Don’t Overthink a Climate-Change Debate
Climate change got just 15 minutes out of 4 hours of Democratic debates
The Debates Showed America Still Doesn’t Know How to Talk About Climate Change
Tom Perez, the DNC Chair, says he won’t allow one because if he gave in to Jay Inslee’s request he’d then have to permit every other candidate to have a debate on their favorite issue.
Tom, that’s called begging the question. Which is that climate change has become the dominant issue for American voters—even if they balk at paying for the prescriptions. As the first debates demonstrated, it’s a dominant issue for most of the candidates—even if their plans aren’t always intelligent or intelligible.
As on other matters, Democratic leadership is behind the curve and moving rapidly behind the eight-ball. Perez on the debates is taking a position like Pelosi does on impeachment. No wonder there is a split between progressives and moderates.
How to generate momentum for a climate debate: first, the push has to come from the candidates themselves. Maybe they should just pull rank and produce their own debate forum. Will the DNC intervene to stop that? A better idea might be to prevail on DNC leaders that each major candidate supports the need to schedule a climate crisis debate.
There is also a crying need for both candidates and debate moderators to get up to speed on climate issues. Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow asked some silly and confusing questions in the few minutes they gave to the subject. And the candidates are going to have to improve on their shallow responses.
The climate crisis is supremely complicated, but that doesn’t preclude the need for a major public discussion.
The First Democratic Debate Failed The Planet
The Debates Will Be about Climate—Disguised as Other Issues
The Energy 202: Seven minutes were devoted to climate change in the first Democratic debate
Last night’s first Democratic debate was just more of the same as it reflected a deliberate disregard of climate on the part of moderators and candidates. Only four of those on the Miami stage got asked direct questions about the crisis. The questions came finally in the second half of the debate.
Because DNC chair Tom Perez has ruled out a special debate on climate, the advocates want to crucify him. But climate issues are inescapable. Adam Rogers of Wired says:
Because every single issue that a presidential aspirant could conceivably talk about is, at heart, intertwined with climate change. Jobs, the economy, national security, immigration, energy, housing—they’re all facets of the same crystal. The science is clear; the politics, less so. It’ll be a climate debate, all right; the question is what the candidates will do about it.
Inslee, the only one making climate his top-tier issue, didn’t do well last night. A couple of others, like Warren, wormed climate into their answers. But the issue is so complex that it is hard to fit into a debate format. Plus, the candidates fear grandiose climate solutions would simply overwhelm many local voters who are focusing on pocketbook issues.
One could accuse them of playing politics with the overriding issue of our time.
The best way to reduce your personal carbon emissions: don’t be rich
There has been much talk about how individuals can fight climate change through making personal choices. Well, finally we have a study, reported by David Roberts in Vox, that proves out how silly most of that discussion has been.
The study concluded that the biggest impact on reducing your carbon impact was to “have one fewer child.” Everybody went up in arms about that and, as Roberts shows, there are three big problems with framing the problem as one of individual choices.
- Attributing children’s emissions to their parents is unworkable
- If you want avoided children, the developed world is the wrong place to look
- Not all children are created equal (that is, kids of the wealthy produce way more carbon emissions).
What becomes obvious is that “climate change is primarily being driven by the behavior of the world’s wealthy. The same disparity holds within countries, none more so than the US [where rich people] produce 10 times more per capita emissions than the wealthy in China. That is pretty mind-boggling.”
When the G20 leaders meet in a few days, they would do well to consider this graphic:
Eating less meat, flying less and driving less are of course good personal choices that primarily affect the local environment. Yet,
the very ones whose choices matter most seem least inclined to cut back on consumption. I mean, maybe you could persuade the developed-world wealthy to voluntarily downsize their lifestyles, but . . . have you met the developed-world wealthy? That doesn’t sound like them.
The obvious and most direct approach to addressing the role of individual choices in climate change is to tax the consumptive choices of the wealthy. For now, and for the foreseeable future, carbon emissions rise with wealth. Redistributing wealth down the income scale, ceteris paribus, reduces lifestyle emissions.
Jay Inslee has a radical plan to phase out fossil fuel production in the US
Writer David Roberts of Vox has as his subtitle: “This is going to make some people mad.” Jay Inslee, as you may know, is the only Democratic candidate to base his whole campaign on the issues of climate change. His proposals have made some of the other candidates look, shall we say, weak by comparison.
The Washington governor’s climate plans aim for net-zero carbon pollution by 2045, sooner than most of his would-be opponents would propose. Today he released details of the fourth planning component. According to Vox, “It is in many ways the most radical piece yet, and likely to be the most controversial. It is about cutting off the flow of fossil fuels from the US—‘keeping it in the ground,’ as the kids say.”
There are several big items of note in the latest plan, including a proposal to put a price on carbon. Fracking? He wants to work toward a national prohibition. He wants to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies, reinstate dozens of environmental rules that President Trump reversed, step up enforcement on polluters, reject all new climate-unsafe infrastructure, and boost corporate climate accountability.
And that just scratches the surface. This is a capacious plan, requiring both executive powers and legislation. The net result would be a conscious, deliberate phasing out of US fossil fuel production.
There are five major steps in the Inslee plan, and each will face great political hurdles. But all appear necessary to avoid the otherwise inevitable disasters.
- end all fossil fuel subsidies
- end federal leasing and phase out fossil fuel production
- hold polluters accountable (with a climate pollution fee, or tax)
- reject all new fossil fuel infrastructure
- improve corporate climate transparency
- make this plan into the official Democratic platform.
I like number 6 best, though I am not holding my breath. And yet, Inslee’s new set of plans could be enough to shake up the other candidates.
Human Civilization Isn’t Prepared to Survive Climate Change
If you need to be brought up to speed on the worst horrors possible with climate change, this piece is a good place to begin. Author Luke Darby interviews David Spratt, research director of the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Australia.
The very broad strokes aren’t too different from last year’s report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that we have just over a decade to prevent the absolute worst climate outcomes. That report focused on the now-inevitable two degrees of warming, the temperature at which 411 million people living in cities will face water scarcity, crops begin failing, and all coral dies off. But Spratt and Dunlop wanted to know what the absolute worst could be. . . .
P.S. (June 25, 2019):
‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive
“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said. Developing countries will bear an estimated 75% of the costs of the climate crisis, the report said, despite the poorest half of the world’s population causing just 10% of carbon dioxide emissions.