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From the Editor

Silicon Valley Beats Texas Oil

There’s no question that for those of us committed to environmental sanity and social justice the November mid-term elections were a disappointing setback. The Republican Party has always been ideologically opposed to using government (that is, um, “We, the people”) to counteract pollution. But once upon a time you could find some Republicans who supported old-fashioned, Rooseveltian conservation, and even a handful (think of the first President Bush) who were willing to act on big threats like acid rain. Today, when it comes to major issues like global warming, a willful ignorance has gripped Republicans. It’s become a matter of faith (sometimes literally so) to doubt the basic facts of climate change. The GOP’s control of the House of Representatives means there’s little chance of passing any federal environmental laws in the next two years. And that will probably give further impetus to green groups’ moves to shift their focus to local efforts and long term base-building (for more, see the cover story).

Thankfully, election night did come with one silver-green lining: California voters’ crushing defeat of Proposition 23.

For those of you who don’t live in the Golden State, here’s a quick recap. In 2006, the California legislature passed a law requiring the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a roughly 25 percent decrease. The law was something of a big deal given that the state is the world’s eighth biggest economy. Not surprisingly, some major fossil fuel companies were unhappy with this, and so they put Prop. 23 on the ballot hoping that Californians would delay implementation of the law. Energy companies and environmentalists across the US were watching the outcome closely, anxious to see how voters would respond to the country’s first referendum on clean energy and climate change.

In the end, the contest wasn’t even close. Californians didn’t buy the oil companies’ argument that renewable energy is incompatible with a strong economy and they resoundingly voted against Prop. 23, 61 to 39 percent.

There’s some powerful political symbolism in Prop. 23’s demise, and it should give hope to anyone passionate about the transition to a green economy. The fight over Prop. 23 was essentially a battle between Texas Oil and Silicon Valley – and Texas Oil lost.

Most of the money behind the initiative was put up by a pair of San Antonio-based oil refining companies, with some help from the reactionary carbon barons the Koch brothers. On the other side, the opponents of Prop. 23 included some of the boldest names in the green-tech industry who decided to put their money where their investments are – and outspent the oil interests by three-to-one. For their part, California’s biggest electric utilities mostly sat out the fight, having already come to peace with the greenhouse gas law.

Prop. 23, then, was a contest between the old, dirty energy-based economy and the new, emerging economy centered on clean energy. It was a referendum on whether to stick with twentieth century technologies or embrace twenty-first century ones. It was a choice between progress and stagnation. In casting their votes, Californians had the good sense to see that their fortunes, and their future, lie with renewable energy.

One can only hope that the rest of the country will eventually catch up with that wisdom.

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