The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has come to view climate change for what it is, an emergency that requires immediate and dramatic action. So their presidential candidates are offering up ambitious plans for what they’ll do if they reach the Oval Office.
We just got two more, from Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. Warren calls hers a Green Manufacturing Plan, and it focuses on investments to promote renewable energy and create jobs. Biden’s plan is more comprehensive; it also addresses regulations on emissions, transportation and things such as promoting denser housing.
They join Beto O’Rourke, who put out his plan a month ago, and Jay Inslee, who has centered his entire candidacy on the issue of climate change and whose plan is so big it’s coming out in multiple parts.
While their proposals feature some differences, a general picture is taking shape. This is a key benefit of a contested presidential primary: It forces candidates to articulate specifics, and often produces a rough consensus that will then be the basis for policy change if one becomes president. That’s what happened with health care in the 2008 primaries: The Democrats all produced similar plans, which were reflected in the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.
The same may happen with climate, and the candidates who haven’t yet released specific plans will be feeling pressure to do so. When they do, their ideas are likely to resemble the ones that have already been released. So here are the basics of what Democrats are advocating:
- Reenter the Paris climate accord. Everyone agrees that it was wrong in a hundred ways for President Trump to walk away from an agreement among nearly every country on Earth, so the United States would recommit to the goals of the accord.
- Significant new government investments. All the candidates want to make a major push in clean-energy research, as well as promoting green jobs in everything from solar panel installation to home retrofitting for energy efficiency. The numbers are large: O’Rourke proposes spending $1.5 trillion over 10 years, Biden proposes $1.7 trillion, Warren proposes $2 trillion, and Inslee proposes $3 trillion. All argue that direct government spending will produce multiples in private-sector spending, as companies move to enter newly robust markets around green energy.
- Pay for it by rolling back the Trump tax cuts. Since these are Democrats, they’re expected to explain how they’ll pay for every new dollar they want to spend, a responsibility that Republicans are for some reason excused from. So the candidates suggest doing it by rolling back the 2017 tax cuts and/or imposing new taxes on the wealthy and corporations. There’s also some degree to which the spending would pay for itself with new tax revenue as the programs create jobs and promote additional economic activity, though they don’t make specific claims along these lines.
- Transition away from fossil fuels. This would happen on multiple fronts, including public utilities moving to renewable sources of energy and higher fuel efficiency standards that would promote more purchasing of electric cars. The candidates also suggest cutting off subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
- Net-zero emissions within a few decades. The date the candidates most often mention for the United States no longer adding to the supply of carbon in the atmosphere is 2050, which is the global goal cited in the Green New Deal as well.
- Environmental justice. Low-income communities and those with lots of people of color have long been literal dumping grounds for pollution; the candidates propose to specifically target them both for cleanup and to make sure they can join in the new economic opportunities created by government investment.
- Help communities and people affected by transition away from fossil fuels. All the candidates stress aid to places that in the past have been dependent on the fossil fuel industry, and where people are already being left behind by the move to cleaner energy.
There’s a lot more in the plans, particularly Inslee’s and Biden’s. But beyond the details, it’s important to emphasize that unlike tax cuts for the wealthy, which are always the most ambitious policy proposal Republicans make (unless there’s a war or two in the offing), the investments in these plans are of the kind that produce dividends for both society and the government.
When we give a tax cut to a rich person, it’s likely to just get tossed into their bank account and not do much for anybody. But if we take that same money and, say, create a job upgrading the energy efficiency of people’s homes, the benefits are multiplied. The person doing the job now has more money she can spend throughout her local economy. So do the people whose homes she upgraded, because their energy bills are lower. And of course, we’ve reduced our carbon emissions by using less energy.
The big picture is that Democrats all want to address climate change with an ambitious program that will put a lot of people to work. One will face off against Trump, who used to contend that climate change is a hoax but now holds that “Something’s changing, and it’ll change back again,” so the best approach is to increase carbon emissions in every way possible.
As it happens, the kinds of investments Democrats are proposing are hugely popular; to take one example, this recent poll showed 87 percent of Americans supporting investments in clean-energy research and infrastructure. Combine that with the fact that the fate of the planet is at stake, and this is something Democrats should put at the center of their campaigns next year.