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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Tsunami Politics in Kansas

The red vs. blue debate on climate is not enough

Author: Trevor Quirk/Wednesday, November 12, 2014/Categories: sustainability, environment, climate change

It appears that the 2014 Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was lost in the media din over the U.S. midterms. Not that the IPCC’s 5th report — which might be the last the organization issues — deviated all that much from its previous keynotes regarding the climate crisis: inarguable evidence of anthropogenic contribution; likely horrific global consequences; and an ever-narrowing window for action. That this description of our world has become a platitude seems surreal; a surreality that only intensifies at the level of politics in states like Kansas.

Backlit by the IPCC’s ominous reports, the EPA proposed a modest rule in June that would require states to cut carbon emissions from their power sectors by 30 percent (relative to 2005 levels), parcel of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Predictably, government officials of states that relied on energy sources like natural gas and coal — such as Kansas, which derives roughly 60 percent of its power from coal-fired plants and is also home to Koch Industries — opposed the rule.

In the final days of Kansas’ toss-up gubernatorial race, incumbent Sam Brownback (R) attempted to associate his opponent, centrist Democrat Paul Davis, with the unpopular EPA rule by claiming Davis, once elected, would not fight the regulation, which is set to take effect in 2015.  This move was part of Brownback’s rehabilitative campaign after his “real live experiment” in conservative economics was widely reported to be catastrophic for the state. In fact, Brownback’s political image was so damaged by his own policies that his Democratic opponent received over 100 endorsements from current and former Republican officials. Brownback’s administration also consented to the construction of a $2.8 billion coal-fired plant in Holcomb this past June, according to the AP.  This, despite Kansas’ well-documented and enormous potential for wind energy.

More depressing and instructive, though, was Davis’s response to Brownback’s allegations. According to another AP report, Davis, instead of invoking the seriousness of the climate crisis, echoed Brownback’s position on the new EPA rule. The EPA is “shoving these rules down our throats,” Davis told the AP. The AP reporter aptly added that Davis’ comments “came a day after the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, asked the EPA to withdraw its proposed rule…” Regarding the EPA’s new regulations, Davis had previously stated that he would seek a “meaningful conversation” with the agency and federal government.

We will never discover what a “meaningful conversation” would have entailed. Sam Brownback retained his gubernatorial seat November 4th. But the mealy-mouthed environmental “debate” that preceded his victory is yet another example of our political system’s lacking reaction to the looming crisis that the IPCC has now exhaustively described. It’s not exactly the pinnacle of rationality to haggle with a regulatory plan — as Davis indicated he would — that many scientists have criticized for not being strict enough. A similar absurdity occurred just before the 2008 financial crisis (which is, incredibly, less serious than the environmental one), when Christine LaGarde, then France’s Finance Minister, reportedly warned Secretary Hank Paulson: “There’s a tsunami coming our way, Hank, and you’re on the beach hesitating over what color bathing suit we should wear!”

Credit: Jon Kudelka


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