Workers open the gates of the Bonnet Carre spillway, a river diversion structure, which diverts water from the rising Mississippi River, to Lake Pontchartrain, in Norco, La. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
Opinion writer

You may have already seen the viral video of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) reading Republicans the riot act for pulling a political stunt rather than giving the Green New Deal a respectful hearing:

That’s political gold — and not only because it provides such a glaring contrast to cynical Republican know-nothingism: “During floor debate ahead of a vote on the Green New Deal," The Post noted, "Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told his colleagues that if they really want to address environmental concerns they’ll encourage people to couple off and have more babies.” Ocasio-Cortez’s response was politics at its finest because it employs rhetoric and emotion in the service of public policy rooted in values — and it shames the opposition for violating basic human norms of empathy, honesty and rationality.

Ocasio-Cortez understands what many progressives do not: “Climate” is inanimate; climate change is an abstraction for most people. Farmers under water, Floridians without homes, kids dying of asthma and entire towns wiped out by forest fires are real and they occur in blue and red districts. Laughing in the face of a farmer who lost his livelihood is cruel and signifies unfitness for public service. It is as morally indefensible as refusing to “believe” in germ theory when families could avoid devastation or in medicine when thousands could be saved. And that reality, that climate deniers mock those who suffer from its results, needs to be hammered home again and again.

In fact, Democrats need to label emergency funding bills for natural disasters “Climate damage abatement” — let know-nothing Republicans argue about that.

It is a mistake to define climate change as a national-security risk, as some progressives have done. National-security risks are handed off to the military and to the intelligence community. Instead, climate change should be properly thought of as an epidemic that left untreated will injure, impoverish and kill our people. Denying the cause of those calamities isn’t climate denial, it’s a denial of human suffering.

So long as Trump and his ilk can mock science and paint those aware of the threat as hysterics, a good 35 percent or so of the country will reject sensible measures to abate the problem.

Instead, Democrats should go into red America devastated by climate change and explain they are there to help reduce the threat of extreme weather, rising tides and the like. And even if, on the infinitesimal chance these anti-climate-change efforts have little impact, wouldn’t that be akin to taking out an insurance policy to cover the harms these phenomena cause?

If Democrats also explain that these same measures create high-paying jobs throughout the country, it will soon dawn on even the most ideological voters that if we have a chance to minimize all this suffering — their own suffering — and all get richer, it’s madness to do nothing, waiting for the next natural catastrophe to strike and limp along with a 20th-century, oil-based economic model. Democrats can even avoid using the term “climate change” — call it extreme weather defense, rising tide abatement or forest-fire prevention. That’s what reducing climate change will do, after all.

Telling voters who don’t trust experts to trust experts probably isn’t a winning strategy. Telling them to believe their own eyes and their doctors’ diagnoses is far more effective. And along the way, these voters might figure out that the party that sees, respects and cares about them isn’t the one refusing to take their pain seriously.