November 8, 2010 at 10:56AM
by Jim DiPeso
OK, I got one wrong in my election predictions posted on The Daily Green last weekend. I predicted that Rhode Island voters would support a ballot measure to drop "Providence Plantations" from the state's official name and go with plain old "Rhode Island."
They didn't. Good for them. Rhode Islanders elected to hold onto Rhode Island's historical heritage.
Three thousand miles away, Californians looked to the future and dumped Proposition 23 into the shredder. Therein lies a critical lesson for supporters of climate stewardship regrouping in the wake of an entirely unsatisfactory 111th Congress and an election outcome that seemed to worsen the polarization of climate change along partisan and ideological fractures.
If ever there was a time for the fossil fuel incumbents to throttle carbon pollution limits in their cradle, this was the time. California is an economic mess - 12-plus percent unemployment, foreclosures trashing the housing market, and a gloomy sense that the state which built huge public works and one of the world's great university systems can't hack it anymore, like an aging pitcher who has lost his fastball.
Proposition 23's message was simple. The state's climate law, AB 32, and its carbon emissions cap will kill jobs and kick the state's economy while it's down. With plenty of Texas oil money to spend, the Prop. 23 campaign to kill the law might have cruised.
It didn't. The supporters of AB 32 turned the tables with a powerful economic message of their own. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, high-powered Silicon Valley business leaders, and former Reagan administration Secretary of State George Shultz successfully communicated a strong, trans-partisan message that clean energy jobs and industries will lead California's economic revival.
That's not all. Schwarzenegger went on a rhetorical tear to push back hard against the special interests funding Proposition 23. Unlike President Obama, who never made clear what he wanted in federal climate policy and did not confront climate legislation opponents in Congress, Schwarzenegger defined his adversaries with bold strokes. He painted bright lines for the voters -- on this side, clean energy and prosperity; on that side, pollution and greed.
It will take some time to get the politics and policy right in order to have another go at a climate bill. California's experience shows what's possible.
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