I came to Texas in January 2013 driven by a tremendous sense of urgency. Eminent climate scientist Dr. James Hansen had warned that if the tar sands in Canada were extracted and ignited, it would be “game over” for our future. The Keystone XL Pipeline was being constructed specifically to exploit Canadian tar sands. The southern leg, then under development, now runs from Oklahoma through Texas to refineries in the Gulf. The northern leg has yet to be completed, but the Trump Administration fully supports the project. If completed, it would only be a matter of time before the window within which we might salvage our children’s future will shut forever. On Earth Day 2013, I stood my ground in Oklahoma -- locking myself to heavy equipment, which shut down the KXL Pipeline for a few hours. I stood trial for this action 18 months later. Facing up to 2 years in jail, I refused to plead guilty. Dr. Hansen very kindly agreed to prepare testimony for this trial in which he declared:
“To allow further exploitation of Canada’s tar sands is akin to giving up, willfully ignoring the well-being of young people, future generations, and other life on Earth. It is absolutely necessary that we reverse our present course without delay in order to preserve a viable climate system for our children and their progeny.”
I was convicted, but the jury refused to incarcerate me, instead imposing a fine.
On the eve of the trial, the woman who would become my wife, Gloria, had agreed to marry me, not knowing if the next day would see me whisked away from court in handcuffs for years. Instead, we returned to Texas – where Gloria has lived for over 40 years – and together we make our home here. The fight to “preserve a viable climate system for our children” continues. Its epicenter is in Texas, so here is where we will stand fighting with others for our children’s future.
Texas is the energy capital of the United States. Virtually every major energy company in the world has a presence in this state. The political influence this industry enjoys here explains why the Republican Party has been so dominant not only in Texas, but the nation as well. The most important struggle in the world is happening here in Texas. If we can get Texas right, we can get our nation right, and then we can help to get the world right.
In late November 2017, I was asked by the chairman of the Nacogdoches County Democratic Party if I would consider running for office. It took me less than 60 seconds to agree to run for Texas State House District 11. The incumbent, Travis Clary, a Republican hoping to win a fourth term in the legislature, works for a law firm, Kelly-Hart, that represents all manner of Fortune 500 companies, including many firms that are part of the oil industry. He proudly sponsored HB40, a bill that forbids every city and town in Texas from protecting their citizens from toxic threats beneath their feet. He also co-sponsored SB4, a hideous piece of legislation that the ACLU describes below:
“SB4 is a Texas law that forces local governments and law enforcement agencies to do the work of federal immigration officers. It punishes local officials who choose to prioritize their communities’ safety over the anti-immigrant agenda of politicians, diverts precious local resources away from communities to serve the needs of the federal government, corrodes public trust in law enforcement, and drives victims and witnesses of crime into the shadows, making everyone less safe. Sheriffs and police chiefs across the state strongly advised the legislature not to pass this awful law.”
Clardy’s support for HB40 and SB4 are sufficient in themselves for me to oppose him, but it is his silence in two other areas that concern me even more, and both relate directly to the fight for our children’s future. I am not aware that Clardy has ever said a single word about the mounting threat we all face living on a planet with an atmosphere warming at an alarming rate. He also has been silent about the role of Texas as the Saudi Arabia of wind and solar power. The reason, of course, is that the Republican Party he belongs to is entirely beholden to the fossil fuel sector and addicted to the financial rewards heaped upon faithful servants like Clardy. As Upton Sinclair observed in an earlier era, “It’s hard to get a man to understand something if his job requires that he doesn’t understand it.” Clardy clearly understands his job in terms of this kind of willful ignorance.
The most important struggle in the world is happening here in Texas. If we can get Texas right, we can get our nation right, and then we can help to get the world right.
I am far from a newcomer to politics. Indeed, I have been politically active for 50 years. I have had a career working in political campaigns, including two presidential races and a congressional race, all in Iowa. I have held virtually every campaign position from field organizer to campaign and targeting manager. I know how to win elections, and am convinced that our campaign stands a fighting chance of gaining victory next November 6th.
The Texas Democratic Party (TDP) is fielding an impressive number of candidates in 2018. The trials of the past several decades have led the TDP to the reinvention of a different kind of Democratic Party, separate from its earlier history, and quite distant from the sad spectacle the DNC struggles to move beyond at the national level.
For several years, there has been talk about how Texas is ripe for a turnaround. Demographic changes strongly suggest this, and there are other reasons that inspire Texans to embrace a leadership change.
For most of the Houston area, Harvey’s five-day rain total was a 1-in-25,000-year event. In certain nearby areas it was a 1-in-500,000-year event.
They say everything is bigger in Texas. That is true for sure. It is so big that it is its own country – in fact, it was a separate country! It is filled with huge extremes: immense wealth alongside abject poverty. It is the energy capital of the nation and the biggest emitter of carbon pollution. And, as noted before, it is the Saudi Arabia of wind and solar. Texas has huge problems, but even more promising possibilities.
Texas in particular, and the south in general, are on track to face some of the worst effects associated with a warming planet. Texas had endured a historic drought during 2010-2015 – in fact, 2011 was the driest year in the state’s recorded history. “There is literally no point of comparison,” the State Climatologist reported in November of that year. That dry weather ignited wild fires in 252 out of 254 counties in the state. Among the lower 48 states, Texas faces the worst threat from widespread summer droughts.
And this summer Hurricane Harvey struck. Even before Harvey, Houston was suffering from floods made worse by our warming climate. To be clear, climate scientists do not claim that global warming creates Hurricanes and Typhoons. They are natural phenomena, but the scientists do agree that global warming makes them much worse. Warmer ocean surface temperatures add energy and moisture to these storms, making them far more dangerous and deadly. This past hurricane season produced four Category-5 hurricanes in a 6-week period – a world record.
During a 27-month period that ended just this past August, Houston was hit by seven major flood events: There were three 1-in-500-year events and two 1-in-1,000-year floods. But Harvey was quite literally off the charts in U.S. history. For most of the Houston area, Harvey’s 5-day rain total was a 1-in-25,000-year event. In certain nearby areas, it was a 1-in-500,000-year event. So much rain fell in such a short period of time that it depressed the earth’s crust by two centimeters. Harris County, the home of Houston, received over 1 trillion gallons. Harvey was the only recorded storm in the Gulf of Mexico that intensified in the 12-hour period prior to land fall. These facts will remain fresh in the memories of voters who will find Republican silence on this issue both deafening and alarming.
In his recent book, Beyond the Messy Truth, Van Jones writes, “In a sane society, common pain should lead to common purpose.” Given all the global-warming-related pain Texas has endured, uniting to address it would be expected... if sanity prevailed. Sadly, quite the opposite prevails in the Texas State Government.
The renewable energy revolution is well on its way to eclipse the declining oil industry because Texas truly is the Saudi Arabia of Wind and Solar.
My likely opponent in 2018 has grown wealthy representing Fortune 500 clients and lives in what seems like a castle overlooking downtown Nacogdoches. Life has been good for “King Clardy” – so good, in fact, that he does not feel the pain that dominates the lives of most people living in this district. All three counties have median incomes below the Texas average. Over 21% of the residents in this district live in poverty compared to the Texas statewide average (under 16%). Texas has the third most regressive tax structure in the nation, relying on sales tax for most of the state’s revenue – a burden felt more keenly by most working families struggling to make ends meet than any king in his castle. As noted before, Clardy has uttered not a single word about the truth of global warming and the threat it poses to Texans.
Texans are ready for economic development that lifts up more than just the local royalty, and the revolution in renewable energy development, along with other initiatives our campaign will promote, stand a far better chance promoting economic well-being than the broken development model now plaguing Texas. Known as “attract and retain” and focused exclusively on big business, it is in effect, “distract and restrain” when it comes to small placed-based businesses, which account for about 58% of all enterprises in this country.
While Texas has had a long and proud history as the oil capital of the nation, there is a growing awareness that a new era of energy development has arrived: The renewable energy revolution is well on its way to eclipse the declining oil industry because Texas truly is the Saudi Arabia of Wind and Solar. Unfortunately, the oil industry still commands vast treasure and is able to buy the loyalty and the silence of Republican elected officials across the state. But their grip on power is slipping. General Motors announced this year that by 2020 it will only be producing electric cars. Worldwide, the insurance industry is balking at having to underwrite increasing climate instability and understands that this is the result of carbon pollution still out of control.
Investors around the world have noted that renewable energy systems based on wind and solar power are economically more efficient, having lower levelized costs than the most efficient fossil fuel technologies. Firms like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and many others see this clearly. Business publications like Bloomberg and many others are trumpeting this vibrant and growing industry.
Texas is fast becoming a national leader in renewable energy. Below we see the impressive growth of wind energy capacity.
Solar energy development is equally impressive:
Overall, the renewable energy sector is poised to become one of the state’s largest employers (see below), particularly if new leadership in the State Capitol can resist efforts promoted by the fossil fuel sector to slow this sector’s impressive growth.
Faced with the mounting evidence of the destructiveness of unchecked global warming and the bright prospect of embracing our clean energy future, Texans are likely to make new choices for leadership next November. Progressive Democrats are trailblazing a new path to a brighter future, not only in Texas, but across the nation. While there are important struggles throughout the country, many of them concentrated in the Gulf region, if we fail to change course in Texas, we are less likely to succeed nationally. There is a winning message emerging from Texas to the nation. I am hoping that people everywhere in Texas and our nation will rise to the occasion, and support this struggle. If we join forces, we stand the best chance ever of winning our children’s clean energy future. For more information about our campaign, please visit our website.