Barack Obama has won an overwhelming number of the electoral college votes that determine the winner of the Presidential election (303 vs Romney’s 206, with Florida still undecided). But the victory was still a narrow one in terms of overall votes. While the Democrats have solidified their slight majority in the Senate it is still insufficient to overcome a filibuster. In addition Obama will still have to find a way through a Republican dominated House of Representatives. What’s worse is that according to reports from CNN the small number of Republicans that lost their seats, tend to be moderates.
Obama will face an incredibly tough battle trying to get anything additional achieved on reducing carbon emissions based on the current make-up of the Congress and the tough economic conditions the US finds itself in.
Nonetheless there’s reason for optimism.
Climate change was not completely forgotten by Obama even if he gave it a low profile in the campaign. In his victory speech he made a brief reference to the issue stating,
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
He also made remarks around freeing the country from dependence on foreign oil, which plays to his administration’s dramatic increase in motor vehicle fuel economy standards.
While it will be tough for Obama to enact substantially strengthened policies to reduce emissions, his victory will mean the Republican House is at least contained from unwinding the progress he has already achieved.
His fuel economy standards are a considerable breakthrough. They will result in the US’s entire petroleum consumption for transport having peaked in 2007, declining in absolute terms by over 10% by 2035, with passenger vehicle fuel consumption down by 18% in 2035 relative to 2010. What’s more these standards will influence technology and policy choices around the globe. It certainly puts a challenge to the Australian government to lift the stringency of its pathetic proposed fuel economy standard.
Also the US EPA has been quietly enacting new standards governing power plant emissions that will help put the nail in the coffin of many a coal plant, although cheap shale gas has done more of the heavy lifting in this area.
Wind power had also become a major player in new electricity supply, supported by a tax credit which Romney said he would seek to abolish.
And progress was again being made on appliance energy efficiency under Obama after stalling under George W Bush. This should continue as it requires no additional legislation.
Perhaps of most importance though is that this election victory should help prompt a serious rethink amongst the wise heads of the Republican Party about the direction of their party.
If they are to regain the presidency they must expand their appeal beyond the states in the religious and highly socially conservative south and mid-west. Their conventions and election party were dominated by grey-haired white people. These people have a high propensity to get out and vote, but they aren’t a recipe for long-term vitality in an increasingly multi-racial society. In addition Obama has done a remarkable job of getting the young, the black and the latino’s into the voting booth.
Broadening the Republican’s appeal will be impossible without steering the party away from ideological, anti-science, often racist, extremists from the Tea Party.
You won’t win over the progressive states by embracing people who think women can control whether or not they end up pregnant from rape. Nor by taking the government to the very verge of defaulting on their loans based on a fanciful idea that the government could cut expenditure by 40% overnight. Nor will you do this by dismissing the research and advice of highly qualified scientists because it conflicts with a literal interpretation of the bible, and a belief that God controls nature.
If the Republicans refuse to start compromising it will most likely strengthen Obama’s hand and the prospects of any future Democratic presidential candidate. This is what happened back in 1995 and 1996 when an ideologically driven Republican Party led by Newt Gingrich refused to raise the debt ceiling in negotiations with Bill Clinton, leading to a shut down of the government. Bill Clinton’s approval rating soared after the crisis was resolved and he won 70% of the electoral college votes at the next presidential election.