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Koch Brothers' Influence Preventing Chris Christie From Acting on Climate Change?

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“Real. Honest. Direct. Tell It Like It Is.” Those were the words on a banner at a recent campaign event by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie is one of the latest entrants in the crowded 2016 presidential field, and political observers say that he’s trying to distinguish himself by telling voters the truth, even when it’s tough to hear. The trouble is, Christie doesn’t seem willing to tell the truth when it comes to climate action, clean energy and the environment.

Denying Need to Act

Where does Christie stand on climate change? He’s not denying the science of climate change, but he does deny the need to act.

Back in 2011, Christie said:

"There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing. This decade, average temperatures have been rising. Temperature changes are affecting weather patterns and our climate. […] But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts."

More recently, in May 2015, Christie said:

“I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it. […] There’s no use in denying global warming exists. The question is what we do to deal with it.”

That’s a good start, and it is certainly a big improvement over competitors who claim that evidence of climate change is “not conclusive” (Rand Paul) or that snow and ice in New Hampshire prove that climate change is fake (Ted Cruz). However, accepting the science of climate change means accepting scientists’ pleas to act urgently to avoid the worst consequences of a warming world. And, on that count, Christie has failed miserably.

Christie closed his state’s Office of Climate Change and Energy and withdrew New Jersey from the regional carbon reduction program, known as RGGI, calling it a “gimmicky [program] that hasn’t worked.” In fact, RGGI has returned “more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households and 17,800 businesses” while avoiding the release of 1.3 million tons of carbon to date. More than $1 billion has been invested in programs including energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, greenhouse gas abatement, and direct bill assistance. If that’s a gimmick, sign me up!

Like His Friend Bobby Jindal

Like Bobby Jindal, you’d think Christie might know better when it comes to climate action. After witnessing Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, you’d think Christie would be eager to act. You’d be wrong. Christie has denied a link between climate change and the hurricane, and New Jersey is the only state on the eastern seaboard without a statewide climate plan.

One might think that, as a Catholic, Christie would respond to Pope Francis’s recent encyclical calling for action on climate change as a moral imperative. So far, Christie is still denying the need to act. I’m hoping that he’ll change his tune and tell the “truth” about the need for urgent action as the campaign (and the globe) heats up.

Koch Brothers Influence

For those wondering why Christie is so opposed to climate action, and the RGGI program in particular, some people have an answer: the Koch Brothers despise climate action.

In a New York Times profile of Christie’s refusal to participate in RGGI, a representative from the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity said, “We were exceedingly pleased that the governor got New Jersey out of the R.G.G.I. boondoggle. […] It’s something that A.F.P. in New Jersey worked hard on.” According to the Times, the AFP representative “said the move would be sure to help Mr. Christie’s efforts in the Republican primaries, should he run.”

In March this year, Christie reportedly visited David Koch’s Palm Beach mansion.

Time to Tell The Truth

It’s time for Christie to live up to his self-proclaimed mantra of truth-telling.

Sometimes he says things that are like a breath of fresh air. In 2012, he said, “Having renewable energy in our state, having it be a larger part of our portfolio, creating jobs, is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue. It’s an issue that the people of our state demand we work on together.” I read that and I think, “So true.” But then I read that Christie has cut more than $1 billion from the state’s Clean Energy Fund in order to balance budgets in recent years and I’m reminded that telling the truth isn’t enough. Telling the truth is essential, but acting on that truth is what really matters.

“Here’s the one thing you’ll get with me: You never have to wonder where I stand,” said Christie. Actually, Chris, until your action matches your rhetoric, I have no clue where you stand.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."