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Schwarzenegger: Republican Climate Protector?

by Amelia Timbers, published

I’ve previously written that Schwarzenegger’s state failures on state parks, recycling, funding public education, opposing teachers, nurses and firefighters (not to mention his failures on abortion rights and early pandering to Big Pharma) indicated that he was a hard line Republican despite his periodic zags to the middle. Now, his defense of climate change against neo-crazy-con darling Sarah Palin has me scratching my head again.

In the recent conflagration, Schwarzenegger made comments about Palin’s anti-climate oped. Palin responded (in what is now becoming her trademark) on Facebook blaming California’s fiscal state on its environmental policies (Alaska claims to be avoiding the recession through petrol-philia). While there may be some truth to that- the NYT published an article on how California’s own environmental review obstructs energy (renewable and otherwise) development- California’s climate policy has been in ‘wait and see’ mode, especially compared to states like Massachusetts and New York, who charged ahead with state programs despite federal guidance. 

It’s true that Schwarzenegger has been ‘strong’ on climate. This is one of the aspects of his Governorship that I find confusing. The man –owner of a fleet of Hummers- converted some of them to biofuels and is sometimes seen driving a Prius or, cathartically, riding a bike. His transportation transition seems to have flowed into policy too. Schwarzenegger capped Greenhouse gas ahead of the federal government, and (in conjunction with Jerry Brown as AG), fought the EPA’s opposition to regulating carbon as a toxic gas. Despite California’s resistance to participating in a cap and trade policy ahead of federal direction, there has been substantial progress through CARB, the California Air Resources Board (who instituted a carbon tax), Renewable Portfolio Standards (requiring utilities to sell a specified proportion renewable energy) and strong support of solar technology.

While his support of climate policy is encouraging, it doesn’t make him an independent, only the strongest Republican on climate protection, which does deserve credit. Indeed, it is irrational for Palin and other Republicans to a) deny human-caused climate change in the face of so much research and b) to favor oil over another form of energy. All Schwarzenegger is doing is being rational, not heroic and not liberal. It does not make sense to continue lending government support – fiscal and political- to fossil fuels by obstructing pubic health protections that favor renewable energy. If anything, continuing to favor oil over any other type of energy is only an indicator of the lobbying strength of the oil industry.

I am glad that Schwarzenegger supports climate protection policy and renewable energy. This is something I like about him, and something I feel so strongly about that his position on climate helps to obscure everything that irks me about him, named in the first paragraph. He also gets some snaps for going against the Republican grain by advocating climate protection. However, more than anything, that Schwarzenegger is such a renegade from his party by advocating climate policy just shows what an irrational, emotional, ideological stance the Republican party has taken in response to climate change. Climate change is a physical phenomena caused by, and reversible by, humans that would be better met with reasoned political and economic change like that from Schwarzenegger than senseless opposition like that from Palin.


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