Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fighting Fossil Fuels Is Good Foreign Policy, And Good Politics

In the world as it was before the ISIS attacks on Paris, a great deal of attention was paid in the press to the outcome of Kentucky's gubernatorial election.  The Republican candidate, who had appeared to be doing no better than break-even in the pre-election polls, won by a decisive margin against a Democratic opponent and an independent candidate.  In a state that frequently sends Democrats to state-wide offices despite its tendency to "go red" in Federal elections (hello, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul), this was treated as a major upset, and yet another harbinger of a bleak electoral future for Democrats in the South.

I'm not so sure the Kentucky election is as much about the electoral future of the South as it is about the electoral future of the "coal belt," which includes not only Kentucky, but also West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  Those four states will have a combined 51 electoral votes in the 2016 presidential election--and the latter two are considered to be "swing states," historically and more recently as well.  They also have 43 congressional districts, enough to tip the balance with regard to control the House of Representatives.  So both parties have a major stake in appealing to voters in those states.

Much has been made of the tendency of voters in these states to vote for the GOP largely because of social issues.  But I'm not so sure that social issues are what really tip the political balance.  After all, the voters of these states have always held fairly traditional views on social issues--and, despite that fact, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when they frequently sent Democrats to govern at all levels.  It's worth remembering, however, that, in that not-too-distant past, Democrats were much more courageous in engaging voters on economic issues.  That was how, starting with the New Deal, Democrats became the nation's majority party in the first place--asserting itself as the party of economic opportunity for all.

When it comes to the "coal belt," however, and other states whose local economies are heavily dependent on the production of fossil fuels, the Democratic Party has paid a steep price for its commitment to protecting the environment, and especially its commitment to climate change. Voters whose economic livelihood depend directly and indirectly on "dirty energy" are not going to be impressed with a commitment to an issue that provides them with no immediate benefits and the prospect of a long-term loss of their financial way of life.  Even someone as "green" as I am gets the power of that political reality.

But there are two ways by which Democrats can go after those voters and recapture the loyalty of voters in not only the "coal belt," but all of the dirty-energy states.  Actually, it's one way--but there are two compelling reasons for Democrats to pursue it, and for voters everywhere to accept it.

ISIS is the first reason.  Its existence and power, both politically and militarily, is completely dependent on oil.  In that regard, it is no different than al-Queda, or any of the Islamic terrorist groups that have defined national and international politics in this century.  No armies, no navies, no aerial assault will stop what are basically guerrilla organizations that coalesce and vanish at the drop of a hat--but like conventional armed forces, they need money, and they depend 100% on oil. And, as long as our economy depends as much as it currently depends on oil, ISIS will always have a lifeline from us to condemn all of us randomly to death.

And the second reason?  The simple fact that fossil fuels are not an unlimited source of energy. Even with the advent of modern drilling techniques, like "fracking," and leaving aside the real dangers of those methods (hello, earthquakes), we will run out of oil, coal, and natural gas one day.  And present rates of consumption mean that many of us may be alive when that day comes. Anti-environment politicians like to talk about the alleged economic costs of environmental measures. They rarely talk about whether it's possible to have an economy without an environment.  Probably for a very simple reason:  even they know that it isn't possible.

Which is why Democrats need to embrace their inner solar panels and windmills, go into dirty-energy states fearlessly, and talk up the foreign policy benefits and the economic benefits of alternative energy.  Never mind telling the voters about the environmental benefits; most of them simply do not care, even though they should care.  But the benefits with regard to issues they do care about--peace and prosperity--are real, and spectacular, and it's time to stop hiding them under a bushel.

Get going, Democrats.  Hillary Clinton gets it.  The rest of you need to do so, too.

No comments: