Green Politics That Cross Red and Blue States

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Ernie Shea spent eighteen years running the National Association of Conservation Districts, representing community-based soil and water districts around the country, and he knows a little something about farming and the farm community. Today he runs the 25x'25 coalition, a strongly bipartisan group of farmers, ranchers, and foresters who have joined with other partners to support the goal of meeting 25 percent of America's total energy needs from renewable sources by the year 2025. This unlikely group of advocates has found a new voice and a new commitment to working together in championing clean energy, as they seek to transform the public image of the agricultural sector from one that is focused on subsidies to a forward-looking force allied with the future and an innovative economy.

Shea convened the 25x'25 group with the goal of thinking big on how to make a difference in agriculture using clean energy. They went in thinking, "This might be something big," and they came away saying, "It isn't big—it's huge!" The coalition commissioned analyses from respected economists of what this 25x'25 future would look like, and the results surprised even them. The research showed that what they were talking about was growing a new sector of the economy representing $700 billion of activity, with the potential to create five million new jobs, all while reducing CO2 emissions by over one billion tons.15 Now they have introduced resolutions supporting their goals in both the House and the Senate.

By the end of 2006 the coalition had grown from about a dozen farm leaders to represent four hundred organizations united around the single goal of achieving 25 percent renewable energy. They are now working on state-level alliances in thirty states. They have received the formal endorsement of sixteen current and six former governors from both parties and have spent the last year constructing an implementation plan to turn into a legislative demand in Washington. They have gotten over thirty senators and over ninety House members to sign on to their concurrent resolutions in the House and Senate without even working that hard to get endorsements. And most important, they have gotten the word out to farmers in America's heartland.

It is critically important that this new movement from the farm community is coming from "red state" America. Tackling climate change has been maligned as a danger to the economy and has been looked at too often through a partisan lens. But as the farm community creates an agenda of clean-energy solutions, it brings a fresh look at climate change as well—as an opportunity not a threat. Farmers are seeing that, from protecting our agricultural yields from loss of soil moisture through drought to investing in farm communities through biofuels and wind farms, energy and agricultural policy and politics are closer today than ever before. This realization is changing the politics completely.

Agriculture and energy go together like a wink and a smile. The shifting politics of clean energy have the potential to transform the national political dynamics of rural America, moving red states with green issues. There is something stirring in the Great Plains and the Mountain West, in the Sun Belt, the Farm Belt, and the nation's industrial heartland. Looking out across the vast divide of today's red and blue states, it's important to remember that America's heartland has not always been the center of conservative thought. It was red state America that gave birth to the populist movement, a radical agrarian agenda that swept like wildfire out ofTexas and across the rural west of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri mobilized around issues of debt, investment, and giving working farmers an ownership stake in the future of the nation. Later, it was a revolt by heartland progressives like Iowan John L. Lewis that gave America an industrial labor movement and innovations like the weekend. And it was the heartland instinct to view the economy through a moral lens that led another Iowan, Henry A. Wallace, to fight for a progressive vision of government that regulated corporate abuse and buffered economic cycles to keep family farmers on their land.16

You can see a clear tension in all the polling—the president's falling approval rating is coupled with the paradoxical failure of Democrats to pick up gains in public opinion; anger over corruption in Congress is pitted against distress over a general coarsening of media culture; frustration with high salaries for corporate CEOs is braced by an equal sense that personal morality and ethics are in decline. The old politics just doesn't seem to fit. The old battle lines fail to describe the current problems and are hopelessly weak at offering solutions that are likely to do any good. It is little wonder then, with so little to hope for, and so few champions, that the country is starkly divided on how to proceed. The new Apollo Project can help break this impasse.

Thomas Frank wrote about this in What's the Matter with Kansas? He put his finger on the political movement of heartland voters toward tough stands on moral values and correctly identified it as an effort to address a creeping discomfort with a culture and an economic system that's ever more insecure and uncaring for the fate of average folks. Yet it would be a mistake to understand this debate as a split between one camp focused on "moral values" and another offering "economic self-interest." That view misses the core of the tension for most voters in America today. In truth, our economic problems and our values crises are deeply intertwined and lead back to a crisis in our national sense of purpose. The malaise of rural poverty, a diminishing manufacturing employment base, and the creeping low-road culture of Wal-Mart jobs with discount wages all contribute to the deepening fear and insecurity driving our economic, political, and ethical landscape.

It just might be that what Americans are looking for is some way to reconcile their moral concerns with their economic insecurity, to create a positive vision for the country and the world that they can believe in again, a vision that offers both prosperity and justice, that makes us all safer and restores the chance for an ennobling future. What appears today to be two competing ideologies—one red and one blue, one based on moral values and one on populist economic theories—could just as easily be the sign of one nation searching for deeper answers. The nation is just waiting to come together around a real vision of a future, one that marries these equally pressing national imperatives to build an economy with meaning, compassion, justice, and hope.

The candidate or party that first steps forward to articulate such a bold and unifying vision, backed by a strong commitment and clear priorities, will have something that can break the Gordian knot of the last few elections. Rather than making tactical and cautious plays for the narrow and vacillating middle, the party that steps forward with a dynamic agenda just might find a country every bit as willing to produce a landslide as it has been to date to cast votes for paper-thin margins of victory.

And that vision may well come from red state America. Consistently throughout American history, rural America has articulated a deeply moral vision of the American economy, rooted in the practical ethics of working men and women—often grounded in religious teachings and respect for the value of work and thrift and fueled by a deep concern for the common man. These leaders and their movements helped articulate an economic theory that counterposed Wall Street's market fundamentalism to Main Street's need for investment, fair rules, and a level playing field in order to grow a great nation out of the wilderness.

The original heartland progressives like Henry Wallace would have found the split between economic self-interest and moral values incomprehensible. Theirs was a pragmatic but deeply moral vision grounded in the long-term self-interest of the nation, an economic vision based on the core American principles of liberty, widely shared prosperity, reward for hard work, and equality of opportunity. That reform platform had as its bedrock a belief in science, investing in people, and playing by the rules, and it reorganized American politics and priorities. It was that prairie populism—a mainstream American notion of opportunity and possibility—that created new coalitions and a new base of political power, which linked the interests of farmers and mechanics, grange members and recent immigrants, around a constantly improving future.

Now prairie populism may have a rebirth as a popular new Apollo Project. Rebuilding our society around the central organizing principle of clean innovative energy, good jobs, and a low-carbon economy is exactly such a program of investment in people and places that expands opportunity and revitalizes industry while fulfilling our deepest moral responsibilities to each other and future generations.

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Solar Panel Basics

Solar Panel Basics

Global warming is a huge problem which will significantly affect every country in the world. Many people all over the world are trying to do whatever they can to help combat the effects of global warming. One of the ways that people can fight global warming is to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy sources like oil and petroleum based products.

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