Green gains

Voters have finally made the environment an election issue, kicking polluters like Richard Pombo to the curb.

Topics: 2006 Elections, Environment,

Fist pumping, chest thumping and hallelujahs abounded this week at a press conference of top environmental strategists responding to the results of the Nov. 7 elections, which ushered in a Democratic Congress after 12 years of near-total GOP control.

“Let me be clear: The environment won last night!” Sierra Club political director Cathy Duvall exclaimed the next day. “Voters elected a greener U.S. House, a greener U.S. Senate, greener U.S. governors, and they gave a green light to a new energy future.”

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said, “This is the first election I can remember in U.S. history that has put such a specific focus on a top-priority environmental issue, which this year has been a clean-energy future.”

There’s no question that the environment played a central role in some high-profile victories. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — one of the few Republicans with anything to smile about on Tuesday — got a boost from signing into law the nation’s first mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions — and then coasted to victory over Democratic challenger Phil Angelides. “There’s certainly a case to be made that he owes his win to climate change,” said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Another Californian with decidedly less star power, Jerry McNerney (a Democrat), also has the environment to thank for his stunning victory over House Resources Committee chairman Richard Pombo (a Republican), who for 14 years represented the Golden State’s 11th Congressional District and rose to become one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. A no-name wind-energy engineer, McNerney made clean energy his signature issue and painted himself a zealous eco-warrior against the backdrop of Pombo’s relentless efforts to drill in sensitive natural areas, butcher the Endangered Species Act and open millions of acres of public lands to development. McNerney was helped mightily along the way by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife, which together poured more than $1.2 million into the race.



The new Democratic senator-elect from Montana, Jon Tester, beat out Republican environmental foe Conrad Burns with a similarly enthusiastic environmental platform. An organic farmer turned state senator, Tester centered much of his TV advertising on his plans to make Montana a stronghold of the new energy economy. As president of the state Senate, he pushed through a 2005 law requiring utilities in Montana to derive 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2015.

This same message also cropped up during the campaign of Missouri’s new Democratic senator-elect, Claire McCaskill, who ousted Republican Jim Talent, an avid proponent of oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And it was a theme in the gubernatorial races of Democrat Bill Ritter in Colorado, who beat out his drilling-happy Republican opponent Bob Beauprez, and Democrat Ted Strickland in Ohio, who walloped Republican Ken Blackwell with a campaign that included a promise to spend roughly $250 million on next-gen alternative-energy projects.

Of the nine candidates the LCV named to its list of “Environmental Champions,” eight were reelected. And of the 13 active candidates on the LCV’s “Dirty Dozen” list (someone’s got a bit of a counting problem), “we beat nine of them,” said the league’s Karpinski.

Said Sierra Club’s Duvall, “The striking thing isn’t just that the energy/environment issue played a decisive role in these races, it’s that it was used to bring an optimistic, inspirational message to an election year marked by lots of negative campaigning.”

But some political analysts believe environmentalists are going overboard with their optimistic claims of political relevance. “I really don’t think that energy or the environment played a defining role in this election,” Amy Walter, a senior editor with the Cook Political Report, told Muckraker. “It was ultimately a referendum on the president, the president’s party and the president’s war. It was a vote against the status quo rather than a vote for certain future goals. Does it mean that Democrats gave us a convincing blueprint for what they want to do with energy? No. Does it mean voters were saying we see a bright future in clean energy? No.”

Ana Unruh Cohen of the Center for American Progress also thinks “it’s a stretch to pin this election directly on environmental issues.”

Cohen noted, however, that one of the most common themes among Democratic campaigns was eliminating subsidies for Big Oil. “Democrats were looking to speak to middle-class voters, and one of the best ways of spotlighting Republicans’ favorable treatment of the wealthy is tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of America and oil subsidies for companies making record profits,” she said. She also pointed to a recent Pew Research Center poll that found voters connecting the dots between oil use and national security; 67 percent said decreasing America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East is a very important step in preventing terrorism. Said Cohen, “The environment was relevant in this election to the extent that it is inextricably connected to the issues that concerned voters most — national security and the economy.”

Whether or not environmentalists can legitimately take credit for any outcomes of the 2006 election, they have good reason to believe that the new political landscape will offer them some victories going forward. Soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has named energy independence as one of her top priorities for the 110th Congress, along with repealing subsidies for oil companies and pushing energy efficiency and alternative fuels. President Bush — perhaps trying to keep from getting steamrolled — is now trying to seize the initiative on energy independence himself.

Said Karpinski, “Any way you slice it, we’re looking at a tremendous growth of power among environmentally sympathetic leaders.”

Amanda Griscom Little is a columnist for Grist Magazine. Her articles on energy, technology and the environment have appeared in publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the New York Times Magazine.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>