Fifteen minutes. That’s the amount of time Democrats spent talking about climate change during last week’s two debates — 15 minutes out of four hours.
And what we heard was, frankly, pretty shallow. Most candidates’ lines were canned and over-rehearsed. Yes, we should move away from fossil fuels and support renewable energy. Yes, we should help create the next generation of “green jobs.” Of course these are good ideas, but virtually all Democrats support them.
But dig a little deeper, and there are many questions the candidates haven’t answered, and likely many differences worth debating.
That’s exactly why the Democratic National Committee should hold a debate solely on the issue of the environment. Despite the fact that most of the candidates themselves support such a debate, the DNC has said no. It even went a step further, threatening to punish candidates who participate in any such debate — by barring them from future DNC debates. (Don’t worry, you’ll probably still have another chance to hear from Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.)
While the DNC has reportedly agreed to vote on a climate debate during its late August meeting, the DNC’s delay and initial response are troubling — particularly given that several polls indicate that the environment is the single most important issue for Democrats.
The DNC’s position is indefensible.
Imagine the many issues a climate debate could raise.
Should we have a tax on carbon? If so, what do we do with the money collected? Will it all go only to climate issues, or to general spending?
What about nuclear energy? Opponents say it’s dangerous, and they point to challenges with disposing of waste. But nuclear is also reliable and doesn’t produce CO2 emissions.
And, as long as we are all in on replacing fossil fuels, what about renewable wood energy? Bioenergy, in the form of wood pellets, uses lower value wood that lumber producers don’t want — this could include sawdust from a mill, limbs and tops or crooked trees, or the underbrush that is helping create the mega fires in Washington, California and elsewhere. The forest-products industry also happens to support lots of rural communities, where Democrats argue we must create more green jobs. But, will Democrats be willing to take on some environmental groups, who oppose logging for any purpose? Let’s have that debate.
What stance will Democrats take on single-use plastics? By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. So how far will Democrats be willing to go? Banning plastic bags? Banning plastic bottles? What about a national recycling standard to replace the hundreds of complicated and ineffective local standards? There are dozens of different permutations.
But perhaps the most important question is — will a Democratic president prioritize the environment or not? Prioritizing environmental policy means putting it first — ahead of everything else. It means treating it like a climate crisis — as the Democratic debaters argued last week that it is.
Importantly, it also means being willing to have tough conversations with other Democratic constituencies that their non-environmental issue is not going to be part of climate legislation. The reality is the only way to make lasting change is to work with Republicans and pass something in a bipartisan way. And, while most Republicans still oppose efforts on climate, enough Republicans have shifted their views on this issue in the last several years to make bipartisan legislation possible.
Unfortunately, the “Green New Deal” and many other proposals that are out there are less about the environment per se and more about repackaging the Left’s broader agenda. Free college, student loan forgiveness and Medicare for All won’t help us cool the planet. And we can clean up our oceans without rewriting labor laws. If those issues are a priority, let them stand on their own.
But if climate legislation is simply the Trojan Horse for the entire Democratic platform, it won’t pass. And we’ll have missed what is probably our last chance to do something before we have irreversibly damaged the planet.