Mitigating climate change stands near the top of Democratic voters’ priority lists, and it’s now politically untenable for a Democratic Party contender to be seen as lax on the issue.
The climate change basics, real quick
Extreme climate change is here, with parts of the country reaching the critical tipping point of an average warming of 2 degrees Celsius. Scientists recommend stopping net carbon emissions by 2050 to stop the Earth from warming even further.
The debate within the country on climate change is complicated
The science is settled on climate change, but acceptance of it and a path forward on it are not. Pew Research Center finds that a majority of Americans see at least some effect of climate change where they live. But only 44 percent say they think dealing with global climate change should be a top priority for Congress and the president.
We’re about to find out if this is a political winner. There will almost certainly be a massive contrast between the Democratic nominee and Trump on the issue, and the way Democrats are talking about it now suggests they will continue to make it a major theme of the presidential race.
How this is playing out in the Democratic primary
Most of the major Democratic nominees have released climate plans that call for cutting emissions and spending trillions of dollars to outfit the U.S. economy to be less fossil fuel-dependent.
The Green New Deal, the benchmark liberal proposal to deal with climate change, hasn’t actually been proposed by any presidential candidates, but it’s supported by some. It was proposed in Congress by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). It’s an ambitious — some say aspirational — proposal to make the United States a net-zero carbon emitter in a decade while funding Franklin D. Roosevelt-style social and economic justice programs, such as job training for those in the fossil fuel industry.
The candidates’ proposals are too numerous to get into here, but in general, the more liberal a candidate, the more aggressive their approach to spending more money and eliminating net carbon emissions within a quicker time frame. Our Post Graphics colleagues have a more exhaustive look at where they stand on some of the key questions in the climate debate, like a carbon tax.
Some potential areas of debate within the Democratic primary
Are their proposals realistic? Some say the Green New Deal, which aims to get to net-zero carbon emissions in a decade, isn’t. A number of climate activists I talk to say the bolder the action, the better.
Are they spending enough money to deal with the issue? Proposals rank from former vice president Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) $16 trillion, reports The Post’s Chelsea Janes.
Should there be revenue to pay for it? Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) has proposed a pollution fee to raise money for her plan. Others want to talk about cutting subsidies to the fossil fuel industry or putting a carbon tax on industry. Almost none of these are bipartisan proposals. Speaking of . . .
How do you get Republicans on board? Short of winning the Senate and then getting rid of the minority party’s ability to filibuster in the Senate, it will take both parties to agree to start legislating on climate change. So far that hasn’t happened. Most top Republican lawmakers have reached a point where they will acknowledge it’s real and driven by humans. But conservative climate activists I talk to say it’s not helpful that the party is led by a climate change denier, President Trump. (He’s called all this a “hoax.”)
Science aside, it’s a politically precarious time for conservative lawmakers to even talk about climate policy, given that the Green New Deal is being weaponized by Trump to signal that Democrats are for too-big government. And there is still a section of the party that doesn’t believe climate change is happening, or doesn’t believe it’s serious enough to act on.
One more thing to keep in mind about climate change and politics
Climate change strikes at the heart of the ideological battle between conservatives and liberals.
Some of the most prominent solutions require government to act in a big way. That lends itself to a natural ideological fault line, since Democrats are more likely to believe in the power of government to address problems than Republicans.
That fact could make it significantly difficult for the United States, no matter who the next president is, to address what scientists say is a problem that is already here.