Our SciBling Matt Nisbet over at Framing Science has called our attention to a WaPo piece about Governor Arnold (The Terminator) Schwarzenegger’s emergence as one of the most pro-environment state-house chiefs in the nation. The fact that he runs the biggest state with enormous economic clout makes it all the more significant. Reading the WaPo article Matt points to makes clear he has also picked up on a significant aspect of The Governator’s strategy which got by the WaPo staff writer but we believe is significant. As Matt sees, Schwarzenegger is framing is arguments in public health terms. I guess if you write a blog called Framing Science you get pretty good at figuring these things out.
Schwarzenegger has not always been an up front environmentalist. In the early 90s he bought the a grotesque gas guzzler, the Hummer, and helped stimulate the SUV craze. But he is also a clever politician and knows when to moderate or change his views, irrespective of the rest of the Republican party, to which he nominally belongs:
This year he signed the nation’s first environmental law of its kind, committing the state to lowering its greenhouse gas production to 1990 levels by 2020 and setting up an international program that provides manufacturers with incentives to lower carbon emissions, which is supposed to begin by 2012. He has vowed to fight any attempt to drill for oil off California’s coast.
And now Schwarzenegger, a Republican, wants to use his star power to turn global warming into an issue in the 2008 presidential election. “There is a whole new movement because of the change of people sent to Washington,” Schwarzenegger said in an interview this week, referring to the Democratic Party’s impending takeover of Congress. “We want to put the spotlight on this issue in America. It has to become a debate in the presidential election. It has to become an issue.”
Schwarzenegger’s relationship with the Bush administration and the conservative wing of the Republican Party has been rocky. He has clashed with Bush over stem cell research (Schwarzenegger favors, Bush opposes), dispatching the National Guard to do border enforcement (Bush ordered, Schwarzenegger opposed) and legalizing the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada (Bush opposes, Schwarzenegger favors).
But no other issue divides the governor and the president as much as global warming. Schwarzenegger’s embrace of the issue is clearly a gambit on the part of a politician with big ambitions. Analysts say he could run for the Senate in 2010. He cannot run for president because he was not born in the United States.
Schwarzenegger made no bones about his exasperation with the Bush administration’s refusal to allow California to become the first state in the nation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. A request in 2005 for that authority has received no response from the Environmental Protection Agency. The question of whether the EPA — or other agencies — should regulate greenhouse gases is being considered by the Supreme Court. (WaPo)
This might be just another story of a maverick Republican who sees the handwriting on the wall, but the part that WaPo misses and Matt sees is the way Schwarzenegger is framing his environmentalism. It isn’t primarily about the “environment,” but about public health:
“We are going to find a way to do it, no matter what anyone says,” Schwarzenegger said. “. . . We have to make moves that protect the health of the people. That’s our number one priority.
“We don’t want Washington to tell us when we are allowed to be healthy or when we should get cancer,” he continued. “We don’t want people to die because pollution causes certain illnesses and cancers and so on.”
Schwarzenegger argued that in a “Nixon goes to China” way he is uniquely poised to lead on the environmental front. Calling himself a “sane Republican,” he said his pro-business philosophy and fiscal conservatism shield him from accusations of being “the tree hugger, the crazy guy out there who wants to live on the moon and talk about the spirits and all this holistic stuff.” (WaPo)
Historically there was a split between two branches of the “environmental movement,” the public health side represented by many nineteenth century reformers and later by sanitarians; and the conservationist side, more interested in wildlife, greenspaces and the wilderness. Both sides abandoned political action until the 1960s, the public health side because it found itself marginalized and under the thumb of organized medicine, and the conservation movement, where the focus on wilderness — essentially defined as a place where there were no people or their social structures — produced a very narrow political target. Since the 1960s there has been a gradual “two steps forward one step back” effort to bring these separated streams of environmentalism together. Air quality and climate change have become one of the principal loci for that rapprochement. Schwarzenegger’s casting of the issue as one of public health is an example of this slow developing relationship.
The Governor’s use of the term, “sane Republican” is also of interest. One hears more and more in business circles — and make no mistake, Schwarzenegger is no progressive in Republican clothing; he is a fiscal conservative and pro-business Republican — that the right wing ideology which has held the Republican party in thrall for the last four decades is not only now a recipe for defeat but bad for business. Consider national health insurance. The average Japanese car has only about $200 worth of worker health benefits in its cost. The average GM car has about $1500 dollars in worker health benefits. Japanese taxpayers are paying the bill instead of autobuyers and giving cars built in Japan a built-in competitive advantage. Many large companies see this, but they do not wish to abandon their traditional sugar daddies in the Republican party. This doesn’t stop them from wishing more were “sane Republicans” like Arnold.
It will be a step forward if the Republican party joins “the reality-based community,” even in part. It won’t make them into progressives, of course. We’ll still have to elect people who are rooted in reality but also have more than business as their main concern.
Still, two steps forward.