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Midterm elections brought a blue wave, but we should be focused on going green | Opinion

Watch for environmental issues to be at the forefront of the 2020 election.

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., listens during a news conference with members of the Progressive Caucus in Washington, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018.
Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., listens during a news conference with members of the Progressive Caucus in Washington, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018.Read moreSUSAN WALSH / AP

The round-the-clock coverage of November's midterm elections focused almost exclusively on the size of the blue wave, now 38 congressional seats and growing.  But I was looking for a different wave that Tuesday night, a green one, evidence of a groundswell of support for climate change and other green initiatives that have suffered greatly in the last two years.

As I sift through the tea leaves of the election, the climate change takeaway seems mixed, more like two steps forward, one step back. But it's progress.

In the House, many of those 38  incoming representatives campaigned openly on climate change, few more so than New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a veteran of Standing Rock pipeline protests who ran on a "Green New Deal" and believes America can wean itself off fossil fuels by 2035. Ocasio-Cortez, on her first trip to Washington, for her orientation, visited 200 protesters outside likely House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office to support their demand that Democrats step up action on climate change. The press loved her appearance, but somehow Pelosi did, too, which bodes well for the young, rising Democratic star.

Speaking of Pelosi, she has already talked about reinstating the select panel on global warming, dismantled in 2011. In addition, Eddie Bernice Johnson, the reelected Texas Democrat expected  to chair the House Science Committee, has promised to "address the challenge of climate change, starting with acknowledging it is real." Here's a radical notion: Good science should inform sound policy.

The tsunami of more than 100 women winning elections for Congress will also make a difference in the congressional response to climate change, as men have clearly dropped the ball. "Along with better health care," wrote correspondent Mary Jordan in the Washington Post, "other key issues that helped propel women were their pledges to better protect the environment and to help stop the rising incivility and divisions among Americans." This is true of Reps.-elect Mary Gay Scanlon in Delaware County, Chester County's Chrissy Houlahan, and Madeleine Dean of a Montgomery-Berks district, all of whom won calling for action on climate, among other issues.

On the negative side of the ledger, a majority of the Republican members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus will not be returning to Congress, making bipartisan action on this issue — a necessity at some point in our history — even less probable than now. On the red-blue divide, climate change got bluer that Tuesday, if you can believe that.

At the state level, things seem even more promising. Incoming governors in seven states from Maine to New Mexico pledged action on climate change, some of them even promising to move their states completely to renewable energy. Janet Mills of Maine — no radical at all — vowed to reduce her state's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2030, and Wisconsin's Stephen Evers pledged to join 17 other states committed to keeping the goals of the Paris climate accord, the one that Trump famously walked away from. A majority of states electing attorneys general chose Democrats, candidates more likely to challenge Trump's anti-environmental and anti-climate initiatives in the court system.

That's all good. But it wasn't a green wave. Beto O'Rourke in Texas and Andrew Gillum in Florida, running for senator and governor respectively, both talked about climate change openly and candidly, counterpoints to their anti-climate opponents, but both lost by razor-thin margins. Gillum's opponent, former Rep. Ron DeSantis, said during the election,"I am not in the pew of the global-warming leftist," and won, in a state clearly showing signs of climate stress from toxic algae and sunny-day flooding from a rising ocean.

Among the many state ballot initiatives across the country, Nevadans approved a measure requiring electric utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, up from around 25 percent today, but neighboring Arizona's similar initiative lost, and the voters of Washington state turned aside a carbon tax initiative. While new stormwater and flood protection measures also passed in many states, initiatives given immediacy by climate change, new fracking restrictions lost in Colorado.

So a green wave did not materialize. But as Ocasio-Cortez, Scanlon, Dean, and Houlahan join 100 other women marching into Washington, there was definitely a ripple. And as 2020 bears down on us like a freight train, as our climate continues to crumble, as California horrifically burns, watch for this issue to erupt in the presidential election. It's about time.

In fact, it's 30 years overdue.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough. @SCEE Mike