Imagine convening an abstinence convention in Las Vegas and you begin to get an idea what it was like attending the U.N. climate conference, COP27, in Egypt’s resort city of Sharm El Sheikh.
And if anyone needed a reminder of the absolute intractability of our limitless use and abuse of fossil fuels, there was the deafening roar of the airliners on their landing approach buzzing COP27. It was the unofficial soundtrack of the conference.
U.S. representatives put on a brave face at COP27, knowing full well that the legislative successes they touted this year were the last forthcoming for at least the next two years, given that Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives.
U.S. presence at COP27 was formidable, led by President Joe Biden. He recounted his administration’s action on GHG reductions through the Inflation Reduction Act and a wide range of new and ongoing agency initiatives aimed at advancing the technology and policy necessary to combat the climate crisis.
Climate Envoy John Kerry was seemingly everywhere throughout the two-week-long conference.
At least three U.S. senators, 20 House members, four Cabinet secretaries and three state governors also made the pilgrimage to the conference. They sought to put behind them former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of American constructive participation in the U.N. negotiations.
But no number of appearances or speeches by U.S. leaders could hide the harsh fact that America’s ability to make new greenhouse gas reduction commitments is completely dependent on domestic election politics.
So what do the midterm election results tell us about what is and is not possible on the domestic political front? Perhaps the most complete registered voter poll is that commissioned by Fox News and performed by National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago from Oct. 31 to Nov. 8. It included those who were registered and intended to or did vote by mail, early, or at the polls on election day.
In the Fox survey, voters supporting the Democratic and Republican candidates cited the economy as the top issue, but it was effectively the only issue for supporters of Republican candidates.
Three issues — the economy (62%), immigration (14%) and crime (9%) accounted for the priority issues of 85% of Republicans. Sharing the remaining 15% of red voters were six issues — abortion (4%), health care (4%), foreign policy (2%), gun policy (2%), climate change (2%) and COVID-19 (1%).
As always, Democrats were less unified. It took five issues, compared to three for Republicans, to account for 84% of Democratic voter priorities — the economy (31%), abortion (17%), climate (17%), health care (10%), and gun policy (9%). The remaining 14% of Democrats were split among four issues — crime (6%), COVID-19 (3%), foreign policy (2%) and immigration (2%).
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This statistic equating abortion and climate as priority issues may come as a shock to Democrat organizers. The party generally relegated climate/environment to an “also ran,” compared to abortion, on which they bet the political farm.
Combining all voters, the top national issues were the economy (47%), abortion (10%), climate (9%), and immigration (9%). Most interesting, the climate and immigration issues were virtual mirror images of one another.
Of those choosing immigration, 88% supported Republicans whereas 10% supported Democrats. Of those prioritizing climate change, 87% supported Democrats and 10% supported Republicans.
At COP27, experts stated that mass migration (immigration) was perhaps the biggest climate threat to human social stability and peace. As such, migration/immigration can be seen as a future primary “effect” of climate change.
If Democrats can convince Republicans that it is in everyone’s interest to assign greater importance to the causes of the climate crisis, and Republicans can convince Democrats to share their concern over the future effects of climate change (immigration/migration), then perhaps they have the basis of a grand political bargain.
At COP27, in responding to the demands by climate-vulnerable nations for “loss and damage” payments from developed nations, Kerry lamented the lack of attention to how population growth contributes to human suffering from climate change. It was not lost upon attendees that the planet marked a dubious milestone during the conference -- global population surpassing the 8 billion mark.
So, while much was discussed at this year’s conference, it is hard to point to many new, meaningful outcomes and agreements from COP27. Key parties like the U.S., E.U., China and Russia are all distracted by competing political priorities — particularly economics and conflicts.
But perhaps domestic political compromises can create the foundation for greater global focus and cooperation on the existential threat posed to humanity by abrupt climate change.
John Capece is the Kissimmee Waterkeeper and director of Campus Climate Corps. The Invading Sea is a collaborative of Florida editorial boards, including the Tampa Bay Times, focused on the threats posed by the warming climate.