However, the results in this month's elections underscored the political stalemate that has blocked a federal response to the growing threat.
On the one hand, the Democrats, mostly committed to action against climate change, regained a majority in the House of Representatives and regained control of several governorships and state legislatures. They achieved those gains in large part by expanding their support in well-educated suburbs where more voters tend to express concern about climate change. The increasing inclination of their group in these suburban areas could even make it easier for the party to reach a consensus for action than in 2009, when the Democratic majority of the House of Representatives passed the "cap and trade" climate legislation. "which markedly divided the urban liberals from the rural and ex-urban ones. moderate
But at the same time, Republicans this month expanded their control over seats in the Senate of the states with the greatest investment in the existing fossil fuel economy, both as energy producers and as consumers. With their power reinforced by the filibuster rule that allows 41 senators to block any bill, those high-carbon states now constitute a seemingly impenetrable brown barricade against federal legislation to reduce carbon emissions related to climate change. Those same states have provided the core of the Electoral College's support to President Donald Trump, who said on Monday he does not believe in the report on climate change and has moved systematically to rescind the regulatory initiatives of former President Barack Obama to reduce carbon emissions.
These divergent electoral trends frame the likelihood that, even when the scientific consensus solidifies on the dangers of climate change, the political system of the United States will be further divided in its response.
But in the Senate, where the Republican majority focuses on the states that emit the most carbon, there does not seem to be any possibility of action. A succession of Republican senators responded to the successful federal report last weekend, which amounted to a shrug of dismissal. And the Trump administration effectively rejected the report, which was the product of a massive federal inter-institutional effort.
Energy use patterns reinforce the general trend of US policy over the last quarter of a century towards a demographic and geographic overlap of the coalitions of the two parties. In every corner of the country, Democrats now function better in metropolitan areas that are experiencing high levels of demographic and cultural change and are moving faster in the transition to a digital economy of the information age. Simultaneously, Republicans have been consolidating their dominance in non-metropolitan areas that remain predominantly white, traditionally religious and cultural, and more rooted in the dominant industries of the twentieth century, energy production and agriculture.
The carbon division
That pattern is especially important in the Senate, where the two senators per state government magnify the influence of smaller rural states, which include many of the nation's largest energy producers.
Then, in the election, the Republicans ousted three of the Democrats in that short list: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota (ranked second), Joe Donnelly in Indiana (ranked 10th) and Claire McCaskill in Missouri (ranked 18th). ). The only remaining Democratic senators from these 20 high-carbon states are Joe Manchin and Jon Tester, who won tough re-election campaigns in West Virginia and Montana, respectively; Doug Jones, who faces re-election in Alabama in 2020; and Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich in New Mexico.
In a mirror image, before the election, the Democrats controlled 32 of the 40 Senate seats in the 20 largely coastal states that emit the least amount of carbon per dollar of economic output. Those numbers did not change in November, as the Democrats won a seat in the Senate from these states with less carbon emissions (in Nevada) while delivering to another (in Florida). After the election, as before, Democrats control the 28 Senate seats in the 14 states that emit the absolute lowest amount of carbon per dollar of economic output, a list headed by New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Maryland, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island.
Democrats also won a seat in the Senate (in Arizona) from the 10 states that rank 21st to 30th in carbon emissions per dollar of economic output. Perhaps even more important for the game, four Democratic incumbents from these states who seemed vulnerable after 2016 won re-election: Senators Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. The two parties now divide the 20 Senate seats of these mid-level states exactly in half.
The Electoral College follows to a large extent these same lines. In 2016, Trump won 19 of the 20 states that emit the highest carbon activity per dollar in economic activity (with New Mexico as the only exception). His Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, won 16 of the 20 states that emit the least amount of carbon (with Georgia, Idaho, Florida and North Carolina as exceptions.) Trump won the seven states that ranged from 21 to 27 in broadcasts per dollar of economic activity, while Clinton led the three states that were located from 28 to 30.
By 2020, the three states that Democrats hope to recover from Trump are in that middle group: Michigan (22), Wisconsin (23) and Pennsylvania (24). The other main objectives of the party are to turn the cluster towards the end of the list, including Florida, North Carolina and possibly Georgia; among the high-emission states, only Iowa, Ohio (21) and perhaps Texas attract a lot of Democratic interest in 2020, and none of them is a guaranteed target.
There are no cracks in the brown block.
Despite their urban-rural division, Democrats passed a "cap and trade" bill to limit carbon emissions in 2009, the last time they controlled the House. But that bill could not advance in the Senate, and Republicans have rejected action on the issue since they regained a majority in the House in 2011.
Regardless of what the majority of the Democratic House does now, it is almost certain that Washington will not act on climate issues, while Trump, who has sometimes called climate change "deception," holds the White House. But even if Democrats can expel Trump in 2020, the high-carbon blockade in the Senate presents itself as a permanent challenge for any federal legislation to tackle climate change, such as a "cap and trade" program, a tax about such pollution or federal requirements. in the states to generate more of their power from renewable clean energy sources.
Only the 35 Senate seats that Republicans now control in the 20 states that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic output, combined with their six states that rank 21-26 on that list, would be enough to sustain a filibuster against climate legislation. These higher-emitting states could lean further toward the Republican Party in the coming years: by 2020, Democrats will face a tough fight to keep their seat in the Senate in Alabama (ninth place), as well as competitive competition, though less threatening. , contest for Senator Gary Peters in Michigan. And few Democrats are optimistic about their long-term prospects in West Virginia or Montana after Manchin and Tester leave office one day.
In the report published on Friday, federal agencies painted a serious picture of increasing risk for all areas of the country due to the changing climate.
These increasingly tangible disruptions could create more political pressure in those states for climate action. Most likely, any federal initiative to combat climate change over the next few years must find ways to avoid the brown lock of the Senate.
Ways around the filibuster
One option is the regulatory action of the executive power of a future president, such as the rules on the fuel savings of automobiles and the emissions of power plants that Obama imposed. But the five Supreme Court justices appointed by Republicans, who generally suspect federal regulation, could limit the scope of such unilateral executive action. It is also easier for a successful administration to undo regulations than to rewrite laws, as evidenced by the contrast between Trump's success in thwarting Obama's climate agenda and his inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
These considerations explain why conversations between environmental groups quietly increase on how to explore a future majority of the Democratic Senate could use the process of reconciliation, which allows the legislation to pass with 51 votes, to address climate change. The conciliation process is limited to bills with an impact on the federal budget, but provided the vehicle for two of the most radical legislative initiatives of recent years, the fiscal plan of the Republican Party approved last year and the ACA.
It is possible that parliamentary obstacles may also block the path of reconciliation, leaving climate legislation still dependent on 60 votes to pass the Senate. That perspective poses a final option on how the climate debate could develop in the coming years. If the brown blockade continues to stall federal action, even as the risks of rising seas, deadly forest fires and increasingly intense hurricanes increase, it is possible that climate change is the problem that eventually causes the Senate to eliminate the venerable institution. of the filibuster.