The Politics of Going Green

Green building is often thought of as a liberal issue — lumped in with other environmental causes that democrats support.

And in some ways, that makes sense — democrats are widely identified with ecological issues because the party for years has championed environmental reform (Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth" wasn’t actually about things that are inconvenient, after all.)

But to call green building a liberal initiative is unfair — and when it comes to widespread acceptance, it can be damaging. It’s important to note several republicans also support green living.

Take, for example, Wisconsin Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and State Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Ashwaubenon). The two successfully proposed an energy efficiency act in 2006 that will increase the amounts of renewable energy consumed in Wisconsin.

Some of Cowles’ and Montgomery’s suggestions included creating small-scale manure-to-energy devices, known as anaerobic digesters, and wind turbines — which are very green indeed.

The bill was such a success that Cowles, a chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Energy, Utilities and Information Technology, was later honored by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) for making energy efficiency a hallmark of his career as an elected official.

Cowles isn’t the only conservative lauding the effects of sustainability. California’s notably conservative (and muscular) governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is a huge green design enthusiast, calling for public buildings to be 20 percent more energy efficient by 2015 and encouraging the private sector to embrace the same principles.

Schwarzenegger also created a Green Action Team to implement green practices and increase energy efficiency in California.

It’s true that Schwarzenegger is often said to be moderate in part because of his environmental views — but that doesn’t change the fact he ran, was elected and serves as a republican. Despite some left-leaning views, he has very much aligned himself with the Republican Party.

And Schwarzenegger put that relationship at risk in 2005 when he worked with dems to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Although some reports say relations are slightly strained between the governor and other republican politicians as a result, conservative voters still love him. A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California pegged his approval rating within the party at 75 percent, according to MediaNews.

Perhaps Schwarzenegger is just listening to his constituents. For the first time, a majority of Californians — 54% — say they think global warming poses a very serious threat to the state’s future economy and quality of life, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey.

The point? Sustainability doesn’t need to be a political issue. Green can be good, and if the Terminator can sell that message to his conservative party supporters, there’s no reason other politicians — of either party — can’t forget any connotations the word "green" can invoke and simply focus on the facts.