“Denge”

In a land where East meets West and old meets new, Turkey feels like and unlike every place I have ever traveled. Like Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus, Turkey hangs in the “denge” (the Turkish word for balance) between its long-history beginning in the cradle of civilization and a modern infrastructure and growing economy.

Today’s Turkish politics demand discussions focused on both domestic and foreign policy. Unlike the United States, where candidates and voters tend to narrowly focus on national issues like jobs and the economy, Turks don’t have the luxury of separating the internal and external policies. Shared borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria lead to constant worries about economic and social stability. And after spending a day on the Syrian border with refugees, it’s no longer surprising to me that energy policy isn’t at the top of the Turks discussion list, let alone an easy subject to unpack.

But, these are the great things about traveling to a new country; opening yourself to different cultures, ways of thinking and breaking your pre-existing expectations. Like assuming energy policy would dominate every conversation in this Middle East country that is dependent on its fossil fuels from Russia. In fact, according to one political science professor I spoke with, Turkey spends nearly $55 billion a year for energy from Russia alone. Along with worries about violence in nearby border countries, Turks are also concerned about Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine and how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s standing in the world could impact fuel prices.

And while it may not be the first topic on the afternoon tea discussion agenda, energy policy and energy efficiency were engrained in my day-to-day experiences. Every hotel I stayed in required key card access to turn on the electricity in the room. This meant I couldn’t charge my iPad during the day, but it also meant that I was keenly aware of my personal energy consumption.

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Energy usage aside, no advanced energy visual was as striking as standing in Mesopotamia on the Stone Age Mountain Sanctuary archeological dig contemplating the meaning of “old” when I saw solar panels. Below me, 10th and 9th millennium BC artifacts were unearthed, but next to me stood a modern, clean, renewable energy source powering the dig.

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This would seem like the perfect dichotomy, but rather it is the quintessential struggle of the country on many fronts. How do you keep the rich traditions and history of your religion and nation, while growing your economy and positioning yourself as a leader among other Middle East nations?

Like a choose your own ending book, Turkey stands on the cusp of the choice between what some would call a total authoritarian rule or the potential of becoming a truly democratic society. With just a few weeks until their first national democratic presidential elections, Turkish voters face a clear choice. But with half the electorate under the age of 30, it’s still to be seen whether or not they will come out to vote.

With the announcement that current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will run for President, energy policy is likely to slide to the back burner, while serious allegations of mistrust of his leadership are debated by the electorate, including corruption allegations and freedom of the press. Just two weeks prior to my arrival in Istanbul, CNN reporter Ivan Watson, was detained by police on live television. And while visiting with journalists from Turkish television and newspapers, I learned of the numerous news stories they are currently prohibited by law from being reported on, including the recent situation in Iraq when ISIS militants kidnapped Turkish diplomats at their consulate in Mosul.

While nine days in a country doesn’t make me an expert, I tend to agree with Turkish Member of Parliament Aykan Erdemir, who shared with our group that what Turkey needs most right now is a government focused on a comprehensive security plan. A plan that provides security from things like climate change and cyber threats, while also providing the necessary answers for other pressing issues like housing costs and healthcare concerns.

While no democracy is perfect, the only true chance for progress in Turkey is under a fully functioning democratic government. So like every first Tuesday in November in America, this August 10, I will be closely monitoring election results, only this time it will be in anticipation of what’s next for Turkey.

 

Melissa Harrison is the Communications Director for the NRDC Action Fund. She traveled to Turkey as a Truman National Security Project partner with the Rumi Forum. This is the first blog in a series she will write about her journey.

Hobby Lobby, Climate Change, and the GOP’s Women Problem

More than 200 women brought their children to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to clean up the air pollution that causes climate change. The event was called a “Play-in for Climate Action”—you can’t expect all those kids to stay still for a traditional “sit-in”—and included a press conference with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Around the same time, GOP lawmakers in the House were busy drafting a bill that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from doing the very thing those mothers want: clean up carbon pollution from power plants so their children have a better future.

Welcome to the latest battle in the Tea Party’s war on women. This conflict isn’t getting as much attention as the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, but it could play a significant role in who wins and loses the midterm elections.

Republican and Democratic candidates have already worked the Hobby Lobby case into stump speeches, fundraising appeals, and attack ads. Yet few people will vote on the Hobby Lobby ruling alone. Most voters cast ballots based on a cluster of issues that matter most to them.

One negative story about a Tea Party position that hurts women would not turn the midterm tide. But these days, the stories are mounting. GOP candidates are alienating women voters on a host of issues, from reproductive health to equal pay to climate change.

When did climate change become a women’s issue? When women made it clear they care deeply about it. Women in battleground states understand (by a margin of 72 percent to 19 percent) that we have a moral obligation to future generations to make the air safer to breathe and the climate more stable. Climate change increases smog and contributes to asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. If we don’t act now, the next generation will pay a steep price, and most women want children to inherit a brighter future, not one plagued by unchecked climate hazards.

And yet nearly every single Republican candidate running for office in the past few years—from the presidential level on down—has ignored, denied, or belittled the threat of climate change.  Right now, GOP leaders are attacking the EPA’s new “Clean Power Plan.” This plan would unleash wind and solar power, boost energy and cost savings, and finally hold power plants accountable for the enormous amounts of carbon pollution they spew into our air.

Blocking this kind of climate action isn’t just bad policy; it’s bad politics.

Women are one of the emerging voting blocs that will matter most in this election, along with Latinos and young people. Many female voters are likely to view Tea Party stance on climate change as yet another position that turns them off.

Republicans can’t afford that. In the 2012 presidential race, women favored the Democratic ticket by 11 percentage points.  Unmarried women voted for President Obama over Governor Romney by 67 percent. Those single women, it turns out, could be the soccer moms of this election—top Democratic strategists are already trying to appeal to them.

Some Republicans may be listening to what women want. Over the past few months, GOP leaders have hedged their climate bets; they have moved from outright denial to modest demurral. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), and Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) have all said they don’t have the scientific background to assess the risks of climate change. This hardly constitutes a bold approach to a matter of national security, but it does suggest some Republicans realize that climate denunciation is a losing position.

Candidates who stand for climate action, meanwhile, can cast themselves as champions of clean air, public health, good jobs, and a brighter future for our children—a set of issues that appeal to many women voters.

 

 

Longer than Pinocchio’s Nose

We all remember the childhood story of Pinocchio and the valuable life lesson it taught us about the importance of telling the truth. I’ve repeated the same story to my own children in hopes that a growing nose may dissuade them from lying.

Unfortunately, the Pinocchio story doesn’t seem to have impacted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or Crossroads GPS. In fact, they down right ignored the four Pinocchios given by the Washington Post to a Chamber report which grossly exaggerated carbon emission reductions under the Clean Power Plan.

Now their long noses are poking into the political realm with a new television ad against environmental champion Mark Udall in Colorado. Crossroads GPS just dumped $460,000 into attack ads which site the previously debunked report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

I wish I could say I’m surprised. But, it’s the same old tired play from their political playbook. These fossil fuel funded opponents know they don’t have the science or public opinion on their side, so they resort to their standard scare tactics: job loss and higher electricity rates.

The only surprise here is that they are still trying these failed strategies. It didn’t work in the 2012 election cycle.  Despite their best efforts and extremely deep pockets, fossil fuel backers lose much more often than they win. The last election cycle their win rate was a measly 5 percent versus the environmental community and our champions. For an industry highly focused on its return on investment, they don’t have much to show their investors when it comes to the electoral politics of climate change. This goes to show that the big money is not always the smarter money.

Our 2014 battleground state polling, which included Colorado, also shows that more than two-thirds of voters say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants. This includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.

I’m confident that as voters sniff out the truth this November, it won’t take them long to find these modern day Pinocchios.

 

Climate Spoof is All Too Real

We are standing on the cusp of making unprecedented progress to reduce carbon pollution, especially from old dirty power plants.  In addition to these important new public safeguards proposals, something else is changing – climate change rhetoric.

In just the last few months, the climate deniers have started to shift their public relations strategy.  Instead of trying to shoot holes in the arguments of 97 percent of the scientific community, they’ve chosen to just retreat from the debate by proclaiming their lack of credentials to participate.  Elected leaders, like Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), and 2016 Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) are hedging their bets by stating their lack of scientific degree.  This may seem like a cop out to the average observer, but I’m willing to bet they are seeing the same polling numbers I am.

For instance, research out this week from the Yale project on Climate Change Communication titled “The Politics of Global Warming” finds that registered voters are nearly three times as likely to vote for politicians at the federal level who believe that climate change is real and support action to address it. Even registered Republican voters are coming around with 66 percent of liberal/moderate conservatives supporting “strict carbon emission limits on existing coal fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health.”

But one candidate didn’t get the memo, as evidenced by the recent almost five minute video calling climate change “perhaps the greatest deception in the history of mankind.”  Honestly, I thought the commercial, put out by Louisiana State Rep. Lenar Whitney, was a spoof as it was shot mostly in black and white, complete with dramatic music and cute little knocks on the media. Unfortunately, Whitney is very serious with her misstatements, and fundamental misunderstanding of how climate change is putting her constituents in Louisiana at risk.

Since the 1930s, the state of Louisiana has lost 1880 square miles of coastline, which could almost double by the end of the century. At the same time the ocean is rising, the drinking and agricultural water is set for a decline.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, about “81 percent of the state’s parishes now face higher risk of water shortages by mid-century as a result of climate change.”  Whitney’s ignorance is putting people at real risk.

She makes the case that people are picking on the poor fossil fuel industry (with their $271 billion in profits) and accurately notes that fossil fuels helped make the U.S. a world leader in the 20th century.  Unfortunately, Whitney forgets the world has progressed (case in point, you’re likely reading this on your mobile device).  What made us a leader a century ago is not what will help us cement our place in the world now and into the future.

According to a Forbes magazine article by Chris Nelder, “Oil, natural gas and coal are set to peak and go into decline within the next decade, and no technology can change that.”  Prices are going to go up.  Whoever makes energy affordable is going to be the winner.

That makes EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, which will dramatically cut carbon emissions from power plants, so critical to our future.  This effort will protect our communities, our air, our water and our health, while spurring the clean energy technology and jobs we need to keep our lights on and our economy going.  Supporting this plan means supporting America’s future.

Meanwhile, Whitney needs to get with the times.  Louisiana can lead or it can be left behind.  At least Rubio and Boehner are smart enough to read the politics and know that they are about to get caught on the wrong side of history.  Whitney has gone all in for the “poor fossil fuel” industry with her dramatically uninformed video and if she is elected, she could lock Louisiana into a dark future of being beholden to dirty energy. The choice is simple, lead now or forever fall behind.

Cantor Can’t

Eric Cantor went down in a surprise defeat Tuesday night to a tea party unknown, David Brat, upsetting the Congressional order. It’s hard to think of someone more deserving of this fate, but not for the reasons he suffered it.  His lifetime environmental score of 4% should earn him scorn but he may be about to be replaced with a representative who might proudly sport a zero rating.

What are the lessons to be learned from this race? For the Republican Party, the erroneous and overlearned response could well be the need to bow even further to the extremism of the tea party movement. For the environment this would mean more denialism about the existence of climate change in the face of overwhelming evidence, instead of coming to the table for solutions.

Overreaction by the GOP would be especially curious in light of the string of primary victories by so-called establishment Republicans in Senate races in places like Kentucky, Texas and South Carolina.  If the tea party’s wins from 2010 were considered to be episode one in this series, then this year’s episode two would definitely be called, “The Establishment Strikes Back.”

Yet overreaction could well be the order of the day.  For now safely perched in a politically safe and weirdly gerrymandered House majority, the far right wing of the Republican party continues to push for an extreme agenda that many establishment Republicans believe hampers their ability to win control of the White House and the Senate.  Frankly, allowing more progressive views on the environmental matters within the party would be the smartest path forward, and was the case before the rise of the tea party.  But I’m certainly not arguing that Cantor would have done better in the race if he had been better on the environment.  I’m just saying for establishment Republicans to conclude that they should not be better on the environment generally as a result of this race would be a serious error.

So what is the difference between tea party and the GOP establishment these days? Not much on policy, at least not since almost every moderate Republican member of Congress has given up or been driven out of the party. It seems to be mostly style, in the sense of an insistence by one side on a purity of position and a staunch resistance to working with others to get things done.  Still it makes a big difference to be at least reasonable and not radical. Or as Peter King, who’s no liberal, observed about Cantor’s defeat, “I don’t know where we go now as a party.  I’m very concerned that we may go all the way to the right, following Ted Cruz and the shutdown congressman, and marginalizing us as a responsible governing party.”

Cantor’s defeat can mostly be understood as an inattentive effort by a politician whose ambitions lay elsewhere.  If there was a policy issue that decided this race, it may have been immigration, where Cantor’s opponent accused him of supporting “amnesty” for his work on a Republican version of reform.  The party has struggled to construct a viable national strategy to attract the support of minorities and Latinos in particular, but a National Republican Committee proposal to do that has not taken hold. The same problem persists for the party among young people and women.

Yet the party continues to cut itself off from these groups with its policy agenda, including hostility to action on one of the most important issues of the day – clean air and climate change. Despite reams of polling data proving the support among these demographic groups for action on climate change, the tea party has maintained its choke hold on this issue.

Cantor can’t be the template for the GOP establishment if they want to reshape their national politics.  Instead of learning the wrong lesson about this race, they should master the proof contained in this polling. And it wouldn’t hurt for them to reexamine the irrefutable scientific proof behind climate change at the same time.

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