Did Voters Vote Climate? Yes And No

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Voters seem to have liked many candidates endorsed by environmental organizations, or who had good climate change related policies. But, they seem to have rejected ballot initiatives, in Colorado, Arizona, and Washington, that would have moved us closer to the necessary energy transition.

To me, the reasons are obvious. A ballot initiative does two things. First, it is probably a lousy way to actually legislate, in a rational world where legislatures are honest actors. So if we delude ourselves into believing the latter, maybe the former will be the logical conclusion. Second, and probably much more important, a ballot initiative that guarantees loss of profit to Big Petroleum or Big Coal will be targeted and taken down like a Pheasant in South Dakota on a sunny fall weekend.

Here are two opinions about this year’s failed initiatives, from two entirely different sources, as reported by the Washington Post:

The Energy Industry brownnoser:

“What we learned from this election, in states like Colorado, Arizona, and Washington, is that voters reject policies that would make energy more expensive and less reliable,” said Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, an industry-backed free-market advocacy group.


The worthy environmentalist:

Richard Newell, president of the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, drew a different conclusion.

“The complexities and politics of the clean energy transition are best navigated through a legislative process, which has been the basis for virtually all significant state level climate and renewable energy policy,” Newell said in an email. “I would not take this as a repudiation of public desire to address climate change, including through carbon pricing or clean energy standards, but rather that the details and who is engaged in the policy formulation matter, a lot. That’s tough to do through a ballot initiative.”

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