What if the big 2020 issue is not “Who lost Russia?” or “Who lost North Korea?” but “Who lost planet Earth?"

Share story

What if this time is different?

There is an assumption that the 2020 presidential election will be business as usual: President Donald Trump will run on the economy, social issues and immigration, and the Democratic candidate will run on income inequality, Democratic socialism and Trump’s character — the 2020 version of right-left U.S. politics.

But I believe there’s a sleeper issue out there that could force its way into the election. What if Mother Nature is on the ballot?

What if all the extreme weather this year — linked to climate change — gets even worse and more costly? What if the big 2020 issue is not left-right — but hot-cold or wet-dry? What if the big 2020 issue is not “Who lost Russia?” or “Who lost North Korea?” but “Who lost planet Earth?”

We’re talking about the natural world, so one has to be cautious. But if you look at all the destructive extreme weather buffeting the world this summer alone, it’s as if Mother Nature were saying to us: “Oh, you didn’t notice me tapping on your shoulder these past few years? OK. Well, how about a little fire, Scarecrow? How about this:

“How about I bake Europe, set the biggest wildfire California has ever seen and more active wildfires — 460 in one day — than British Columbia has ever seen, and also start the worst forest fires in decades in Sweden, even extending north of the Arctic Circle where temperatures this month reached 86 degrees. Meanwhile, I’ll subject Japan to the heaviest rainfall it’s ever recorded, and then a couple weeks later the highest temperature it’s ever recorded — 106 degrees in Kumagaya, northwest of Tokyo. And for a punctuation mark, I’ll break the heat record in Death Valley, reaching 127 degrees, and burn the worst drought in living memory into Eastern Australia, where the BBC last week quoted a dairy farmer as saying, ‘It’s gotten to the point where it’s cheaper to shoot your cows than it is to feed them.’”

Democrats have been casting about for a big idea to propel them in 2020. My free advice: If Democratic socialism or Democratic Trotskyism or abolishing ICE — the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — is what will get you elected as a Democrat in your district in 2018, go for it. The Democrats must take the House back. But Trump would feast on those issues in a national election.

However, if in 2020 we’re in the midst of even more damaging droughts and storms than we are today, Democrats may be able to run against Trump’s make-America-polluted-again environmental strategy and his refusal to either acknowledge the threat of climate change or seize the incredible opportunity it offers America to become richer, healthier, more secure and more respected by leading the world in clean energy technologies.

Trump is the president who’s throwing away our umbrella right before the storm.

Sure, Trump will sneer that “green” is girlyman, uneconomic, unpatriotic and vaguely French. But Democrats can easily counter that green is globally strategic, locally profitable and working class — green is the new red, white and blue. That message can play today in Rust Belt battleground states like Michigan and Ohio. One recent clean energy industry study found that 714,257 people in 12 Midwestern states work in renewable energy generation, clean transmission, energy efficiency, clean fuels and advanced transportation. Some 108,000 in Ohio alone do, compared with 38,000 in coal, oil and gas.

The Democratic strategy should be built around putting together the performance standards, research and carbon pricing to achieve what Energy Innovation CEO Hal Harvey calls “the four zeros.” These are, Harvey explains: 1. “A zero-carbon grid. Right now, Republican states like Texas and Wyoming dominate the U.S. wind industry and are reaping most of the jobs and environmental benefits. That should go national. 2. Zero-emission vehicles. When you combine a zero-carbon grid with electric vehicles, bingo, you have zero-carbon transportation. 3. Zero-net energy buildings. What if you could build a well-insulated home, put today’s inexpensive solar panels on the roof and, over the course of a year, produce as much energy as you consume? Fantastical? No. It’s now the law in Santa Monica, and getting most of the way there is already feasible — and cost-effective — throughout the country. 4. Zero-waste manufacturing. New techniques in manufacturing, such as 3-D printing or advanced chemistry, can slash waste — and waste is a tax on both the budget and the earth.”

Now that’s a platform worth running on, and it’s one that can do what Democrats need most: make them the party of strengthening the working class and American security.

Clean power, clean cars, clean manufacturing and efficient buildings make everything we want to achieve in our society easier. They can lower our health-care costs, cut heating bills for the poor, drive 21st-century innovation, foster decent jobs, mitigate climate change, create more competitive export industries, weaken petro-dictators — and enhance U.S. national security and moral leadership.

Let Trump fight that idea. If Mother Nature keeps on this destructive track into 2020, well, Trump’s favorite mantra about strong women, “Lock her up,” will look awfully silly.