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With Clean Energy Jobs Booming in Republican Districts, It's Time to Recalibrate Climate Politics

Climate

Many elected officials want to solve climate change for the same reason activists do. Rising global temperatures will be a terrible burden on our children, cost our economy trillions and cause dangerous changes to the natural world.

But winning enough votes in Congress for bold policy changes also requires raw politics—and on that score, there's an important, under-appreciated shift that may be improving our chances.

Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder / NREL

Look at the chart below, from Morning Consult. Clean energy jobs, in the form of utility-scale wind or solar facilities, are now mostly in Republican districts.

That's because sunshine and wind are abundant in places such as Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas. And rural areas, often represented by Republicans, have inexpensive land available for facilities like this.

Clean energy jobs, in other words, are no longer partisan or regional, if they ever were. Texas leads the nation in wind. North Carolina and Nevada are hot beds of solar energy.

Jobs Drive Policy, for Better or Worse

There are very few things politicians care about more than their constituents' jobs. It's not an exaggeration to say that job stability and growth are the lens through which they see nearly every issue.

Former Secretary of State James Baker once tried to build support in Congress for the first Gulf War by saying, of the main reason to act, “if you want to sum it up in one word, it's jobs."

In fact, claims about job losses were used to great effect against comprehensive climate legislation in 2009. Proponents of that argument seemed to forget the far larger economic damage from unchecked climate change, but their talking points had a big impact on nervous members of Congress.

In response, environmental activists and economists talked about the very real potential for clean energy jobs—but existing always beats potential in a political fight. And the “jobs argument" was used to increase the partisan divide on climate and clean energy issues.

But now things are changing—rapidly.

Next time Congress considers climate legislation, the terms of the debate may be different.

Nationwide, solar jobs have grown 20 percent annually for the last three years. There are now far more jobs in that industry than in coal mining and most new electric generating capacity added last year was renewable.

Red states and congressional districts, again, are on the receiving end of a large chunk of that growth.

It could be that next time Congress considers comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, the terms of the debate will be different. This time, the “jobs argument" would come from a bi-partisan block of politicians representing clean energy workers with real jobs.

And that might just change the whole conversation.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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