Energy & the Environment

Have Republicans Moved So Far Right They Left Their Own Voters Behind?

This chart could blow your mind.
It's been true for many years that Democrats have an advantage among the electorate on most issues. Whether it's economics, or health care, or foreign policy, the position held by elected Democrats is usually (though not always) more popular than the one held by Republicans — sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. It's a tribute to Republicans' political dexterity that they've managed to win lots of elections despite this fact, in part because they've always understood that issues are only a part of how voters decide for whom to cast their votes. But a new Washington Post poll shows something qualitatively different. Instead of what we've come to expect—Republicans have the support of their voters, Democrats have the support of their voters, and they fight over the few independents in between—on a couple of extremely important issues, elected Republicans have gone so far to the right that they've left their own voters behind. With the important caveat that this is only one poll, I...

Maybe It's Time We Did Declare War On Coal

Wikimedia commons/U.S. Department of Interior
A look around at the reactions to today's administration announcement of new regulations to reduce carbon emissions shows about what you'd expect. Environmentalists are pleased, but think it doesn't go far enough . Conservatives are outraged . Across coal country, you can expect to hear cries that that this is just the latest salvo in Obama's "war on coal." The administration will respond that it isn't waging war on coal, because under these regulations states will have the flexibility to achieve emissions reductions in a variety of ways. But you know what? Maybe it's time we did wage war on coal. The stuff is a menace. OK, I'm joking—kind of. What I mean, though, is that it might be clarifying if we decided that we're going to mobilize our resources and ingenuity to rid ourselves of this scourge upon the earth--to actually say not just that we're going to enhance other forms of energy, but that our goal is to get to the point, no matter how long it takes, where our use of coal drops...

How Conservatives Will React to Obama's New Climate Regulations

A mountaintop removal mine in Virginia. (Flickr/Universal Pops)
President Obama is set to announce new rules for carbon emissions today, and what we'll see is a familiar pattern. The administration decides to confront one of the most profound challenges we face. It bends over backward to accommodate the concerns of its opponents, shaping the policy to achieve the goal in ways that Republicans might find palatable. Then not only are its efforts to win support from the other side fruitless, the opposition is so vituperative that it veers into self-parody. That's what happened with the Affordable Care Act; not only was the law not "socialism" as Republicans charged, it was about as far from socialism as you could get and still achieve universal coverage. It involved getting as many people as possible into private insurance plans, where they could see private medical providers. But Republicans who had previously embraced similar market-based ideas decided that once Obama poisoned them with his support, they were were now the height of statist...

The Brothers Koch: Family Drama and Disdain for Democracy

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes N ot long ago, a pal of mine asked whether I’d heard the latest scoop about Charles and David Koch, the right-wing billionaires currently overseeing capitalism’s final solution to the democracy problem. Did I know—did I know!?—their grandmother had been none other than Ilse Koch, the human-lampshade-loving wife of Buchenwald’s commandant? Cazart, as Hunter S. Thompson used to say. Overseeing final solutions just runs in the family. My friend looked distinctly chagrined when I told her it wasn’t so. Like many liberal Americans, she hates the Kochs so much that no calumny strikes her as too far-fetched. But as it happened, I was midway through Daniel Schulman’s first-rate Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty , and I felt reasonably sure that Schulman wasn’t saving Ilse and her apocryphal lampshades for a Harry Potter gotcha toward the end. Considering that Charles and David are worth more than $80 billion...

Meet the Doctor Who Went to Jail to Save North Carolina Lives

There is right, and there is wrong. And having to watch patients die because legislators refused the administration's Medicaid expansion—that's just wrong, says physician Charlie van der Horst.

@JennyWarburg
Next month in Raleigh, North Carolina, physician Charlie van der Horst is scheduled to appear before a Superior Court judge and jury to appeal his second-degree trespassing conviction stemming from his participation in the Moral Monday protests that filled the state legislature building last year. Van der Horst, an internationally recognized AIDS researcher and professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, joined 28 other activists who occupied the legislative building on May 6, 2013, disobeying a police order to disperse. They were among 945 people arrested last year during twelve demonstrations. North Carolina’s Republican legislative majority has cut education funding, curtailed abortion access, and created new barriers to voting. While all those measures have offended van der Horst, his deepest concern as a doctor has been the legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In this three-minute excerpt from...

Moral Monday Movement Gears Up for Round Two

2013 ©Jenny Warburg
©Jenny Warburg Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina conference of the NAACP, leads a Moral Monday protest in Raleigh, N.C., in 2013. This article has been corrected. O n Wednesday afternoon, the North Carolina legislature will open its 2014 session. It will be hard for the Republican majority to top last year’s performance, which shattered the final vestiges of the state’s 50-year reputation for moderate governance. With the help of newly elected GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, lawmakers in 2013 slashed both public education and unemployment benefits. They rejected an expansion of Medicaid, paid for almost entirely by the federal government, that would have covered at least 300,000 low-income North Carolinians. They cut corporate taxes and eliminated the earned-income credit for low-wage workers. And they rewrote the state’s election laws in a way that will make registration and voting harder, particularly for African-American, blue-collar, and younger voters. They might have...

Tracing the Republican Evolution on Climate Change

This played an unusually important role.
Over at the Washington Post today, I ran down where all the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates stand on climate change, on the occasion of Marco Rubio's foray into denialism . Unlike in 2012, where one candidate after another had to renounce his previous belief both that climate change was occurring and that cap and trade would be a good way to deal with it, this time almost all the candidates (with the exception of Chris Christie) have comforting histories of denialism, in one variant or another. But even though climate denial now seems mandatory for GOP presidential candidates, if you look at public opinion, there's actually nothing approaching a consensus among Republican voters. And there has been a shift over time; Republicans are actually slowly growing more willing to accept the reality of climate change. Look at this graph from the Pew Research Center : Between 2006 and 2009, the number of both Republicans and independents believing there was solid evidence for...

Daily Meme: It Ain't Easy Being a Koch

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
Pity the poor Koch brothers. All Charles and David want to do is make America safe for good, old-fashioned, Wild West capitalism. But somehow, they seem to be teeing everybody off—left and right. Plus, it's so doggone pricey to buy control of the federal government these days! The K-Bros dished out $400 million to defeat President Obama in 2012, all for naught. According to an Americans for Prosperity memo that fell into the hands of Politico , they learned a startling lesson from the effort: “If the presidential election told us anything, it’s that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak." Who knew!?! So now, as they prepare to spend $125 million to buy Congress this year, the memo says the Kochs are softening their message so people don't get the wrong idea : "We consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy—and its advocates—benefit the rich and powerful more than the most vulnerable of...

The Best Way to Deal With Putin? Take It Slow

AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service
(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service) Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on Thursday, April 17, 2014. “A nd then, in an instant, everything changed forever.” It’s one of the great clichés of literature and public policy. Not only overused, it’s often deployed in an overly-deterministic way: “9/11 changed everything.” Well, no it didn’t, at least not until officials acted as if it did, and then decided to change everything: torturing innocent people, building black site prisons, starting (and failing to win) two wars, collecting information on everyone’s phone calls. Sometimes, though, U.S. foreign policy discourse has the opposite problem: Failing to absorb change, it continues to move its legs in mid-air, like Wile E. Coyote, without never looking down to notice that it’s already gone over the cliff. That’s where we are right now with Russia. Putin-huggers and old Cold Warriors...

Where the Wild Things Are

AP Images/Google
P icture a perfect Southwestern day: The air as clear as gin, the bright blue sky marked only by a few stray clouds. In this spot, the waters of the Colorado River are placid, cool green, with none of the muddy brown foam found in the rapids that, over millennia, have carved out the Grand Canyon. Redwall limestone cliffs stretch high above. They’re streaked with desert varnish—the stain left by manganese seeps—and lightly colored with the aquamarine of lichen. Eons of the planet’s history are visible from here, whole epochs rendered in the span of a few thousand vertical feet. It’s an awesome sight. Then I move my mouse over the river surface and click on a small circle of white in the water. The scene swirls in fast-forward, and I continue my trip downriver. I’ve never rafted the Colorado River through the bottom of the Grand Canyon. My “experience” through that wonder of the world came courtesy of Google Treks, the information company’s effort to extend its popular Street View...

Hurray for Global Warming!

Flickr/chiz2008
Flickr/chiz2008 T he take-away from the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report could hardly be more stark: The globe is warming, and it’s already impacting every continent and the oceans. In order to avoid widespread food and water insecurity, waves of human migration, more frequent civil war, ocean acidification, and a severe global economic contraction, governments must act quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in things like barriers to protect from rising seal levels and storm surges to setting up insurance schemes to cover agricultural losses during severe drought. “No matter what we do,” says Christopher B. Field, a professor of interdisciplinary environmental studies at Stanford University and one of the report’s authors, “we are already going to have impacts that we need to adjust to.” Among the more surprising findings of the IPCC report, which took into account more than 12,000 scientific papers and received upwards of 50,000...

No, Fracking Is Not Making the U.S. More Secure

AP Images/Brennan Linsley
AP Images/Brennan Linsley W hen it rains, it pours, so they say, but pouring rain is not exactly what you want in a drought. The big storm that hit the parched American Southwest at the end of February only scratched the surface of the problem. The land is far too dry and hard-packed to absorb the deluge; instead of recharging the earth, much of the water bounced off the dirt, turning into wasted runoff and even flash floods. These dry lands are dryer than they would otherwise be because of global warming-driven climate change . As it turns out, its not just the burning of oil, gas, and coal that's accelerating the loss of available freshwater, but also the drilling for two of the fuels themselves. A report by Ceres, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainability, found that almost half of the wells that were dug between January 2011 and May 2013 to hydraulically fracture (or "frack") shale rock to extract natural gas and "tight" oil were located in regions with "high or...

Can We Make Environmentalism a Centrist Issue?

Flickr/Manos Simonides
Flickr/Manos Simonides F or decades, thinkers on the left have wondered why the working class regularly votes against its own interests, upending what Marx believed would be an inevitable march from democracy to socialism. In his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? , Thomas Frank argued that social issues obscure economic motives, and indeed the most salient non-economic one has always been race, at least in this country. In America, conservative politicians have exploited racism to their own benefit, first to disempower blacks with Jim Crow, then to undermine the union movement, and more recently to undercut support for welfare programs, as Ian Haney Lopez recently documented in Dog-Whistle Politics . Nixon’s “law and order campaign” played on racial fears, as did Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens.” Republicans played at race to win solid majorities for decades while actively working against the interests of the majority of Americans. The left has much to learn about this...

Sauce For the Gander

Liberal hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. (Stuart Isett/Fortune Live Media/Flickr)
Today's New York Times has a story about Tom Steyer, a retired hedge fund billionaire who is planning to spend $100 million ($50 million of his own, and $50 million of other people's) in the 2014 election to support action on climate change, which in practice means electing Democrats. That would put Steyer in the big leagues, though not at the top—the network of donors established by Charles and David Koch spent at least $400 million in 2012—and it raises the question of how liberals should feel about this kind of thing. If you believe that Citizens United has been a disaster for democracy, and spectacularly wealthy people shouldn't be able to swoop in to a House or Senate race with zillions of dollars and change the outcome from what it otherwise would be, then should you be bothered? Some conservatives will naturally charge liberals with hypocrisy for being pleased about Steyer's efforts, like this: Fair enough. But in practical terms, Citizens United is the law of the land, and...

The Conversation: Elizabeth Kolbert and Bill McKibben

AP Images/Kike Calvo
F ive great extinctions have occurred in the history of Earth. Now, in The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History , journalist Elizabeth Kolbert eulogizes the decline of a handful of species and makes the case that a new mass die-off is under way. Industrial processes that pump carbon dioxide into the ocean are making life untenable for the thousands of plants and creatures that live in its depths, especially the vast but fragile coral reefs. Whole populations of bats in the northeastern United States have been decimated by a fungus brought to New England by an unsuspecting European traveler. The great auk, an extinct bird, suffered its last stand on an Icelandic island after being relentlessly hunted for just a few decades. By the end of the 21st century, scientists estimate that half of the world’s biodiversity will be gone. This extermination, which has the potential to be the most cataclysmic, is almost entirely driven by humans. The beginning of the sixth extinction coincided...

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