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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/22/15

How Pope Francis's Climate Encyclical Is Disrupting American Politics

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Globally renewable energy was more than half of added capacity. Chinese emissions declined in the first quarter by an amount equal to the total carbon pollution of Great Britain, Mexico became the first major emerging market to pledge solid emission reductions, and Ethiopia offered to reduce its projected 2030 carbon pollution by 64 percent--if climate finance is made available. Alberta tossed out its pro-tar sands Conservative Premier and elected the first left-leaning government in its history.

Led by "Climate Chancellor" Angela Merkel, the world's major industrial nations called for a binding climate treaty at the "upper end" of the ambition levels required by climate science, and agreed that the era of fossil fuels must end this century. The Saudi Oil Minister signaled that his kingdom fears the era of oil by end by mid-century. And 199 nations meeting in Germany reached a breakthrough agreement on how to curb deforestation and lay the groundwork for an eventual reduction -- through forest and grassland sequestration -- in atmospheric carbon concentrations.

The price of oil remained mired below $70; OPEC agreed again to keep pumping and fighting for market share; and the share value of coal companies, already down by three-quarters, just kept slumping. (Purchasers two months ago of Peabody junk bonds have already lost 18 percent of their money).

Sensing a change in the landscape, Europe's six biggest oil and gas companies abandoned their fossil fuel common front with coal, and threw the black rock and its shareholders under the bus. Re-branding themselves as "almost gas" companies (shades of John Brown and BP's "Beyond Petroleum" phase) Shell, BP, Total, Eni and British Gas called on the international community to levy a global carbon tax that would drive electricity generators from coal to gas.

This is exciting news for climate. But there are signs that this climate and energy revolution is also breaking apart the frozen tectonic plates which have locked American conservatism into an orthodoxy of inaction not just on global warming, but on almost every problem challenging our society.

No longer do all conservatives join Koch, Heartland and Republican Presidential candidates in dismissing conservative engagement with climate solutions. Not only are both libertarians (the new Niskanen Center) and business conservatives (American Enterprise Institute) alike debating the need for conservative solutions like carbon taxes, but the first conservative climate progress mega-donor, Jay Faison has surfaced, pledging to spend $175 million on encouraging his movement to come to grips with atmospheric reality.

Over the past decade -- ever since the nascent Tea Party partly seized control of Republican politics, shutting down George W. Bush's forgotten campaign promise to clean up carbon pollution, rebuffing his immigration reforms, and eventually thrusting his "compassionate conservatism" into the fiery abyss of conservative heresy -- a new Republican orthodoxy locked down the primary fault zone in American politics, where new realities and social change forces collide with conservative political, cultural and economic habits.

The Supreme Court's "money is speech and corporations are people" jurisprudence weakened the ability of business elites to buffer Tea Party pressures on elected Republicans. Even such routine public business as the reauthorization of infrastructure spending or the Export-Import Banks ground to a halt. Nothing, it seemed, was possible.

Tectonic drift isn't dangerous when the plates glide and rub against each other, releasing their energy gradually. But when they freeze up, the "thrust fault" that results accumulates energy until it cracks, relieving stored up stress in a few seconds, and creating new landscapes and mountain ranges. And when three moving "oceanic" plates (demography, globalization, and climate) converge on the stationary continental plate of American conservatism, the eventual outcome, while unpredictable, is certain to be spectacular.

The crack-up has begun -- and surprisingly it seems that climate, not Hispanic voting blocks or global competition, may be the disrupter that shatters conservative orthodoxy.

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