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Just How Bad Were the Midterms for Climate and the Environment?

Nobody was expecting the midterm elections to be good for the climate and clean energy cause. And they certainly were not.

Nobody was expecting the midterm elections to be good for the climate and clean energy cause. And they certainly were not.

But how much we can actually learn about the American public's demand for climate action from yesterday's elections isn't all that clear.


Two highly publicized races tell one version of the story. The Virginia Democrat, Rick Boucher, who stood behind his vote for the cap-and-trade bill lost. Meanwhile, the Democratic Senate candidate, Joe Manchin, who literally put a bullet through cap-and-trade in an ad (see below), won in West Virginia.

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Following that narrative, Politico is calling it a "day of reckoning" for House democrats, noting that "more than two dozen members who voted for the Pelosi-led climate bill" lost their seats.

Not so fast, writes Christopher Mims. "While more than two dozen incumbents who voted for the climate bill lost their seats, even more Democrats who voted against the climate bill lost theirs."

I agree with Mims that the results are no real referendum on the climate bill. The vast majority of Americans were voting the economy, jobs, and general displeasure with the Washington status quo. Not a wonky energy bill.

That's not to say that these elections don't matter for energy and climate issues. In January, a rush of politicians who actively deny the legitimacy of climate science will flood into Congress. (Grist has a startling rundown.) We knew cap-and-trade was dead already, but any chance for an economy-wide protection against climate pollution is now definitely a non-starter, and even Obama's promised "clean energy in chunks" method is likely to be an uphill battle.

What's more, as Andy Revkin noted on Dot Earth yesterday, with Republicans now in charge of the House, climate science—and climate scientists—are going to be repeatedly put on trial in Congressional hearings. "Prepare for a new round of politicized skirmishes in the never-ending climate wars, with the battleground shifting once again to Capitol Hill hearing rooms," Revkin writes.

Is it possible that's a good thing? Towards the bottom of Revkin's post, you'll see that some climate scientists, like Mike Roddy, have a "bring it on" attitude. Roddy writes, "I can’t wait to see televised hearings, showing people like Michael Mann and James Hansen pitted against Issa and Inhofe. Even the average American will be able to figure out who actually knows what he’s talking about if this happens."

Perhaps, but it could resemble a witch hunt more than a science lesson. Still, my most optimistic take is that maybe this newfound "interest" in climate science will wind up ultimately being a game-changer in American climate politics. Maybe the Joe Barton's and Darrell Issa's and James Inhofe's won't ever be swayed from their ideologically-deep rooted stances, but I still hold out hope that plenty of moderate, science-adhering Republicans could.

Around the world, even the most staunchly conservative politicians acknowledge scientific reality. Ours can't lag that absurdly far behind forever. Can they?

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