What Does the High Profile of Environmental Issues in this Election Mean for the Future?

Environmental issues have been surprisingly visible in this campaign – nearly every Senate candidate gives them prominent attention.  The New York Times reports that they are also the third most common topic for political ads in this cycle.  The evidence they report shows, not surprisingly, that coal and oil are big issues in key states: Kentucky and West Virginia for coal; Alaska and Louisiana for oil.  But energy and environment are also big concerns in other states such as Michigan and Colorado where views seem more divided.  What are the implications of this?

For the short-term, it means that Republicans have staked a lot on their anti-EPA positions.  If they win control of the Senate, which seems likely, they will undoubtedly be under pressure to deliver something in this area.  The problem is that they won’t have a filibuster-proof majority on most (if not all) of these issues, they certainly won’t have a veto-proof majority. So passing legislation means getting enough votes in the Senate — which requires participation by moderates just to get a majority and by some Democrats to beat a filibuster — while at the same time keeping House conservatives on board.  Then there’s the problem of facing down veto threats by Obama and getting him to sign the legislation.  If he wants to hang tough, even “must pass” legislation could get sent back to Congress with demands that Republicans pass a “clean” bill with no riders. Maybe Republicans can score some points, at least with the base, even if bills get vetoed, but they won’t have much to show for two years of congressional control if that’s all they do. A tricky hand to play.

A more important question, probably, is how things will play out in the 2016 election.  The blizzard of ads are financed in large part by independent sources like Tom Steyer and the Koch brothers.  They’re just warming up for 2016.  The electoral effects in 2016 are hard to predict but could as easily favor the Democrats as the Republicans, given the generally more centrist electorate during Presidential elections.  The Republicans could end up looking out of the mainstream if they’re not careful. — a perennial problem for a party whose base’s passionate views differ significantly from the median voter’s.

A less immediate question is the long-term effects of heightening the profile of environmental issues.  This may not be a great thing from the GOP point of view, since younger voters tend to be more pro-environment.  According to a recent Gallop poll, Americans over 65 strongly prioritize economic growth over environmental protection, but people under 30 lean the other way. The younger voters aren’t necessarily a huge factor now but as they grow older they vote more.  To the extent that they identify the Republicans with hostility toward the environment, this could hurt the Party in the long-run.  But that’s several election cycles from now at the earliest.

Putting aside the partisan aspects, raising the political profile of these issues seems like a good thing.  One thing both sides can agree on is that these issues are really important for the future.  So it’s a good thing for voters to have them in mind.

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Reader Comments

9 Replies to “What Does the High Profile of Environmental Issues in this Election Mean for the Future?”

  1. Dear Dan,
    We deniers expect our Republican leaders to move quickly to forestall the Obama Administration’s proposed GHG rules and then slowly dismantle this proposal altogether (without much resistance from the President). Likewise, the EPA’s proposed regulations that expand Clean Water Act jurisdiction will probably be put on hold and die slowly.

    More importantly, we hope for quick relief from the fraudulent waste of our tax dollars on bogus climate mitigation scams. Republicans do not bode well for Attorneys who practice climate law (environmental attorneys).

    Now is the time to put this morass behind us and move on to more important things in life. Let’s be friends and not worry so much.

  2. Dan, it appears that Republican propaganda is winning, and the Human Race is losing.

    If academics don’t join together to fight for the Human Race soon, the tipping point for our civilization shall most certainly topple.

    1. Dear Anthony,
      Don’t be silly, there is nothing that “academics” can do to save the Human Race. You may be able to save your soul if you turn to God, but no one can save humanity from that dreadful day of judgement when “the tipping point for our civilization shall most certainly topple.”

      1. BQRQ, history proves you are most probably correct, our two most famous historians Will and Ariel Durant concluded after many decades or research that “When the group or a civilization declines, it is through no mystic limitation of a corporate life, but through the failure of its political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenges of change.”

        Our political and intellectual failures to “meet the challenges of change” today are worse than ever before. And with out of control climate changes and acts of violence we are already experiencing, the consequences are already becoming catastrophic.

  3. Well Dan, the final volume of the UN Climate Change Report was released today and it has unacceptably grim
    predictions for our newest generations well before the end of this century.

    Do you think we can herd academic cats together at last to educate, motivate and lead the public in protecting the future from the unlivable consequences we are producing today, or have Homo sapiens proven beyond all doubt that we are destroying yet another civilization the hard way?

    1. Anthony asked;
      “…..Do you think we can herd academic cats together at last to educate, motivate and lead the public in protecting the future from the unlivable consequences we are producing today….”

      Dear Anthony;
      Global oil consumption continues to climb and now approaches 100 million barrels/day. Fossil fuels are pumping billions of tons of new carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere every year and will continue to do so for many years into the future.

      Realistically, there is nothing that can be done to reverse or even slow the growth of carbon dioxide emissions, especially now that oil and gas is plentiful and cheap. Given this grim reality, anyone who is seriously worried about carbon dioxide emissions may need medication to cope with anxiety and fear of impending doom.

      Remember this – no one knows for sure what will happen in this world after they die. So why worry about it? It is far more profitable to worry about what happens to your soul after you die (because we are able to effect the outcome). Climate dogma is a grave fallacy which diverts our attention away from what matters most.

      1. BQRQ, if you are young enough, you shall most certainly experience the most inconvenient truth of all the hard way. I wish it weren’t true, so right now I pray that intellectuals of the world, like Dan Farber and his UC colleagues, will do the right thing with the required sense of urgency to protect our civilization from an unacceptable future for our children.

        1. Anthony said;
          “…… I pray that intellectuals of the world, like Dan Farber and his UC colleagues, will do the right thing….”

          Dear Anthony,
          Please lighten-up on Dan. He and his UC colleagues have been trying for years to protect our civilization from an unacceptable future. It is not their fault that the message has not been enthusiastically received.

          The California Environmental Bar knows that it cannot reasonably expect to protect civilization when ordinary citizens vote against its best efforts. Dan and his colleagues have struggled for years and by now they should realize that it’s time to move along and focus on other environmental issues like plastic shopping bags and genetically modified food.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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