This article appeared in the July 26, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Hope not doom? Opportunities rising in climate politics.

Steve Helber/AP/File
An electric car charging station is positioned outside the Science Museum as Virginia state senators meet in Richmond, Virginia, on Feb. 18, 2021. Virginia lawmakers passed a bill for rebates to reduce carbon pollution by getting more electric vehicles on the road.

When Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia recently stunned fellow Democrats by refusing to support a bill for action on climate change, the sense of doom and defeat among climate campaigners was palpable.

And understandable. 

Legislation was tantalizingly within reach. Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House – a scenario that may not stay in place beyond this year if midterm election forecasts prove accurate. It’s not clear when or if anything that could be called major federal climate legislation will pass.

That brings me to Matthew Burgess and Renae Marshall. With the public angst over climate gridlock as a backdrop, hearing about their research makes me want to call them prophets of hope. They have studied climate change politics and don’t see a story of inaction and impasse.

“I’m consciously optimistic about bipartisanship,” says Mr. Burgess, an assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “The opinion trends ... are clearly moving in  the direction of ‘we want more things done’ among Republican voters, especially young ones.”

He and Ms. Marshall, one of his students who is now pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studied hundreds of bills in state legislatures since 2015. Among their findings is that nearly one-third of state-level decarbonization bills were passed by Republican-controlled governments. Often Republican backing exists for financial incentives for renewable energy, or the expansion of consumer or business energy choices.

That may seem like small potatoes when scientists say the goal should be net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But getting there “requires building lots of things,” and conservative approaches may have a positive role to play, Dr. Burgess says. 

His key message may be one of unity: To respond to climate change, society will need to act together – not as warring factions – over a long period of time. That, in turn, seems to warrant embracing bipartisan opportunities where they exist.

As co-author Ms. Marshall has put it, “Even though some of these policies in red states might not be as ambitious as blue states, I just want people to know that things are happening.”

This article appeared in the July 26, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 07/26 edition
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