We lead with one small but important action, then offer a link to this week’s radio interview with Renewable Taos’s Dan Pritchard before we offer thoughts as to what is needed to move the climate action needle in NM and the nation. This piece took a week to prepare and is an apt intro to the kind of deeper dive analysis coming over the next few months.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is busy signing the bills passed by the 2022 legislature; the last day for her approval is March 8. Any bills not signed by March 9 are automatically vetoed (“pocket veto”). The governor can also veto portions of a bill (“line item” veto).
The “junior” budget bill (SB 48)—which includes funding to continue the Health Security Plan design process—needs to be signed by March 8 to ensure the continuation of the Heath Security Plan design process.
If you haven’t already, please call the Governor’s office to remind her how much support there is for Health Security! The phone number is 505-476-2200.
If you’ve already called, thank you—and please ask a friend to call. This is hugely important and it would be unforgivable if she vetoes this funding.
You can also leave an online message for the Governor at this link. Please call or message her now, before you move on with this post.
Thank you for your longstanding support for Health Security, including the Health Security Plan design process. Please approve the Health Security Plan and Design funding in SB 48.
Retake on the Radio with Dan Pritchard, Renewable Taos
Dan and I spoke about how energy and environment bills fared in the 2022 session before launching on a discussion of public power, the IPCC Report, and what advocacy strategies might elicit more movement in our efforts to address the looming climate catastrophe. We explicitly discussed the need for the emergence of a rural-urban alliance forged from common interests and better education about the false solutions offered by gas and oil to address needs for local jobs and revenue.
Legislative Reflection Huddle, Mar. 9, 6–7:30 pm
What Worked, What Didn’t, What We Learned, What’s Next?
We will assess how the legislature works and how it doesn’t, and reflect on the success of our advocacy work. If you measure success by how well we engaged, educated, and supported advocates across the state, we get decent marks. But if you measure success by the progressive legislation that was passed, there is room for improvement
What can we do to change the system in which we work, and what can we do to change how we operate so that we can achieve more legislative success? That’s our two-part topic and we are adding 30 minutes to our usual 60-minute Huddle. So bring snacks and libations and let’s share ideas. We’ll post more thoughts on the topic in our blog.
Zoom Candidate Forum Thursday, March 17, 6:30pm-8pm: Joe Maestas and Zack Quintero, Democratic candidates for NM state Auditor.
The Auditor has a critical role in holding government accountable. Tune in to hear from these two excellent candidates. You must register to attend. Click here to register.
Since Everything Must Change, Can Anything Change Everything?
One of the changes in Retake’s strategy going forward is to focus more on the big picture: the principles, values, and research that are the underpinnings of the policies we promote. That shift in focus begins today with a deep dive into the political context in which we advocate. Starting next week, blog posts will take deep dives into core issues, starting with examining the appropriate role of government in advancing social, economic, and climate justice in NM and the US. Today, we examine: Do we need to change everything to change anything? And, if so, how do we do this?
With “This Changes Everything,” a documentary by Avi Lewis and a book by Naomi Klein, the duo has attempted to reshape the narrative of climate change. They’ve dispensed with the alarmist rhetoric surrounding the debate; instead, they focus on a story of resilience, community, and change. The result is galvanizing. Unlike other climate documentaries, Lewis’ manages to avoid leaving the audience to feel helpless in the face of inevitable destruction. It chronicles the front lines of climate change social justice, bringing us into a movement bolstered by thousands of people around the world and affecting serious change. A YouTube preview of the documentary is shared at the end of this post.
Published in 2014, the book This Changes Everything has spawned a documentary, a song, even a festival, but what it hasn’t done is spawn the kind of global movement needed to transform our economy, our use of fossil fuels, and our over-consumption. Indeed, if the most recent IPCC report is to be believed, rather than accelerating our shift to 100% renewables and reducing our climate footprint, we are accelerating in reverse gear and getting ever nearer to the window closing on any flickering hope we may have to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of our warming planet.
Here in NM we find even the most modest climate actions are opposed because they send the wrong message to the gas and oil industry. As reported in the NM Political Report this last legislative session, the Governor’s budget included funds to restore staffing at two key NM environmental agencies responsible for monitoring gas and oil emissions. But apparently holding gas and oil accountable is a bridge too far for the NM state legislature.
The state’s two primary environmental agencies, the New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, will both receive modest bumps to their budgets from the state’s general fund, but these will still fall about $9 million short of the amounts the agencies and the governor requested in the Executive Budget Recommendation.
Both environment agencies are responsible for a growing amount of oversight, from enforcing pollution restrictions and food safety to mitigating wildfires and curbing impacts from climate change. Despite the increasing duties, the proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2023 calls for NMED’s budget to be nearly 5 percent lower when adjusted for inflation than it was in 2008; EMNRD’s budget is almost 13 percent lower.
The new budget does little to address this disparity. The Oil Conservation Division, an office within the EMNRD that monitors oil and gas activity, will only be able to hire five new staff members. It had requested funding for 25 people, primarily for compliance and remediation.”NM Political Report.
Sadly, this was not the only setback for legislation that could have represented a modest commitment to addressing the looming climate catastrophe. Among other climate-related bills that barely budged:
- HB 11 Energy Storage System Tax Credit. Amended and passed House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, then died in House Tax & Revenue without a hearing.
- HB 34 Solar Market Dev. Tax Credit Extension. (Identical companion bill in the Senate is SB 44 New Solar Market Dev. Income Tax Changes.) Passed House Energy Environment & Natural Resources; died without a hearing in House Tax & Revenue.
- SB 44 New Solar Market Development Income Tax Change. Passed Senate Conservation; died without hearing in Senate Tax, Bus. & Transportation.
- HJR 2 Environmental Rights, CA (aka Green Amendment). Amended and Passed by House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources; tabled in House Commerce and Economic Development.
- HM 20 Study State-Level Public Utility Model. Never heard in its first committee, House Labor, Government & Indian Affairs.
- SB 21 Electric Vehicle Income Tax Credit. Committee substitute passed Senate Tax Business & Transportation; passed Senate Finance with amendments; died on the Senate Floor.
All of these bills to varying degrees can be viewed as contributing to a just transition. Only one of these bills passed its second committee assignment and none achieved a floor vote in either chamber. I spent some time reviewing the details of each bill’s demise. While I could spend a few paragraphs describing one vote after another, the truth is that rural NM sees every environmental bill as a threat to their rural, gas & oil-fueled way of life, as a “Santa Fe-driven effort” to destroy their way of life. The other truth is that if Democratic leadership were passionate about these bills, they’d be able to pass them without support from rural GOP and Dems. I’d like to devote some time to this challenge. This will take a while to unravel, as the forces undermining progress on climate justice or any form of justice, are complex. Read on!
The Socio-Political Context
On our trip back from AZ, Roxanne and I listened to a podcast in which author Junot Diaz speaks of the power of radical hope. He described coming from the Caribbean with an ancestry that was enslaved, and that given where Caribbean blacks are now and where they were 250 years ago, how could he not be hopeful that we can marshal the will and resources to combat climate change. He noted that he had no faith in any of our leaders: economic, cultural, or political, and their ability or interest in leading the change that is needed and that that change would only come from the bottom up, with impacted communities of all colors recognizing the common enemy and forging strategies to disarm the capitalist, neoliberal powers that stand in the way of a just, sustainable world.
While I can see his point, I also remember being blown away and uplifted by Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything and thinking to myself, maybe she is right.
Klein’s “this” that would change everything was the intersection of climate advocacy with indigenous justice and justice for all impacted communities. She asserted –correctly I believe — that we can only address climate change by rejecting our capitalist and colonialist systems and neoliberal policies that exploit communities of color, particularly in the Global South, in the corporatocracy’s insatiable thirst for growth and profit. She wrote that book almost a decade ago. Yet the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report offers no evidence of a retreat from neoliberalism and no evidence of a massive movement erupting from the bottom up. Indeed, it is the neoliberals who are writing these reports and creating climate strategies like net zero, carbon capture & sequestration, and hydrogen production that allow us to continue our reliance on fossil fuels, our neoliberal thirst for growth, and our refusal to make the kinds of changes and sacrifices required.
Both Diaz and Klein point to the need for movements that erupt from below, meaning from indigenous or impacted communities, not from grasstops enviro organizations or political leaders. In NM, impacted communities could mean grassroots, indigenous communities, but it could also include rural NM and displaced workers losing their jobs as the state transitions to renewables. In both cases, leaders representing those communities (tribal governors and unions) rarely advocate for rejecting neoliberalism and capitalism, but rather seek to secure jobs and local revenue from whatever industry is at hand, no matter the social or environmental costs, i.e. gas and oil, hydrogen, private prisons, or predatory lending.
Which leads me to ask: If the movement that is needed must come from beneath and be led by those from impacted communities, what can urban, relatively privileged, older white people do to help accelerate and support the growth of that movement?
Consider for a moment the challenge involved.
- Indigenous communities tend to honor their elders and so, many indigenous people are unlikely to mistrust their elder leaders, and are less likely to be influenced by urban environmentalists.
- Workers displaced by closing extractive operations will be inclined to trust managers of those operations who publicly state their commitment to those workers and then announce plans to build and operate a new natural gas plant or hydrogen production facility.
- Neither of these populations are likely to have a long-standing and trusting relationship with urban progressives, and both have to pay attention to self-interest and the need for jobs and local revenue.
- Compound the difficulties noted above by a national trend of not trusting authority — whether health experts or climate scientists, government, or long-standing political leaders — and you have a formidable challenge, indeed.
The tendency for rural residents to distrust urban political policies extends well beyond perceived self-interest and spans many policy areas from protection of the 2nd Amendment, to health policy, welfare, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, and access to abortion. I took a few hours to explore on the Internet what researchers had found in relation to an urban-rural divide and found a recently published Washington Post-Kaiser Family Fund study, “Rural Divide” that reported on the scope and depth of the rural divide:
The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States.
Alongside a strong rural social identity, the survey shows that disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans.”Washington Post: “Rural Divide” (Bold emphasis mine.)
In February 2017, I had just finished reading a tremendous book, Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild, who spent five years living in rural Louisiana to reach a better understanding of the views of the kind of people who ultimately voted for Donald Trump.
The quote below from her book captures what is reported in the WaPo Kaiser report, something she describes as “the deep story” that informs the world view of many Trump supporters and white rural America:
“You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He’s on their side. In fact, isn’t he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It’s not your government anymore; it’s theirs.Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild (Bold emphasis mine.)
This widespread rural distrust of government did not spring out of nowhere. The GOP recognized that the New Deal was a good deal for most Americans, but not for the corporatocracy. And they turned to American oligarchs for funding to change the New Deal narrative to align more with the values of white, Christian America — unfettered individualism, survival of the fittest, and other values more compatible with unregulated corporate capitalism. We can thank Ronald Reagan for popularizing the notion that the worst thing imaginable was to hear “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” In her May 3, 2021 blog, historian Heather Cox Richardson details just how the media and the GOP branded individualism and stole imagery of the American cowboy as the penultimate American individual, out on the prairie without support from anyone, operating with his own skills and courage. No need for a helping hand. I highly recommend reading this May 3 piece, as Cox Richardson is not only a historian, but also a very skilled writer, and she lays out this dynamic compellingly.
Note in Hochschild’s quote above, the rural white Christian worldview does not reflect any appreciation of who is truly “redistributing money” or the degree to which the poor rural white population is poor, not because of anything done by equally poor blacks and immigrants, but because of the Walmarts, Safeways, Amazons, and Chevrons of the worl, and the oligarchs who own them and own the system. That is where the real redistribution has occurred over the last 60 years. But the GOP and, sadly, far too many Dems are very good at deflecting attention from the real culprits (and not coincidently, their political donors).
At the same time as the GOP and their oligarch-funded media and think tanks fomented distrust in government, the Democratic Party retreated from its support for unions and from tending to the needs of rural and rust-belt America. In August 2020, I wrote a post: “How We Went Wrong & How We Can Get it Right”. That post drew from several sources to delineate the Democrats’ retreat from support for labor and from the needs of middle-class working people. I highly recommend revisiting that post as it outlines the culpability of the Democratic Party for embracing neo-liberal policies and abandoning working people in favor of their ultra-rich donors. One of the sources for that post was The Atlantic’s: “College-Educated Professionals Are Capitalism’s Useful Idiots: How I got co-opted into helping the rich prevail at the expense of everybody else.” From The Atlantic:
What’s happened since the 1970s and ’80s didn’t just happen. It looks more like arson than a purely accidental fire, more like poisoning than a completely natural illness, more like a cheating of the many by the few—and although I’ve always been predisposed to disbelieve conspiracy theories, this amounts to a long-standing and well-executed conspiracy, not especially secret, by the leaders of the capitalist class, at the expense of everyone else. A Raw Deal replaced the New Deal. And I and my cohort of hippie-to-yuppie liberal Baby Boomers were complicit in that.”The Atlantic’s: “College-Educated Professionals Are Capitalism’s Useful Idiots: How I got co-opted into helping the rich prevail at the expense of everybody else,”
So, at the same time that the GOP and the oligarchs were planting seeds of government distrust, the Democratic Party was retreating from the New Deal, a perfect combination of factors that served to cement rural distrust in government.
So, If All this is True, What Do We Do to Facilitate a Bottom-Up Rural-Urban Alliance?
When the target audience is rural NM, the choice of messenger may take precedence over the message itself. Rural NM has become adept at waving off environmental concerns, as their distrust of authority and science is so deep-seated. They will heed the calls of PNM or Exxon dangling jobs and local revenue while disputing the science that their extractive practices are bad for the planet, the local environment, ratepayers, and rural communities. Their well-crafted ads describe themselves as caring neighbors who care about the air, water, and land, but also care about the local economy. This kind of misinformation campaign succeeds, in part, due to the pre-existing levels of distrust widespread in rural America and rural NM. That distrust can cause tens of millions of rural Americans to reject science, and reject masks and vaccines, no matter how many unvaccinated Americans die from COVID. Urban Americans are 50% more likely to be fully vaccinated as rural Americans. As they see it, the COVID numbers are just as cooked as the 2020 election was.
In this context, sending rural Republicans well-researched reports from credible university research institutes outlining how hydrogen hub efforts have failed everywhere they have been launched, or equally well-researched pieces on the benefits of public power, are not likely to have the desired impact because the messenger is dismissed before the message is heard. And that message is countered by ads describing faux research funded by the gas & oil industry outlining how those lucky enough to get in early will get the billions offered by the Feds and the resulting jobs promised by the extractive industries.
If Klein and Diaz are correct and the change that changes everything must come from below and erupt from a sudden, broadly held realization that rural America is being duped by the neoliberal, capitalist system, how is such a realization achieved?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein collaborated in producing the documentary below. It offers vivid examples of grassroots resistance to capitalist exploitation. Of course, in their scenarios the grassroots eruption resulted from particularly blatant and brutal exploitation, reserved for the Global South. And in the context of brutal exploitation, courageous resistance is easier to imagine than in rural NM, where the exploitation is subtle and performed by “good neighbors” who care about both the local environment and the local economy.
So, I close with a few questions and ask readers to respond by leaving a reply below.
- Is it true that to achieve a just transition the movement must erupt from the “bottom”?
- Must that movement arise from an understanding of the corrupting influence of neoliberal policies and corporate greed?
- If so, how do we help support this movement? Do we stand back and wait for it to emerge? Could we have a role in helping build it?
- If we have a role, who could be our best messengers so our message doesn’t fall on deaf ears?
In solidarity & hope,
Paul & Roxanne
Don’t forget to check out This Changes Everything, below.