The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats don’t get everything right on climate. But they’re the only party trying.

Democratic presidential candidate Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Celebration on June 9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

“I believe that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways,” President Trump said in an interview with British broadcaster Piers Morgan that aired Wednesday morning. This is more than an embarrassment. Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept that the world is warming and that humans are largely responsible is dangerous to the planet’s future.

By contrast, Democrats challenging him in next year’s presidential race all accept the science — and, increasingly, are engaging in a robust debate on how to respond. Former vice president Joe Biden released a climate plan on Tuesday, the same day Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) unveiled an element of her commitment to implement a Green New Deal. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has premised his campaign on a voluminous climate proposal, the last piece of which emerged Wednesday. Former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.) released his plan in April. All deserve credit for delivering substantive, detailed proposals for voters to consider.

The candidates agree on many essentials. All want to remain in the Paris climate agreement, while Mr. Trump would make the United States the only country in the world outside it. They agree that the president should use executive authorities more ambitiously, as President Barack Obama tried to do in his Clean Power Plan. Mr. Biden promises to sign executive orders on day one that would “go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform.” All agree that emissions must disappear, on net, by mid-century, which would give the world a chance to keep warming from going above 1.5 degrees Celsius and limit the resulting damage.

To get there, the candidates would pour money into research and development, the need for which the private sector will not meet alone, to continue cutting the cost of green technologies. New research will be particularly important for sectors that now have few options for weaning off carbon dioxide, such as cement-making and agriculture.

Where the candidates need to be straighter with voters is on how to ensure green technologies find a welcoming market. Mr. O’Rourke would apply a “legally enforceable standard” to harness “the innovative potential of the private sector and power of market forces.” Mr. Biden wants an “enforcement mechanism” that “will be based on the principles that polluters must bear the full cost of the carbon pollution they are emitting.” They seem to be saying, in euphemism, that they favor a carbon tax or a similar instrument. If they do, they should ditch the euphemism. If they do not, they are wrong.

Mr. Inslee has favored carbon pricing in the past. Now he proposes a detailed, long-overdue overhaul of utilities regulation, along with a hard requirement that all utilities derive the electricity they distribute from renewable sources by 2035. Compelling economic analysis indicates his mandate plan, known as a portfolio standard, would result in far more economic waste than would a well-designed carbon price. But Mr. Inslee has political scars from failing to sell voters in Washington state on a carbon-pricing program; ultimately, the politically viable approach there was like the one he now wants to take national.

The candidates also seem to be competing to see who can propose spending the most money. Mr. Biden issued the usual sop to wasteful, environmentally suspect biofuels; Mr. Inslee proposed massive supports for electric vehicles.

Still: They all admit the problem, set the right goal and suggest ways to get there. It’s a lot better than the conversation — or lack thereof — in the other party.

Read more:

Eugene Robinson: Only Trump can pack this much ignorance into a few words

Henry Olsen: Joe Biden’s climate change plan is a gift for Trump

Joel Clement: Once again, the U.S. embarrasses itself on climate change

Paul Waldman: The GOP’s answer to catastrophic climate change? Trolling the libs.

Here are 11 climate change policies to fight for in 2019

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