The following post reflects the views of its authors and does not constitute an endorsement by The Aerogram. The Aerogram does not endorse any candidate or organization in connection with this campaign/election.
In the heart of Silicon Valley sits the most closely watched South Asian Congressional race in the coming November 4 elections. Residents of California’s 17th Congressional District, an Asian majority district with over 100,000 South Asian residents, will pick between two Democrats: incumbent Mike Honda, serving since 2001 and known for his work on civil rights, education, and labor, and challenger Ro Khanna, a former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce who teaches economics at Stanford.
Both our homes and our homelands are impacted by climate change, the biggest public policy challenge of the century. That’s why last month, members of Brown and Green: South Asian Americans for Climate Justice helped organize the South Asian contingent at the People’s Climate March in New York. Now we’re back home, and trying to figure out how to vote.
Which candidate is better for voters who care about climate justice? We reached out to both campaigns with questions on their stances on areas like public transit, fracking, and the United States’ responsibility as the #1 historical emitter. Honda’s campaign provided us with written responses, while we got on the phone with Khanna for a candid conversation.
Both candidates had strong responses. If every member of Congress talked about the climate crisis like Ro Khanna or Mike Honda, we might be in a very different place as a country and an international community. Here are some of our favorite responses…
- Mike Honda on the issues:
- On U.S. responsibility to developing nations, as the #1 historical climate polluter: “It is impossible not to acknowledge the role the United States and the rest of the developed world played in causing climate change…Our nation must lead by example and commit to policies that reduce our contribution to global warming, and we must help developing nations quickly adopt clean, renewable energy as they advance their economies, so that they skip the dirty fossil fuel driven phase of development and don’t make the same mistakes that the United States made that have exacerbated our climate problems.”
- On his record: “I introduced the Smart Electronics Act, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of the growing number of consumer electronics; I helped found the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition to push Congress toward action on renewable energy; and am a member of the Safe Climate Caucus to further the dialogue on climate action in Congress.”
- On the campaign to have the University of California divest from fossil fuel industries: “the University of California, as the flagship university of our state, a leader on climate issues, should shift its investments from fossil fuels to those that address climate risk”
- On natural gas: “Many Members of Congress have supported the fracking boom and justified it based on natural gas being a cleaner fuel than coal or oil. I have not joined them because I believe that, while burning natural gas may reduce other forms of pollution, it is still a fossil fuel whose burning releases greenhouse gases that are changing our climate.”
- On fracking in California: “Fracking in the Monterey Shale is aimed at recovering oil, unlike in other parts of the country where fracking is used to drill for natural gas. As a result, fracking in California will have a much more significant impact on climate change than fracking elsewhere, and it is not consistent with California’s leadership on climate.”
- Ro Khanna on the issues:
- On U.S. responsibility to developing nations, as the #1 historical climate polluter: “We have to recognize that developing nations didn’t have the advantage of industrialization over the last century. We have an obligation to help with their economies so they can grow in environmentally responsible ways. It’s hard to make the case that they should stop all economic growth for environmental reasons — as part of a community of nations, we need to be ready to help.”
- On ending federal subsidies for oil, gas, and coal companies: “This is part of my proposal for corporate tax reform. The corporate tax code is skewed. We need to eliminate these kinds of tax breaks and subsidies, and support the innovation economy, including solar, wind, and geothermal.”
- On the campaign to have the University of California divest from fossil fuel industries: “I support that!”
- On tar sands infrastructure, including Keystone XL: “It’s terrible, totally sends the wrong message. We need to be investigating alternative energy, solar, and wind, and its a crutch to think that Keystone will solve our energy needs. It will create much more harm.”
- On learning of Stanford/UC Irvine research showing that natural gas will fail to reduce emissions: “I would look to scientific studies to help guide my thinking, and want to stay connected to experts. For example, a colleague at Stanford shared facts with me about the links between climate change and drought, which changed the way I think about both issues. If elected, I want to prioritize scientific leadership.”
- On regulating fracking: “If elected to Congress, I will support legislation to remove the so-called ‘Halliburton Loophole’ [oil and gas industry exemptions from the Clean Air and Clean Water Act]. Hydraulic fracturing needs to be subject to the same environment regulations as other fossil fuel extraction techniques.”
Both candidates talked about wanting to end fossil fuel subsidies, investing in alternatives like solar, and opposing new dirty infrastructure like Keystone XL. We were happily surprised by some of their answers, like their joint support for the University of California fossil fuel divestment campaign, and their immediate acknowledgement of our responsibility to impacted developing nations as the #1 historical climate polluter.
There were also areas where we wished the candidates’ policy visions went much further. For example, while both sides talked about their support for expanding BART, the commuter subway system connecting suburbs to cities like San Francisco, neither candidate’s answers or websites address critical (and cheaper) solutions like improving buses or trying to fund free youth transit, to provide low-carbon lifeline mobility to our family and community members who are low-income, immigrant, youth, and/or seniors. (Climate justice is about reducing both emissions and inequity.)
Ultimately, as Brown and Green: South Asian Americans for Climate Justice, we’re choosing to endorse Rep. Mike Honda because of his proven track record of climate leadership in Congress (we join groups like Climate Hawks, the Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters). Climate change is likely to be the defining environmental and public health crisis of the 21st century, and for over a decade, Honda has been doing exactly the the kind of work we need.
We liked a lot of what Ro Khanna had to say. However, what really gave us pause were Khanna’s published stances in favor of natural gas1 and “energy from waste”2—toxic false solutions to climate change which are bad for local communities, for the United States, and for our climate-vulnerable homelands. Climate change is a life and death issue for impacted communities in our homelands, and getting the details right matters.
Ro Khanna is one of us — a civic-minded Desi nerd — and we know he can do better than this. Khanna assured us that he’s willing to follow the science, and we’re hopeful that he’ll do so and reconsider his position on these false solutions, particularly if he wins the CA-17 Congressional seat on November 4. Whether it’s Honda or Khanna, we need real climate leaders in Congress.
Are you a South Asian American voter with environmental values? What choices are you making this November and beyond? Continue the conversation!
Anirvan is @anirvan, and Bhavik is @bhavikml. Stay connected with Brown and Green: South Asian Americans for Climate Justice via Twitter (@SouthAsianGreen), Tumblr, or Facebook, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. What’s wrong with pushing investments in natural gas? “Abundant supplies of natural gas will do little to reduce harmful U.S. emissions causing climate change, according to researchers at UC Irvine, Stanford University, and the nonprofit organization Near Zero. They found that inexpensive gas boosts electricity consumption and hinders expansion of cleaner energy sources, such as wind and solar.” (source)
2. What’s wrong with “energy from waste”? A Brown and Green member notes: “‘Energy from waste’ is essentially the same as…old-fashioned incineration. The claim of ‘reducing pollution’ is ridiculous, as this would create a whole new massive pollution source, and ‘low cost’ is laughable as modern incinerators typically cost several hundred million dollars each. Also, with California under mandate to increase composting, recycling and waste reduction to 50%, this would create infrastructure that would need to be fed—meaning it would either negatively impact local recycling rates, or end up importing garbage to burn from other localities, as has happened often elsewhere.”