Proposition 23 and the Souls of Californians

In a few weeks Californians will vote on Proposition 23. Its passage would be a devastating blow to the effort in California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Technically, Proposition 23 would suspend the implementation of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 or AB 32 until the state had achieved an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters. But in the last forty years, the state has enjoyed only three periods, each about two-and-a-half years long, of such low unemployment. Proposition 23 would effectively kill AB 32, the most impressive effort by a state to take up climate change mitigation in the absence of leadership from the federal government. AB 32 requires greenhouse gas emission levels to be on par with 1990 levels by 2020, about 30 percent below what they are projected to be without the legislation, and it sets a goal of an 80 percent reduction by mid-century.

Two Texas based oil companies, Valero and Tesoro, both with major refineries in California, are bankrolling Proposition 23. These major polluters, with records of substantial violations of California pollution law, have poured over $4 million dollars into the campaign for Proposition 23. In state where the unemployment rate is 12 percent, the money spent on the message of pitting jobs against climate change mitigation has met with some success. A recent LA Times poll found that although two-thirds of likely voters think that climate change is either ?very important? or ?somewhat important,? Proposition 23 is in the lead with 40 percent of likely voters favoring it and 38 percent against it.

There is still hope. Historically, it has been difficult for a proposition to pass without garnering 50 percent support by this time in the process, because the majority of undecided voters typically vote no.

One lesson that is now emerging concerns the importance of making the economic arguments for climate change policy. Last July, England, France, and Germany called for European greenhouse gas emissions to be 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. This makes California?s pioneering law look feeble, especially considering that the call was made by countries with center-right governments. The rationale that the Europeans offered is important in the jobs versus climate change debate. The lower than expected CO2 emissions due to recession pose an opportunity for Europe to increase its commitment to mitigation at lower costs and thus to gain a competitive advantage in the coming low-carbon economy.

The social vices of arrogance and ignorance often seem characteristic of anti-mitigation attitudes. There is the arrogance of the U.S. senators who believe that we owe the international community no serious climate change mitigation policy. There is the ignorance of the voters who reject the straightforward message of climate science. But the European position suggests another vice: imprudence. It remains to be seen what we Californians will reveal about ourselves when the votes for Proposition 23 are counted.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.