Aug 21, 2020 - Energy & Environment

California’s crises show politicization of climate change and energy

Illustration of a donkey and elephant walking away from one another and breaking the tethered line
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The response from America’s political class to California’s overlapping crises of heatwaves, wildfires and power blackouts shows just how politicized these topics have become.

Driving the news: President Trump and other Republicans say the whole country will face California’s problems if Democrats pass their climate policies. Meanwhile, some Democrats are pushing political messages with the state’s extreme weather.

Where it stands: Politicians are trying to extract simple political wins from the complex problems — electricity outages and extreme weather — that millions of Californians are facing (to say nothing of the ongoing pandemic crisis).

What they’re saying: When presented with the argument that California’s rolling blackouts are raising concerns about renewable energy and could reflect poorly on Democrats’ plans to rapidly increase wind and solar across the country, veteran Democratic political adviser John Podesta, responded in an interview with Axios Wednesday:

  • “I am just not that worried about it. We’re not through hurricane season," Podesta said. "We’re not through fire season. All that plays the other direction. Yeah, people are grumpy in LA today, but I doubt they’re blaming the state policy on climate change.”
  • The Democratic National Convention has also featured a survivor of a past California wildfire and the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, talked about the wildfires Thursday night.

The other side: Trump tied California to both the Green New Deal, a sweeping climate proposal championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Biden. Biden has not endorsed that plan.

  • “The Bernie/Biden/AOC Green New Deal plan would take California’s failed policies to every American!” Trump tweeted earlier this week.
  • House Republicans also sent out a Wall Street Journal editorial on Thursday with the same message and a news article raising concerns about wind and solar in light of the blackouts.

Reality check: Politics often over-simplifies complex problems.

  • As climate change makes extreme weather more frequent, including heat waves and wildfires, the public is growing more aware of them, and thus becoming more palpable from a political perspective. That doesn’t mean they should morph into political pawns.
  • Although the exact cause of the blackouts is still being determined, many experts say the state's growing reliance on wind and solar is likely one of many factors. That doesn’t mean wind and solar shouldn’t continue to grow. It just means regulators overseeing the grid need to account for the changes, which California agencies conceded in a letter this week to Newsom.

The bottom line: California’s power woes will hopefully diminish once its heat waves do, but you can expect ever more of this partisan, simplified back-and-forth between the two parties leading up to Election Day.

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