Taking the Climate Fight to the States

Ideas and Issues

February 6, 2021

New Orleans  In the latest issue of Social Policy, we asked a gang of folks to make suggestions for the incoming Biden administration.  Perhaps the item most often mentioned by one and all was climate change and the need to address global warming aggressively. Receiving a recent bulletin from Environment America, led me to talk at some length on Wade’s World with Wendy Wendlandt, its acting president.

Bless her heart, Wendlandt managed to stay upbeat and positive throughout our conversation, but every once in a while, she did have to remind us that we were facing imminent, world crushing catastrophe. Of course, there’s always that when we’re talking about our climate crisis, and the tragically leading role the United States has been playing in decades of denial. Certainly, that was true of the Trump administration, as she noted, while warning that despite the encouraging promises of the Biden administration, it would not be enough just to go back to where Obama had ended. More is needed now.

Environment America believes that it starts with ending the $40 billion dollars in subsidies to the oil and gas industry. Interestingly, Wendy didn’t just label the subsidy as a rip-off, as many have, and conceded that there might have been a day many decades ago when the industry was in its infancy when the subsidies were justified in jumpstarting a new industry and technology, but that day has long passed.         These legacies subsidies would better be spent to accelerate alternate energy production, especially solar and wind.         When I asked where she saw real progress in this area, even among red states, she cited work in Texas as encouraging, but quickly raised the work in California, and even Pennsylvania, both fossil fuel resourced states as the leaders. Having worked in this area for years, she noted the progress over more than twenty years in California where they had blown past earlier goals.         Now 2035 is the measure there.

That’s also the year that GM has announced that it will cease selling new gas-powered vehicles, which led us into that conversation.  She noted how Toyota had been the leader and stalled, so she was hopeful this time would be different. From what she said, rumors of GM’s action and drafts of their announcement may have been circulating in the environmental community as early as last November, so other automakers shouldn’t have been surprised, since the rumors were everywhere.

I asked her if rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement would matter. She was diplomatic, but her real argument is that the fight needs to be waged state by state in the US. She was encouraged by the surge of activism from PIRG student groups that are part of their family of organizations. She also felt that the divestment fight heralded by Bill McKibben and 350.org were important to bring to the state level, no matter how red. Norway, a huge oil producer, divested fossil fuels from its sovereign wealth fund, so why couldn’t Louisiana, Texas, and many other states here do the same.

Wendlandt was adamant that there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done, and done PDQ, but was no Cassandra. Over and over, she pointed out the paths where progress could be made if everyone buckled down and got to it. Sounds like a plan!