If all politics is local, as Tip O’Neil famously said, then this year local politics is also national – or maybe international.
That was driven home again last week when President Trump announced he will pull the United States from the Paris climate accord, saying he was elected to represent Pittsburg, not Paris.
The local implications are profound in several ways. First, the chairman of the committee that oversees science, technology and climate legislation in the United States House of Representatives is local – Lamar Smith, a Republican from San Antonio, who represents much of Hays County, including big swaths along the west side of Interstate 35. You can argue semantics here but basically Smith is a fairly nice guy in person who is also, essentially, a science denier.
That’s right. The head of the science and tech committee doesn’t believe the scientists he helps fund. At times, the world is an odd place.
Chairman Smith also says his constituents should put more faith in President Trump’s tweets than in news coverage.
The president’s trumpeting “Pittsburg over Paris” is a bit hard to swallow. As the mayor of Pittsburg pointed out, the president’s view of that city (and the world) is hopelessly outdated. In fact, Pittsburg is no longer the poster child for coal-fired industrial plants belching smoke. The city has re-made itself, embracing environmental sustainability and relying on new-tech jobs and clean energy.
If President Trump thinks he should follow the whims of Pittsburg then he has a problem. Seventy five percent of the city voted against him in the presidential election. The mayor, the largest local newspaper, leading lights of business and the governor of the state all spoke out against President Trump’s decision after he highlighted the city, saying reneging on our country’s commitment to the climate treaty will hurt local citizens and local jobs in Pittsburg.
It will almost certainly hurt local jobs and ratepayers here, too – unless local and regional leaders stand against it.
Our local economy is tethered to technology, innovation, wind, solar and clean-burning natural gas infinitely more than it is tied to coal or even old-style oils-and-gas production. A bucketful of local companies thriving in the space between Austin and San Antonio are focused on this newer energy technology. Thousands of locals commute into neighboring urban centers for similar jobs. And our electric co-op is using more and more alternative energy sources, even allowing customers to sell home-generated solar power back to the grid.
This is the future economy, if we’ll just seize it, with billions of dollars at stake in world markets. The U.S. – and Central Texas – could be a leader if we invested in science and research, instead of denying or hiding from it.
But more than that, we live in one of the places that may be most affected by climate change. While prone to drought, we are at the same time the flash-flood capital of the continent.
Spikes in extreme weather on both ends – drought and flood – are a phenomena we should be eager to study, understand and mitigate, here of all places.
Instead, too many of our national elected leaders seem afraid to ask honest questions – or even to let scientists look into them. It seems to us a fearful and pessimistic view of humankind’s potential and our nation’s ability.
And it means that this year national politics is very much a local concern.