Paul Krugman writes today that the only serious remaining obstacle to long-term global action to combat climate change remains one of the two major political parties running the country that happens to be the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world:

Future historians — if there are any future historians — will almost surely say that the most important thing happening in the world during December 2015 was the climate talks in Paris. True, nothing agreed to in Paris will be enough, by itself, to solve the problem of global warming. But the talks could mark a turning point, the beginning of the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe.
Then again, they might not; we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party.

It is true that the Republican Party can scuttle our participation in any global climate deal. A GOP president taking over in 2017 could either pull the U.S. out of any such deal, or could conceivably weaken or roll back Obama’s Clean Power Plan to curb carbon emissions, which may be pivotal to our participation in a global agreement. (Rebecca Leber usefully rounds up all the GOP candidates’ sneering about the Paris talks and Obama’s climate agenda right here.) Of course, even if a Republican does take over, it’s possible that scuttling a deal could prove a lot harder and less likely in practice than the candidates are now making it sound, as my conversations with experts have indicated.

However, the fact remains: The GOP could well find itself in a position to deal a serious setback to whatever deal is reached in Paris. And as Krugman says, this is an enormously important fact that hasn’t widely sunk in yet. Krugman also adds another crucial point — that the 2016 election should be seen as a referendum on the GOP’s unremitting hostility to global climate action, but that this won’t receive the media scrutiny it deserves:

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The 2016 election should be seen as a referendum on that extremism. But it probably won’t be reported that way. Which brings me to what you might call the problem of climate denial denial. Some of this denial comes from moderate Republicans…
More important, probably, is the denial inherent in the conventions of political journalism, which say that you must always portray the parties as symmetric — that any report on extreme positions taken by one side must be framed in a way that makes it sound as if both sides do it….
But I hope I’m wrong, and I’d urge everyone outside the climate-denial bubble to frankly acknowledge the awesome, terrifying reality. We’re looking at a party that has turned its back on science at a time when doing so puts the very future of civilization at risk. That’s the truth, and it needs to be faced head-on.

I fear Krugman is right about the media treatment this will receive. And that means it’s on the Democratic Party and its 2016 nominee to drive home the larger stakes of GOP climate intransigence.

It’s often said that climate change doesn’t motivate voters, and that’s true. But a confluence of events — the implementation of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, plus the likelihood that we’ll have a global climate deal very soon — mean the contrast on this issue really could matter more in this election than in previous cycles. The stakes surrounding this fundamental difference between the two parties are suddenly a whole lot higher. The question is now no longer an abstract one. It’s about whether the U.S. will participate in a concrete, long-term, global agreement to take sustained action to address a crisis that the scientists tell us could soon be irreversibly headed towards catastrophe.

What’s more, for Democrats, this issue is something of a two-fer. It isn’t just about whether we should act on climate, which now has majority support in polls. It’s also about whether to embrace international engagement as a means to act on it. The GOP nominee will have pledged to reverse the steps we’re now taking in this regard by pulling us out of an international deal that (hopefully) will have already been reached. That stance might not be a winner before a general election audience. Dems can use it (among other things) to hammer the GOP as trapped in the past.

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Sure, some pundits will proclaim that Dems risk alienating blue collar whites in Rust Belt states by taking this on. But swing voters are dwindling as a factor. The 2016 election could turn on how successfully the Dem nominee motivates the core voter groups that have been powering Dem wins in recent national elections. Climate action polls very well with these groups.

Also, the issue is kind of important. It may not end up mattering much, or even at all, to next year’s outcome. But the more it gets talked about, the better.

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