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The Climate Policy Rift On The Left

For years, climate policy was a simple “Left” versus “Right” battle. On the Right, we had a long list of climate deniers, and on the Left, climate and clean energy policies.

James Inhofe Global Warming hoax

Congressional Republicans could be relied on to obstruct whatever climate and clean energy legislation Democrats proposed, from cap and trade to a carbon tax to mandates like the Clean Power Plan.

An analysis of every Senate vote from the Clinton administration’s first attempt at a carbon tax in 1993 to the 8th Republican vote against a national Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2008 shows increasing divergence over the years.

During that time, the few Republicans who crossed the aisle to support climate policy, like Lincoln Chafee and Norm Coleman, were weeded out by their constituents. By the start of the Obama administration in 2008, there was a clear divide.

Those battle lines have now hardened to the point where in 2016 the US presidential race pits an unapologetic climate denier against a consistent climate policy badass.

So you would think that support for the climate voter would be a given in progressive circles. But a curious thing happened on our side. Now a strange purity test seems to be emerging on the Left.

Bernie or Bust

Because Clinton did not come out to support an outright ban on fracking, her long history of support for expanding clean energy — while putting the squeeze on how and where dirty energy can be extracted or sold — is discounted by climate voters under 30.

Millennial Climate Voters

A poll of millennials who care most about climate (85% saying it is the most important factor) finds that as recently as early July, only 11% had a favorable view of Clinton versus 9% Trump — while 31% viewed Sanders favorably.

Despite the near identical voting record on climate between Clinton and Sanders, in a four-way race, 33% of Sanders holdouts wouldn’t bother voting, 16% would vote Jill Stein, and 16% would vote Gary Johnson.

When offered a choice between the only two candidates that can realistically become president, 46% wouldn’t vote, while 26% would split evenly between Trump and Clinton at 13% each.

Nearly half of millennial climate voters saw no point in choosing the only presidential candidate who has said she will act on climate as president. That the remainder would be just as likely to vote for the candidate who opposes action on climate is astonishing.

Jill Stein’s crunchy green new deal is modeled on Cuba, a back-to-the-land vision of climate solutions. “The only way to do it reliably” is “restoring shorelines, restoring deltas, restoring forests, restoring grazing systems and so on.” To solve climate change, she plans “to initiate a global climate deal.” (It would seem her followers have heard nothing about the 2015 Paris Agreement).

Naomi Klein calls for the destruction of the capitalist system first, in order to solve climate change. (Now there’s a delaying tactic!)

Hillary Clinton badass

Progressive Policymakers Know She’s The Badass

By contrast, Clinton’s ideas for expanding clean energy and contracting dirty energy have been effective in moving action on climate, and that is why superdelegates like former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (now an energy policy advisor) endorsed her.

All the climate policy leaders in federal and state government, from Henry Waxman and Ed Markey to Jay Inslee and Sheldon Whitehouse, endorsed her, precisely because of her ability to actually make change.

A San Francisco superdelegate said it best in 2007. “With her it’s always been about making change, that’s why she’s been so controversial,” said then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “They say dogs don’t bark at parked cars.”

“People don’t get upset about people who aren’t about change, they get upset about people who are about change.”

While Sanders and Stein espouse bashing your head against the brick wall of fossil fuel hegemony, Clinton takes a hammer and chisel to it.

Here’s an example:

How Clinton’s 2007 Plan Led to the Exxon Investigation

One idea that Clinton had proposed in her climate plan in 2007, and that was pushed by the Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative, required that companies divulge their climate risks to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Requiring Corporate Disclosure of Financial Risks Posed by Global Warming: Global warming presents both risks and opportunities for companies. Investors need and deserve information about the risks that companies face due to global warming, and what their plans are to address them.

Companies are required to disclose to shareholders major threats they are facing in other areas. Yet, the potential costs of global warming are not incorporated into most firms’ financial projections. Some companies have stepped forward, forming a voluntary “Carbon Disclosure Project,” a voluntary program that works with shareholders and corporations to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions of many major corporations.

Hillary would build on this work by requiring the Securities and Exchange Commission to adopt disclosure obligations for all companies that are potentially impacted by climate change-related risks.

Really, The Corporate-Friendly Candidate? 

That SEC climate reporting idea has now formed the foundation for the divestment movement and had real results. The requirement to disclose climate risk to the SEC forms the basis for the investigation into whether Exxon covered up its climate risk.

Clinton’s Big Solar–friendly climate plans, including ramping up solar incentives, were covered by Greentech Media in 2015 and won the approval of the solar industry.

Her history of Senate votes earned her an early endorsement by the League of Conservation Voters, which tallies votes on amendments to rate the climate-friendliness of politicians; former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson; the first-ever presidential endorsement by the NRDC; and the Sierra Club. And it earned her the ire of the Right.

But her clear record does not sway the younger Sanders holdouts. There is a schism on the Left between those who would devise policy to ramp up renewable energy to replace fossil energy and those who would put their faith in shouted slogans.

Part of the misinformation may be trolling by the Right, as the New York Times points out in “The Right Baits the Left to Turn Against Hillary Clinton,” which cites social media trolling by America Rising and Karl Rove’s group American Crossroads as two of the conservative groups attacking Clinton from the Left, with the goal of eroding what should be her natural core of support.

“It can diminish enthusiasm for Hillary among the base over time,” Steven Law, president of American Crossroads told the New York Times. “And if you diminish enthusiasm, lukewarm support can translate into lackluster fundraising and perhaps diminished turnout down the road.”

Al Gore attacked

With Age Comes Perspective

Older Lefties, with decades of exposure to Clinton “scandal,” have become immunized, but it’s all new to millennials.

The Right mounted an equally persistent smear campaign against Al Gore until he retreated from climate advocacy, realizing that he was doing more harm than good.

Scott Cooney, Important Media CEO and author of Build a Green Small Business saw this firsthand as a Gore campaign worker.

“In the 2000 election, there was a huge campaign, supposedly in support of Ralph Nader, but all their materials basically just attacked Al Gore,” he wrote in an email.

“It was exceptionally well-financed. I worked on the campaign, and one day we got a box of t-shirts: probably 200 of them, for free, that had terrible-looking pics of Gore and Bush next to each other with a slogan that said, ‘Think there’s any difference? There’s not’ or something like that. They got enough infighting going to weaken Gore’s support.”

Gore had held the first Senate hearings on the danger of climate change and need to act, had championed clean energy, was one of the first to imagine a future people-powered “electranet” (which is now known as net metering), and as VP had written a groundbreaking book on climate change and attempted the first carbon taxes in the 1990s.

The smear worked. Bush went on to silence climate scientists, delayed the EPA ruling that formed the basis for the Clean Power Plan, and would not put a price on carbon pollution.

Crescent Dunes solar

Climate Left Versus The Crunchy Left 

The rift on the “climate Left” has split off those who understand climate change as a centuries-long threat to civilization requiring an all-out energy switch on a massive scale and speed rivaling the ramp-up to WWII. The “crunchy Left” with its narrow focus actually creates an obstacle to solving the problems caused by continuing fossil use.

This split was revealed in the surprising resistance to the big solar projects being built in California, resistance by small environmental groups like Basin and Range Watch that pushed Trump-level falsehoods about fried birds.

On the Big Solar side, the Sierra Club and the NRDC sided with the massive investment in renewable development needed to transition the 6th largest economy in the world to clean energy.

At Ivanpah, and over the five-year unsuccessful attempt to permit Palen as a CSP tower, battle lines were drawn — just between those who consider themselves environmentalists (and so are surely familiar with the threat of climate change) and supporters — over building renewable energy projects on public lands.

To the “tortoise huggers” in that skirmish, Big Solar was seen as no better than Big Oil. It is the “big” part that offends. Solar and wind are championed only as long as they remain forever the alternative countercultural alternative, never to win as a serious energy option to replace fossil fuel dependency on a civilization level.

To some of those on the crunchy Left, Clinton’s promise to ramp up solar from its current 20 GW to 140 GW is as scary as the previous century of fossil fuel hegemony. And on the Right, this split is being helped along by framing worthy of Frank Luntz:

The conservative writer John Bicknell writing in Roll Call frames the split in ways that suggests the split may have been helped along by Frank Luntz:

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, wants to “accelerate renewable energy project siting and development” on public lands, according to her campaign website. To that end, she has called for a “tenfold increase in renewable energy production on public lands and waters within ten years.”

For environmentalists more concerned about conserving public lands than bending to the crony capitalists profiting from climate-change disaster-mongering, that’s a declaration of war.

Images via Google images and SolarReserve

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Written By

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.


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