by Sam Alston

Last November saw climate activist attempt to use USA state elections in order to pass through a number of climate friendly referendums. Almost all of the measures fell victim to the huge expenditures spent by fossil fuel companies on counter campaigns. However, those concerned with the fate of the planet had reasons to be optimistic, as climate change begins to emerge as an issue on the USA political agenda.


The table below shows some notable measures; most  of which failed. The exceptions included a bizarre measure in Florida which combined a ban on offshore oil extraction with a ban on indoor vaping, and Nevada measure to increase renewable portfolio standards that seemed to pass almost unnoticed.

State   Issue Result Vote in favour Spending ratio for: against
Arizona Renewable Energy Standards Initiative: Increased proposition of electricity from renewable sources Failed 31.4% 3:4
Nevada Renewable standards initiative. Increasing of proportion of electricity from renewable energy Passed 59.28% 1:0
Washington Initiative 1631, Carbon Emissions Fee Measure: enact carbon fee of 15 dollars and use revenue from the fee to fund environmental programmes Failed 43.44% 1:2
Colorado Proposition 112: Implementing new restrictions on Fracking Failed 44.88% 1:20
Florida Banning of offshore drilling and indoor vaping Passed 68.92% 0

Table 1: Selected energy based ballot initiatives


Further bad news seemed to follow in December with the national environment agency bringing in regulations to protect coal plants and the USA delegation putting on what appeared to be an intentionally farcical performance at the UN climate change talks.


This was not the first time that anti-fracking measures were defeated in Colorado, nor was it the first time that a carbon tax was beaten in Washington. What is notable, however, is that these measures made considerably more progress than on previous occasions.


It looks likely that the challenge to the fossil fuel complex will only intensify.


In Colorado three previous attempts to get anti fracking measures had not even managed to get onto the ballot. For a measure to be outspent 20-1 and come within ten percent of the popular vote running against an entrenched organized industry providing approximately 5-10% of the jobs in the state is nothing short of extraordinary. The new democratic governor, a proponent of fracking, has been forced to make public commitments to the renewable energy industry calling for 100% renewable energy. It looks likely that the challenge to the fossil fuel complex will only intensify.


Additionally, a push by the Sunrise Movement and new Left-wingers in congress has seen nationwide attention focused on the idea of Green New Deal.  A combination of extreme weather, indigenous resistance and the backlash against the nationalists dominating the White House has also made climate change prominent in Governors races in Florida, North Dakota, Arizona and California.  


This break with the centralist consensus increasingly focuses not on incremental change but on striving to paint a picture of a better world. The campaign against fracking in Colorado highlighted the benefits from tourism, renewable energy and preserving the natural beauty of Colorado. In Washington those promoting the carbon tax allied with various labour initiatives and indigenous groups, and The Sunrise Campaign who campaign for climate action and a jobs guarantee relentlessly focus on the idea that action is both practical and feasible.  


Those hoping for substantive climate action in the USA have been used to disappointment, since about 1985. However, with the country’s political establishment under pressure to make change, it may not be so naive to hope for better things to come.


Featured image credit: Pexels

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