How the seeds of a green Republican mutiny can trigger US climate action

By John Parnell

The last ticker tape had barely hit the ground when re-elected President Obama was receiving his first advice from the Twittersphere on what to do about the climate.

While nobody should set their expectations too high for an about turn at the next round of the UN talks in Doha, there are already signs in US cities, local governments and businesses that the risks posed by climate change require attention.

The impact of Superstorm Sandy on Obama’s election surge might suggest that voters are getting the point as well. So what will it take to translate this to the UN climate negotiations?

The US is at the forefront of clean energy research and the Democrat-led Senate now needs just five Republican backers for a majority on climate action. (Source: Flickr/USDAgov)

The US is often painted as the villain of the UN climate change negotiations and sure enough, the State Department’s stance has been pretty immovable in recent years.

It has always said that until big emerging economies, specifically China, are forced to make greenhouse gas cuts, it won’t either.

Some might praise this position as a robust defence of the county’s interests, which it is. Others might say it is a reckless game of chicken with two massive economies on collision course for climate disaster.

Regardless of what’s happening at the international level, there is plenty for environmentalists in the US to be proud of. The focus for them is always on the present campaign (shale gas and tar sands) but it’s worth looking at what they, and any other citizens concerned about energy and food security, disaster preparedness and ultimately the economy, can be cheerful about.

When you consider the regional climate action and the US position at the international climate talks, it is hard to imagine that they belong to the same country.

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What a difference a storm makes

The constricted space its senior climate change negotiators, Todd Stern and Jonathan Pershing, operate within is a symptom of the perceived attitudes to climate change back home and the balance of power in Congress.

Superstorm Sandy triggered widescale reflection on climate change among the US public. The lack of ambiguity in the election result and a taciturn nod of approval for climate action from voters, could be enough for the States to mirror its domestic action more accurately with new found urgency at the climate talks.

With Republicans in control of Congress and the Democratic majority at the Senate too slim to force through legislation, US climate action continues to rely not on President Obama’s party but with Republicans.

Each state has two senators, sometimes from the same party, some states are split. Climate vulnerable states with senators from each party such as Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina, could provide a source of additional support for stronger climate action; if voters want it. States with strong renewable energy industries, such as Iowa, could be added to that list.

The Republican senators of the four states above, plus the green-friendly independent Angus King in Maine, would leave the Democrats one ally short of the 60 votes it needs in the senate for the magic three-fifths majority. Sadly, Florida’s Senator Rubio is a climate change denier.

There are at least two movements in the Republican party that already show there is an appetite in the sections of the GOP, young and old, that would already lean in the direction of positive action on climate change.

There is a route to stronger US climate action but it needs bipartisan support and that will only come with a domestic groundswell of support for clean energy, a low carbon economy and disaster resilience. The seeds of that support have already been sown.

Five reasons to be cheerful about US climate action…

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