Tom Steyer, strives to “bring climate change to the forefront of American politics.” Statistics showed that climate change was mentioned in many more speeches and debates than during previous campaign cycles. Even so, Republicans have latched onto the phrase, “I’m not a scientist” to avoid questions relating to the climate change issue.

Florida’s Democratic candidate, Charlie Crist, memorably retorted, “I’m not a scientist either, but I know some,” to Republican opponent and climate change denier, Rick Scott. This topic did not prove to be enough to sway Florida’s voters to opt for a pro-environment candidate, even though Florida is at the front lines for seeing the effects of climate change in the coming years. Still, the organisation’s founder claims victory in NGC’s mission because climate was finally part of the conversation in numerous debates and speeches.

As part of the new leadership in Congress, comes a new head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. James Inhofe, a Senator from Oklahoma, and vehement climate change denier, wrote the book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. Inhofe will now have immense power over environmental policies at his new post, including deciding what environmental bills reach Congress to be voted on. He has expressed a commitment to de-funding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as Republicans tend to see EPA regulations as barriers to business and job creation. De-funding the EPA means that there will not be enough funds to enforce the laws already in place, and without enforcement, such laws are meaningless.

Republicans are also gearing up to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport tar sands oil, from Alberta, Canada, to the southern border of Texas to be refined. Construction of the pipeline is already underway, but full approval of the project has been pending for years. According to Aljazeera America, “Some Democrats have signalled that they are willing to vote in line with Republicans to get the Keystone through. That means Congress could produce a filibuster-proof majority to strip the President’s power to approve cross-border pipelines, leaving it up to Obama to veto or sign the bill.”

It has proven poetic that Americans have so clearly opted for Republican leadership. Though turnout tends to be low (approx. 40%) for Midterms, when the President is heavily disliked, party leadership often changes. This is what happened in 2008 when President Obama was elected after the warmongering George W Bush. Many liberals are surprised at the change because the economy seems to be on the upswing, with unemployment below 6% and as calculated by the Democratic Policy; Communications Center, “56 straight months of private sector job growth.” These Midterms proved to be the most negative and most expensive in US history, with hundreds of millions of dollars spent, many on advertisements bashing opposing candidates.

Domestically, climate policy does not look promising, but President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping recently agreed to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. As stated by CNN, “Under the agreement, the United States would cut its 2005 level of carbon emissions by 26-28% before the year 2025. China would peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and will also aim to get 20% of its energy from zero-carbon emission sources by the same year.” Thus, a silver lining for the environment emerges.

As our climatic future hangs in the balance, we must accept that you win some, you lose some; regardless, the fight continues.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Science & Policy

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