CLIMATE ROUNDUP: Wildfires, climate denial to feature prominently in Calif. recall

Colin Sullivan

Aug. 19, 2021

Leading with a quick note on our schedule, before we dig into California’s recall election less than a month from today: The newsletter is off for the last two weeks of August. We’ll be back after Labor Day. Happy end of summer! Meanwhile …

GOP’s Elder on the attack

Leading the news is the possibility that Democrats may be about to lose the governorship of arguably the bluest state in the country — to a conservative radio talk show host who has called the climate crisis “a crock”.

Larry Elder has emerged as the Republican frontrunner in the lead-up to the Sept. 14 recall election from a small pack of candidates. He doubled down yesterday on his well-established climate skepticism, calling California Gov. Gavin Newsom “utterly incompetent” on forest management measures that could prevent or at least reduce the spread of massive wildfires.

Without mentioning any connection to climate change, Elder attacked Newsom in a media event that was reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The gist of Elder’s argument is that Newsom has performed poorly when it comes to thinning trees and underbrush. The practices tend to reduce the risk of fires spreading into the size of the current Dixie fire, which is already the second-largest fire in California history

“He’s mismanaged the forests,” Elder said of Newsom, according to the LATimes. “He gave a figure that was off by a factor of seven as to how many acres of fallen trees and dry vegetation that he’s removed.”

Elder was referring to an investigation by a Sacramento-based public radio station, CapRadio, that found Newsom “misrepresented his accomplishments and even disinvested in wildfire prevention,” all while the governor claimed credit for thinning more acres than he has.

The LATimes described the press event as a strategy by Elder to elevate oil, gas and logging to the forefront of the campaign in its final weeks. Elder vowed to reduce fracking rules and deemphasize wind and solar power, which he called “not very efficient.”

Elder added that he is aligned with President Trump on a host of issues. His views “put him outside the political mainstream in California but in concert with political conservatives,” the LATimes reported, noting that many conservatives believe the Golden state has gone too far when it comes to turning away from fossil fuels to curtail carbon emissions.

Also this week, three other Republican candidates attacked Newsom during a debate in Sacramento. See CapRadio’s coverage here.

Does the recall undermine the majority?

The broadside came as millions of ballots landed this week in the mailboxes of registered California voters. Newsom was busy trying to reach out as well as enlist high-profile Democrats to support his cause as the state prepares to vote Sept. 14.

Among others, President Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have taken to social media and television to support Newsom’s bid. Biden tweeted that Newsom has led California through “unprecedented crises” — managing a drought, wildfires and the pandemic — and urged voters to “keep him on the job” and vote no next month.

Warren has also been campaigning for Newsom, warning that “Trump Republicans” are “coming to grab power in California,” as reported by a story in the New York Times.

that said Newsom has been “pulling out all the stops” to hold on, sending half a million text messages a day to voters and enlisting thousands of door-to-door canvassers.

The vote, the NYTimes said, “is expected to come down to whether Democrats can mobilize enough of the state’s enormous base to counteract Republican enthusiasm for Mr. Newsom’s ouster. Recent polls of likely voters show a dead heat, despite math that suggests the governor should ultimately prevail.”

According to CalMatters, Newsom has out-raised all of his opponents by a factor of 5 to 1. As of Aug. 18, opponents of the recall have raised $55.4 million, compared to $7.6 million raised among supporters of the recall.

But that may not be enough to spring Newsom over a deck of rivals that appears to be led by Elder, who denies global warming and has said the minimum wage should be “zero-point-zero”. The NYTimes noted that the pandemic has been unkind to governors in particular, and a separate opinion piece run by the paper cautioned that the recall process itself “combined with Mr. Newsom’s inconsistent leadership … have created the possibility that California … may soon find itself with an extremely conservative Republican governor.”

Kathryn Olmsted, the interim chair of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at the University of California, Davis, cautioned that progressives who established direct democracy in the state more than a century ago through referendum provisions could be to blame if Newsom loses. Her essay was headlined as follows: “Why Deep Blue California Could Elect a Bright Red Governor.”

“Though they worked to strengthen democracy, the well-meaning reformers created a weapon that, 100 years later, could be wielded by an aggrieved minority to thwart the will of the people whom turn-of-the-century progressives aimed to protect,” wrote Olmsted, in an opinion piece that is worth a hard look.

“America’s constitutional landscape, at both state and federal levels, contains provisions that can be bent to fulfill anti-majoritarian agendas,” Olmsted continued. “Like the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, the Senate itself and the Electoral College, California’s recall process allows a determined minority to overrule the will of the voters.”

Also this week, Newsom said the state will soon face mandatory statewide water restrictions, much as California has implemented power cuts in response to wildfires. He delayed making a final water decision until the end of September, however, and many saw this as Newsom trying to evade unpopular polices until the recall is done.

Mandatory water cuts triggered for Colorado River

Water shortage news was not limited to California this week, as 95% of the American West continued to deal with drought conditions. That’s more land in the western United States than has ever been subject to a drought at one time, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced water shortages on the Colorado for the first time this week, as water in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, was measured at all-time lows.

CNN reported that Lake Mead is at its lowest since the lake was filled after the Hoover Dam was completed in the 1930s. The lake is 32% full.

"It's very significant," Brad Udall, senior water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, told CNN. "It's something that those of us in the climate community have been worried about for over a decade, based on declining flows due to climate change.”

With the lake expected to remain at around 1,066 feet of elevation into 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's latest projections, the agency announced that the Colorado River will go into the first tier of water cuts beginning Jan. 1.

”Given ongoing historic drought and low runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin, downstream releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam will be reduced in 2022 due to declining reservoir levels," the bureau announced, in a report.

Lake Mead provides water to roughly 25 million people in Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico, according to National Park Service data. Arizona will see an 18% reduction in the state's total Colorado River supply, primarily affecting farmers and agriculture. Although Nevada will need to adhere to a 7% reduction in 2022, the state had already reduced its deliveries and no further change is expected, CNN said.

Additional cuts are expected if Lake Mead continues to fall. The second tier of cuts, triggered at 1,050 feet, could come as soon as 2023.

Catch Jake Werner on this podcast

In happier news, Preston-Werner Ventures political expert Jake Werner appeared on a Substack podcast this week to try and make sense of ideological shifts in U.S. and global politics and the hostile rhetoric between U.S. and Chinese elites.

Appearing on the “Time to Say Goodbye” podcast, Werner discussed the infrastructure package making its way through Congress and whether the legislation represents a break from “neoliberal” ideology. He also talked about China and Chinese competition and why some progressives who backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have become hawkish on China.

Werner also argued for “progressive globalization” on the show, something he is fighting for through Justice Is Global, an organization that is funded by PWV.

Thanks for reading. We have ambitious plans for how we’ll use this space in the fall and year ahead, so thanks again for showing up. See you in a couple weeks!

— Colin Sullivan