The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


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Candidates for President on Climate, Part IV

Continuing my review the field of presidential candidates….

As a reminder, I’m only writing about candidates on climate change. It’s not that no other issues are important (though I do consider climate a central issue), it’s that this blog remains neutral on all other issues, so far as is ethically possible. Therefore, support of a candidate for how he or she approaches climate should not be construed as any kind of comment on his or her other positions.

So, let’s start with Democrats. There are 23 of them running (note that this link goes to an online document that is being updated. If you read this post long after I write it, the link might go to something very different than the document I read).

The Democratic Field (In Part)

With so many Democrats running, I have to take the candidates in groups. Four weeks ago, I posted my first installment of the series, the first group, which included people at the current front of the pack, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Three weeks ago, I posted a second group, including the majority of the female hopefuls, plus Jay Inslee, the self-styled Climate Candidate. Two weeks ago, I posted a third installment that included the majority of non-white hopefuls. Last week I posted a piece about some of the remaining candidates, people with very little name recognition and few resources. Now, I’m finishing the series with a final group of long-shots.

As with last week’s group, we can be almost (but not entirely!) sure none of these long-shots will get the nomination, let alone the presidency, but that does not make them irrelevant. Some may use this year’s presidential run as a platform to do something else of note, including running for president again and maybe winning. Some may be tapped for cabinet positions or become the nominee’s running mate. And any of them has the potential to shape the conversation and influence the public positions of the other candidates.

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio is the current Mayor of New York, and apparently a large majority of New Yorkers do not support his candidacy. He is perhaps best-known for launching a universal pre-Kindergarden program in his city, but he is claiming some serious climate-action chops.

New York City has its own Green New Deal–a group of recently-passed city laws called the Climate Mobilization Act (and branded, yes, as the Green New Deal, despite having no direct connection to Representative Ocasio-Cortez’ proposal) is aimed at keeping the city on track with the Paris Climate Agreement, largely by mandating a combination of greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy use by most of its larger buildings. It’s an ambitious and exciting step, not least because the city will now act as a logistical and political test case for serious climate action plans. Mr. de Blasio himself was initially skeptical, but has embraced the Act, possibly because it allows him to directly challenge President Trump, whose properties are among those the Act targets.

New York is also one of the places most obviously vulnerable to climate change, as Superstorm Sandy made tragically clear. It makes sense that the city’s mayor should have the issue on his radar, and Mr. de Blasio has proposed a way to “climate proof” Manhattan (also branded as part of the Green New Deal) by building up a raised berm around the edge of the island. The plan has been criticized for its vagueness and for the possibility that excluding water from Manhattan could make flooding worse in surrounding areas. Personally, I wonder where rainwater is going to go if the island becomes bowl-shaped. Has the city’s storm-water management system been designed for climate-change-related rainstorms?

Mr. de Blasio has also been criticized for ignoring opportunities for local clean power generation in favor of Canadian hydropower–and Canadian hydropower has a poor environmental record and a terrible environmental justice record.

It appears that Mr. de Blasio is both talking the talk and walking the walk on climate, but the questions raised about his various plans are worrying.

Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet is a centrist Senator whose primary interests include healthcare, which seems fitting as he had to delay his own campaign for health reasons earlier this year. His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 90%, disappointing in a Democrat these days, but his score for 2018 is 100%, a puzzling disparity. He has released a climate plan of his own, of which the League of Conservation Voters heartily approves, noting that he is taking the challenge of climate change seriously. That his climate plan was the first policy proposal of his presidential campaign is a good sign that the issue really is a priority for him.

On the other hand, he has a history of supporting natural gas development, voted for the Keystone Pipeline, and seems generally reluctant to antagonize the fossil fuel industry. It’s worth noting that he favors natural gas as a pragmatic bridge fuel, since its use is less carbon-intensive than coal–it’s possible he’s a genuine environmentalist whose disagreements with most climate hawks are a matter of strategy, rather than of differing goals.

Eric Swalwell

Eric Swalwell is a California Congressman interested in gun control. His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 95%, not bad, but his 2018 score is 89%, putting him well behind the rest of the pack. He touts his own environmental record as a legislator (meaning he does care about environmental voters), but so far I have not found evidence of him offering real leadership on the topic.

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock is Governor of Montana and is running for President on a campaign of ending unlimited campaign contributions and “dark” money in politics. He (quite correctly) points out that all other progressive and liberal issues will remain unsolvable until the playing fields gets closer to fair. He has not qualified for the first debate, but is notable for having won (by 20 points) a state Mr. Trump carried, and he has demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle, getting his Republican legislature to pass traditionally Democratic issues.

Unfortunately, his record on climate is terrible, since he fought against President Obama’s climate action policies in order to protect Montana’s coal industry. He wants the US to rejoin Paris, but it’s difficult to see how he expects to meet our obligations under the agreement without rapidly phasing out coal, something he does not want to do.

Mr. Bullock has recently brought Montana into the US Climate Alliance, a group organized with the aim of lowering emissions in accordance with Paris on a state-by-state basis. He appears to be actively courting climate voters, at least. Strictly speaking, that’s good–but he’s not the savvy climate hawk we need right now.

Seth Moulton

At just 40 years old, Seth Moulton is young for a presidential candidate. A military veteran, he told CNN that “I do think that it’s time for the generation that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to step in for the generation that sent us there.” He has also been very open about his struggles with PTSD (successful, thanks to therapy). He has not qualified for the debates.

His score with the League of Conservation Voters shows the same odd deterioration as Eric Swalwell’s: lifetime is an impressive 97%, but in 2018 he scored only 89%. His plan to address climate and college affordability involves a large-scale national service program similar to the old Civilian Conservation Corps, aimed at projects designed to either mitigate or respond to climate change (through disaster response, for example) and tied to some serious money for college or vocational training. Frankly, it’s an excellent idea, for any number of reasons. It can’t lower national emissions by itself, so if green service ends up being Mr. Moulton’s only response to climate that’s a big problem, but in and of itself it’s a great idea.

He lists climate change as a core issue for his candidacy and was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, though he has also criticized the proposal. He also supports nuclear energy, which many environmentalists very much don’t–but nuclear is a legitimate point for debate on environmental strategy. He might have a point.

Wayne Messam

Mr. Messam is a former football star, an entrepreneur, and, currently, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, a large and rapidly-growing suburb of Miami. He was initially elected as mayor by only four points, but he won re-election in a landslide, suggesting he’s doing a very good job. He boasts of his ability to put together teams to get things done, and lead the fight against construction of an oil well in the Everglades. He has asserted that climate change is an important issue and he was one of the mayors to openly criticize President Trump’s withdrawal from Paris.

Unfortunately for him, he’s having trouble attracting either political support or money for his presidential campaign. He did not qualify for the first debate and has lost important staff because his campaign cannot afford to pay them.

Mr. Messam has a number of interesting policy proposals on a variety of topics. Unfortunately, climate change is not one of those topics. He says nothing the other candidates do not say.

So, Here We Are

23 Democrats! Personally, I suspect the number is about to start shrinking, now that we’re past the first debates.

For our purposes, we can eliminate a few more names, people who are just not serious candidates on the question of climate. That the majority of Democratic hopefuls are serious about climate is good news, though it does make endorsement rather daunting. Rather than pick one favorite at this point, I’m dividing the field into three tiers: climate champions; qualified climate candidates; and unqualified on climate.

Unqualified on Climate

I highly recommend not voting for any of these in the primary, though should any of them win the nomination, they would all be better than the current president:

  • Beto O’Rourke
  • Andrew Yang
  • Tim Ryan
  • Steve Bullock
  • Seth Moulton (he’ll graduate to “qualified” if he releases a plan that can actually lower emissions)

Qualified Climate Candidates

These people are not as strong on climate as I’d like to see, but I’d be comfortable with any of them in the White House. President Obama would have been in this category, and he did quite well.

  • Joe Biden
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • Tulsi Gabbard
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Kamala Harris
  • Cory Booker
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Julián Castro
  • Marian Williamson
  • John Delany
  • John Hickenlooper
  • Bill de Blasio
  • Michael Bennet
  • Eric Swalwell
  • Wayne Messam

Climate Champions

These are the folks who make me happy. To be clear, climate hawkishness is not the only factor, here; a merely qualified person who is a skilled and effective politician would be far better than an ideologically pure limp-along. But these are the folks standing up to lead on climate.

  • Elizabeth Warren
  • Jay Inslee

 

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The Democratic Field, Part 1

It’s election season again, and as one of the few Americans not running for president this cycle, I figure it’s time I review the field.

As before, I’m only going to write about candidates as regards climate change. It’s not that no other issues are important (though I do consider climate a central issue), it’s that this blog remains neutral on all other issues, so far as is ethically possible. Therefore, support of a candidate for how he or she approaches climate should not be construed as any kind of comment on his or her other positions.

So, let’s start with Democrats. There are 23 of them running.

The Democratic Field (In Part)

I’m not going to write about all 23 people seeking the Democratic nomination in a single post. You and I both have other things we want to do today, right? Instead, I’m taking this in a few chunks. Here is Chunk Number One.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden is a former vice president of the United States, and the subject of a huge number of fond and funny internet memes featuring his friendship with President Barack Obama. He has run for president twice before, and could have been a favorite to win last cycle except for the tragic death of his son, Beau Biden, from brain cancer. Grieving, the elder Biden did not run. He is now trying one last time–at 76 years old he is among the oldest of the field, but also the best-recognized and most obviously experienced.

Joe Biden’s reputation on climate is definitely mixed. His candidacy this year has appeared timid with respect to climate–advocating only a return to some of President Obama’s policies, nothing new, and nothing really aggressive. He rarely tweets about the issue at all, though he does tweet fairly often about the economy, and may be trying not to alienate coal country. On the other hand, he has just released a climate plan that, while not as aggressive as it could be, does seem to be a real stab at the problem. He has pledged not to accept campaign donations from fossil fuel companies or donations. He was also the first senator to introduce climate-related legislation, way back in 1986, and tried repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to champion the issue in the Senate several times over his long career.

His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters (which reflects his legislative career but not his terms as Vice President) is 83%. That’s respectable but not impressive. His pro-environment votes outnumbered his anti-environment votes in every year, but in some years one vote in three was anti-environment, including some in the specific areas of climate change, clean energy, and dirty energy.

It appears as though Mr. Biden takes climate seriously, but it is not his highest priority. The good news is that he is willing to become more assertive on the subject when pushed by political pressure from the left.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator of Vermont, is once again running for President as a Democrat. He has a great deal of support, but is no longer alone in his stridency–in part due to his influence, a whole crop of energized, progressive Democrats have sprung up.

Bernie Sanders’ rating with the League of Conservation Voters is an impressive 92%, and it would have been 96% had it not been for 2016, when he inexplicably took 16 anti-environment votes to only one pro-environment vote. In all other years, the pros far outweigh the antis, and in 28 years, there were only ten in which he did not score 100%.

So what happened in 2016? I’m not sure. Personally, I wonder if I’m looking at a typo; maybe the LCV mistakenly coded missed votes (he’s not coded as having missed any votes, which is odd, given that he was campaigning that year) as anti votes?

In any case, Mr. Sanders describes climate change as an “existential threat” and supports the Green New Deal, according to his website. He has also pledged not to accept fossil fuel-industry money. An internet search returns multiple articles about different public events where he spoke on the issue as well, so climate does seem to be on his mind often.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is a politically progressive senator with a history of championing consumer financial protection, income inequality, and related financial issues, though she favors a fairer form of capitalism, not any form of socialism. She has been characterized as a “fighter,” and has a long history of vocal advocacy on her favored subjects dating back before her legislative career.

Her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is a remarkable 99%–she had one anti-environment vote back in 2014–though her legislative career has been much shorter (so far) than that of either Mr. Sanders or Mr. Biden. A quick internet search shows she has been talking climate often and for a long time. She has pledged not to accept fossil fuel-industry money. She supports the Green New Deal, but has recently released a climate change plan of her own.

Ms. Warren’s plan includes Federal money for technological research, as well as various initiatives designed to encourage a market shift towards renewables while creating good-paying jobs. Her plan is distinctive for its inclusion of a “Green Martial Plan” designed to give aid to countries hit hard by climate change–a focus in keeping with her long-term concern with economic fairness. It’s worth noting, too, that since climate change is becoming a major driver of refugee crises and political instability, something like the Green Martial Plan may be a necessary part of American national security going forward.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg stands out most obviously for several factors only marginally related to his potential as president: he’s very young (37!); married to a man; charmingly cool; and blessed with a memorably odd last name. More importantly, he is also a military veteran, mayor of South Bend, Indiana (political experience on a small scale is still political experience), and vocally Christian. He champions getting rid of the Electoral College, but has other issues, including climate change–which he sees as particularly important for people of his own generation and younger who will have to live with the consequences of their elders’ choices.

Since he has no legislative experience, Mr. Buttigieg has no voting record, and thus no score card with the League of Conservation Voters. But he does have a history of engaging with environmental issues.

As Mayor, Mr. Buttigieg has pushed back against President Trump’s anti-environment policies, including archiving a copy of the old EPA website (from before climate change was stripped from it) on his town’s website. He supports the Paris Agreement, joined other mayors and attorneys general in signing a declaration opposing the rollback of clean car rules, and has worked to make sure a local Superfund site in his area has been properly cleaned up. He has also pledged not to take fossil fuel industry money.

As far as I’ve been able to gather, Mr. Buttigieg has not yet released a fully fleshed-out plan to fight climate change, but has voiced support for several climate-related policies, including retrofitting homes for energy efficiency, government support of home solar generation, a carbon tax, and carbon capture and storage. He has received some criticism on the grounds that the last two are also supported by the fossil fuel industry itself, since these measures could allow the industry to continue business-as-usual (though it’s worth saying that last time I looked at the issue, the industry seemed not to like carbon fees, while environmentalists liked them. I’m not sure where this contradiction comes from).

Pete Buttigieg has his heart in the right place, and may be an excellent environmentalist mayor, but it is not yet clear whether he’s ready to operate on the national scale using the very different tools of the American Presidency.

Stay Tuned….

So, that’s four down–only 19 to go!

 

 

 


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Debating Third Parties

Last night was the first presidential debate. I’m not going to go into political commentary here overall, but a few things stand out.

Mr. Trump’s aggression, for example. I’ve watched many debates over the years, and this was the first I’ve ever seen with such unrelenting bullying. Unfortunately, such tactics have a certain amount of political power. More relevant here is what didn’t come up for discussion–climate change. I wasn’t surprised. While the candidates are beginning to treat the issue as politically important, debate moderators, interviewers, and the news media still generally treat the environment as a niche issue. That has to stop, and should have stopped already.

Curiously, the most pro-environment statement the entire night came from Donald Trump, when he denied being a climate denier. Secretary Clinton made a jab at him for claiming that climate change is a plot by the Chinese, and he insisted he never said that. He was lying, he did tweet about China inventing climate change, and while he claims that was a joke, he has a long and consistent history of calling climate change a hoax benefiting the Chinese. What I find interesting that he’s feeling the need to disavow that particular statement. It means we’re making some progress.

If we can just get a climate-sane person into the Oval Office, we might be able to save the world.

At present, that person has to be Mrs. Clinton. No one else is in striking range. I’m sympathetic to the argument that Mrs. Clinton is an insider, that her commitment to the environment (and other issues beyond the scope of this article) is not as radical or as unambiguous as we need, that the political system that she serves and perpetuates is itself our problem. Personally, I like Mrs. Clinton. I usually don’t say this sort of thing here, but I am excited for her presidency. I don’t support her merely by default. But there are those who want more than she can give, and they are not foolish to want that.

The presidential race just isn’t the most effective place to fight for third parties.

Presidential races are, by definition, national. That means that you need a huge amount of money and organizational support just to get noticed, let alone win, and you have to be able to assemble a huge and varied coalition of constituents. While there are occasional exceptions–among which I do count Bernie Sanders–the game belongs to insiders who can cozy up to the elites and appeal to the lowest common denominator of the masses. Great presidents are those who can do so and genuinely serve our country. There have been a few.

But when you’re looking to change a system, you need to look at the part of the system that is ripe for change–the first domino, so to speak. You look for a critical place where a small amount of effort can flip a switch and ultimately cause widespread change. Trying to attack the American political duopoly at the presidency is just the opposite of that strategy, and it doesn’t work. The presidency is where revolutions finish, not where they begin.

Then, too, the American President, by design, has very little independent power. Executive action without Congress is sharply curtailed by law and politically dicey. Let’s say that Jill Stein were elected President; either she would find a way to compromise and work with others just like other politicians do, or she would remain ideologically pure and totally ineffective because Congress would ignore her and the states would fight her executive actions tooth and nail in the courts. How would that help anybody?

You want a revolution? You need to go after Congress and you need to go after state legislatures.

Legislative districts, both State and Federal, are relatively small. Unless a national organization gets involved and starts pouring in money, they can be won relatively cheaply by people who have a good record of community service and little else. A much smaller electorate means much less political inertia and a much greater chance of radical sentiment gaining ground. There is much more political (and demographic) diversity in Congress than among high-level candidates for the Presidency because each Congressional district can reflect the particular politics of its residents, whereas a national campaign inevitably takes a sort of average of the nation. Bernie Sanders is a perfect example of this principle–in his district, an independent Democratic Socialist can have a relatively safe seat. That he even got close to a national nomination is a political miracle.

So, legislatures are easier to get into, and potentially they are the more powerful positions.

The Federal legislature, of course, crafts the laws which the President executes, creates the national budget, and approves, or decides not to approve, many of the President’s decisions. As we have seen, the legislative leadership can effectively block the President from making appointments to the Supreme Court. While Congressmembers must act collectively, an individual can become hugely influential within the group through political skill and seniority, and any seat in either chamber has the potential to rise to prominence that way.

And of course, from Congress, the White House becomes much more accessible.

State legislatures are similar, with the added power that these are the bodies who draw district maps–they gerrymander, for better or worse, and can and do shape national policy indirectly for generations that way. And those constituencies are even smaller, so those seats are even easier to win.

A vote for a third party or independent presidential candidate is symbolic, but it’s not more than that. Your candidate will not get elected. You may or may not become morally responsible for the election of a climate-denier, but the best that can be said is you’ll do nothing. If you want to do something, look at the presidential candidates who have a real shot of winning and vote for the better one. And, and this part is important, vote for radical candidates for the State and Federal legislatures, or run for those offices yourself (and vote).

That’s how you can change the world.

 


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Trumped Up Differences

This blog is politically neutral on all issues except climate change. Because Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, is on record as a climate denier and his Democratic opponents both have good records on climate–for that reason and that reason alone, this blog will endorse the Democratic nominee. I, personally, have opinions on other issues, but this blog does not.

I will need to touch on some other issues here, however.

I am very concerned by the insistence of many progressives that there is no substantive difference between Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton. I fear that such an assumption could result in a Republican victory, should Mrs. Clinton become the nominee, as she is expected to do. At the same time, I am sympathetic to that stand because I said the same think about George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000.

I was a Ralph Nader supporter.

Now, to be clear, Ralph Nader did not cost Al Gore the election. Even if every single Nader supporter would otherwise have voted for Mr. Gore (which is not true), the claim that Mr. Gore was somehow owed those votes, that either major party ought to be left free to claim all votes on its side of the aisle by default, should be deeply troubling to anyone who cares about political diversity, competition, or free speech.  So, I still believe in the validity of third-party and independent candidacies.

I do not believe, as I once did, that there was no substantive difference between then-Governor Bush and Vice President Gore. That was a mix of logical fallacy and political naivete on my part that I now regret and I see the same fallacy in play today.

Ignore the fact, for the moment, that Mrs. Clinton is an establishment candidate while Mr. Trump is a rather vocal outsider–that right there is a huge difference between the two, but let’s focus on the fact that the two belong, to one degree or another, to the moneyed class. They are both privileged insiders in a way most Americans, especially most people of color, simply are not. Yes, it’s true that both probably agree on many issues, just as Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore probably agreed on many issues. There are people for whom the occupant of the White House seldom makes any immediate difference because their troubles fall into that category of troubles that almost anyone capable of reaching the White House in the first place must agree not to try to solve.

But to assume therefore that the occupant of the White House doesn’t make any difference to anybody is a logical fallacy, and the very same one I fell into sixteen years ago.

While campaigning for Mr. Nader, I uncritically absorbed and then repeated a series of talking points that consisted largely of rumors to the effect that both major party candidates were morally slimy.  For example, I heard and repeated that Mr. Gore had supported the financial rights of pharmaceutical companies at the expense of AIDS victims in Africa and that his campaign had accepted large donations from exactly the same corporate interests that were supporting Mr. Bush. But even if those rumors were true, the existence of slime on both parties did not prove that both were slimy in the same ways or that the differing patterns of slime balanced each other out. For example, Mr. Bush was pro-life, while Mr. Gore was pro-choice.  Had the election come out differently, the political landscape on that issue might be very different today.

Of more immediate relevance to this blog, Mr. Gore has always been a vocal climate hawk. While Mr. Bush was not a climate denier and paid somewhat more lip-service to the issue than many other politicians of the time, throughout his presidency he effectively and persistently undermined any progress on the issue. Had that election turned out differently, the US would not have pulled out of Kyoto and might have become a global leader on climate action twelve years earlier. Those are twelve years the world will not get back.

Donald Trump is running as an outright climate denier who has made an explicit campaign promise to pull out of the Paris agreement.

So, let’s say that Mrs. Clinton is as slimy as they come. Let’s say she’s an unrepentant criminal who cares for nothing but power and will happily serve her corporate masters if elected–I don’t personally believe it, but let’s just say all the bile launched in her direction over the years is deserved. She does have a good record with the League of Conservation Voters and she has vowed to protect and continue President Obama’s climate protection policies.

So, if you don’t like Hillary Clinton, don’t vote for her. Vote for Bernie Sanders, if you still have a primary to look forward to, and if Mrs. Clinton does win the nomination, vote for Jill Stein or some other alternative. But just don’t pretend there is no difference between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump.

The difference between the two of them could well be the future of the entire planet.

 


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Your Tuesday Update: Look What Bernie’s Doing!

Good news: Bernie Sanders is paying for carbon offsets for his campaign. Hillary Clinton did so in her 2008 campaign and has said she will do so for this one but has not yet made payments.

Carbon offsets are interesting. The idea is to cancel out one’s own carbon emissions by paying to reduce emissions or sequester carbon somewhere else. In practice, it’s a little more complicated. For one thing, are some kinds of offsets better than others, and how do we tell? Does it matter if the person buying the offsets has really exhausted his or her ability to reduce his or her own emissions first? Is it theoretically possible to make humanity as a whole carbon-neutral by buying offsets for everybody, and if it isn’t do offsets really work to begin with? Maybe they’re just a form of greenwashing?

I’m inclined to believe that offsets do not represent a real climate solution but are probably harmless and do direct much-needed funds to important projects. This is only a brief Tuesday update, so I’m not going into it in depth, but I’d say that the important thing is to reduce one’s own emissions first and then, sure, buy offsets. Why not?

Has Bernie Sanders minimized the carbon footprint of his campaign before buying offsets? I don’t know. At the very least, he’s putting some of his campaign money into climate-friendly projects and that is a good sign. This blog does not comment on any aspect of any electoral campaign besides climate policy, so this should not be considered an overall endorsement, but Mr. Sanders is taking climate change seriously and it is good to see.


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Racing Bad Weather

I don’t mean to brag, here, but I’m sitting on an island off the coast of Maine. The air is pleasantly cool, foggy with a light breeze. It’s nice.

Elsewhere, I know, things are not so nice. Much of the East and South of the country are way too hot, to the point of danger in some areas–as in the heat could kill you. Towns in Vermont were recently flooded with water and mud, with a bridge and some homes lost. Parts of California, too, have flooded recently, while other parts of that state continue to burn–and the floods don’t necessarily mean the drought is over, either.

This seems like a good time to remind everyone that climate change is still happening–and if we don’t like having years that set records for every possible type of bad weather all at the same time, we’d better do something about it.

At the moment, the most important climate fight in the United States is probably the fight to elect a President and a Congress who take climate issues seriously–in practice, that means Democrats. I’ve written before on the Presidential hopefuls from that party. Personally, I’m leaning towards Bernie Sanders, but Mrs. Clinton and Mr. O’Malley have impressive climate credentials as well. Could they be better? Yeah, they could–and they should get better. And maybe they will if they get enough public pressure. But the important thing is that they have shown themselves willing to act on the issue to at least some meaningful degree, whereas their Republican counterparts have done the opposite.  If we elect a Republican-dominated government this time around, we’re going to have to foment a serious revolution because our chance of making meaningful progress otherwise will be about zero.

And revolutions, I hear, are really hard.

This is why I get so upset when I read about people attacking Bernie Sanders from the left. To be clear, I have to personal allegiance to him yet, nor do I think America owes him any particular trust–he has to earn it just like other candidates do, and if he fails to do so then he’s not the right person for the job. But what bothers me is two-fold–that the attacks take the form of complaining that he’s not perfect and that none of these people are offering an alternative.

Of course he’s not perfect. He’s human–and, worse, he’s electable. Being President involves making deals, period. It involves working with other politicians who fighting for very different things, and many fight dirty. Anyone who expects the election of a single man or woman to any office, even our highest office, to fundamentally change anything is naive. At the same time, anyone who doesn’t recognize the distinction between a good president and a bad one is worse than naive–at the moment, the future of life on Earth may quite literally rest on that incremental difference.

For liberals to attack liberal candidates for not being liberal enough–without offering a competing candidate of their own–is unconscionable. It amounts to campaigning against the closest thing to your own side that you have. No one in the halls of political power is going to wake up one day and say “Jane Smith didn’t vote this year! She’s growing cynical! Well, we’d better fix everything, then.” No. If you’re not for something or someone, you cease to exist politically and the oil barons have a party because they have one less adversary to deal with.

Let me say this very, very, clearly; if we end up with some Kock-addled yahoo in the White House because too many people decided a socialist environmentalist from Vermont wasn’t liberal enough, I’m going to be pissed.

I recognize that not everybody likes Democrats, and that not everybody likes the particular Democrats who are running. That is fine. But if you can’t find a candidate you’re comfortable voting for, for Gods’ sakes, don’t boycott the election and don’t spend your time spewing negativity all over Facebook about how mainstream you think Bernie Sanders secretly is! Instead, find somebody else to vote for. Be heard. Write in your own name as a candidate, if you have to–or, if you’re not a native-born US citizen over the age of 35, write in my name, because I am those things. I haven’t a clue how to run a country, but since I honestly don’t think I’ll win, so I’m not worried about it.

Seriously, people, we have to win this one.


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Jack vs. Jenny for Climate

I could do an entire series on Presidential contenders and climate change, but barring a major change in the field I probably won’t. There is no real reason for me to cover the Republicans, unless one of them comes out strongly in favor of climate action (something I dearly wish would happen), and I’m guessing that  the Democratic field is more or less set, now. Yes, a Warren campaign would be fun to see, but she has disavowed interest for this cycle and we badly need her in the Senate right now. Her political star is rising and she will have time to run for President (and quite possibly win) at some point in the future. Joe Biden has run before but has no plans to do so now. His Presidential boat has probably sailed sailed. Martin O’Malley has shown some interest, and he certainly has his merits, but nobody outside of Maryland has heard of him and he has not announced.

So, we’re looking at Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

We’re also looking at the most important American Presidential election the world has ever seen. I’m not indulging in hyperbole, this is the big one. President Obama has made an important start on dealing with the problem, but he’s only been able to act through executive order, which means his successor could wipe out all his gains with the stroke of a pen–and without US leadership, much of the world’s climate response will fall apart. It’s not that the US is a shining example of climate concern–we’re rather the opposite–it’s that a huge portion of the problem belongs on our doorstep and everybody knows it. We got rich and powerful as early adopters of fossil fuel, and the only way to get countries like India and China to forgo their fair share of that wealth is for us to bite the bullet and clean up our own mess. And since the chance of getting a climate-sane veto-proof majority on both houses of Congress is roughly nil, and since we really don’t have time to wait another four or eight years  to act on this issue, the upcoming Presidential election is basically about saving the world. Or not.

So, the big question is, which Democrat should climate-sane people support? Yes, I said Democrat; the place to create a viable third party is in state and local elections. Who can go toe-to-toe with whichever champion the Kochs decide to anoint?

(The title of this post, by the way, is a reference to the male and female Democratic hopefuls; most people know that a male donkey is correctly called a jack, but less well-known is that female donkeys are jennets or jennies. I find the idea of “jenny” as a technical term for an animal completely charming. And, the unfortunate connotations of “ass” notwithstanding, donkeys make fine political mascots–they are extremely strong and sure-footed, and they have a reputation for not letting people push them around.)

Personally, I would love for Mrs. Clinton to become President. She is clearly capable of doing the job and it is simply ridiculous that the United States hasn’t had a female chief executive yet. But I hardly ever hear her speak on climate and she has a reputation (which may or may not be deserved) for political expediency. Would she really make the issue a priority if it got in the way of her ambition? Mr. Sanders clearly has no problem whatever with political integrity (if he were interested in lying to improve his image, he wouldn’t call himself a socialist) and his loyalty to liberal, progressive causes is unassailable. And while it’s true that he seems a long-shot for the White House, so did Mr. Obama, and for almost exactly the same reasons (complexion aside, of course). But those were first impressions, and the moment clearly needs more than that. So, let’s take a look at these people. And since both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders have extensive experience in office, we have something other than campaign promises to look at.

Bernie for President?

Bernie Sanders’ senator’s website (as opposed to his campaign website) includes a poll on climate change. The first question asks respondent to choose between cutting Medicare and similar programs and imposing a carbon tax on “big polluters” as a method of deficit reduction, so the political bent of the poll is obvious. The point is to frame climate change as a liberal, progressive issue and to paint any objectors as big-business bullies who want to take money away from old people. I don’t really like such bald politicking, and I worry that it could backfire by further alienating social and fiscal conservatives from the environmental cause, but at least Bernie and his advisers are willing to put a lot of their eggs in the climate basket. That’s a good sign.

(I make a point of using respectful last-name address here, but Bernie likes to be called Bernie, apparently).

Bernie Sanders is a career grass-roots politician with a long record of dedication to economic and environmental issues. He has been almost continually in office since 1981, first as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, then in the US House of Representatives and now the US Senate, where he currently serves. He is 73 years old, so we can expect his physical fitness to be questioned at some point, but Mrs. Clinton is almost as old as he is and both belong to a long-lived generation. He has spent much of his career advocating for the middle class and for alternative energy, especially distributed solar energy (household solar panels rather than the solar equivalent of a big power plant).

He is currently ranked 1st on climate leadership within the Senate and in recent years has sponsored or co-sponsored a number of important climate-friendly energy bills (that went nowhere, unfortunately). He is certainly aware of oil money in politics and openly refers to it as an adversary he intends to conquer by mobilizing massive grass-roots support–an inspiring image. He attended the People’s March for Climate Change (as did I) and is responsible for a brilliant little political move earlier this year; he amended a bill that would approve the Keystone XL Pipeline with a question on climate change, forcing Senators to go on record as to whether they believed climate change is real.

However, Mr. Sanders has stopped short of asserting that all remaining fossil fuel should stay in the ground. There is some speculation that he might say it, but he hasn’t yet. And of course there is the question of whether he can get elected in the first place, given that he is an outspoken giant-killer. Giants don’t like giant-killers and they fight back.

Hillary! Hillary! (maybe)

Hillary Clinton actually had a very good voting record on environmental issues as a Senator–87%, according to the League of Conservation Voters, a record that would have been higher had she not missed some votes while campaigning for President eight years ago. In that campaign, she included an ambitious climate action plan in her platform.  On climate alone, in fact, her record is nearly as good as Mr. Sanders’, it’s just that he talks more than she does about it. Almost more to the point, Mr. Clinton has supported exactly the same climate policies as Barack Obama, both as a presidential candidate in 2007 and 2008 and when she was Secretary of State. That means that she has disappointed environmentalists and will probably continue to do so (as Secretary of State she championed fracking overseas, ostensibly because natural gas produces less carbon dioxide when burned than coal), but she is a vocal opponent of climate denial and has stated that “the unprecedented action that President Obama has taken must be protected at all cost.” Wherein she is absolutely right.

Where does this leave us?

So, where does all this leave us? In a pretty good position, actually. It means that whichever of the current two hopefuls actually get the Democratic nomination, we’ll have a major-party candidate who takes climate change very seriously and will, if elected, preserve and possibly extend Mr. Obama’s critical executive actions and diplomatic work on the issue. And it’s encouraging that they each have a passionate fan base that has been calling for their champion to run since approximately twenty-five minutes after Mr. Obama took office for his second and final term. We could win this.

The question really comes down to which one is more likely to beat a Republican and which one, if elected, is going to be better able to enact the climate-sane policies they both want.

At this time, I actually think that Bernie Sanders is the more electable of the two, and not because, or not only because, he is male. The issue is that neither of them are going to be able to win with a centrist, appeal-to-moderate-Republicans strategy–though Mrs. Clinton may try, since she seems to be temperamentally a pro-establishment moderate Democrat. The problem for her is that a lot of people really dislike her and always have. Frankly I do think sexism is part of it; as a candidate, Bill Clinton had a serious political problem in the person of his powerful, outspoken wife, who quite clearly was going to help him run the country if she could. A female President is no longer quite so scary a prospect a quarter-century later, but the venom spit on her then still clings to her career. She remains the target of an ongoing series of ad-hominem attacks thinly veiled as controversy and scandal. She can’t make people like her who don’t already. Like Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Clinton is only going to be able to draw additional votes by mobilizing people who would not otherwise vote at all–and as a pro-establishment politician, she’s unlikely to be able to do that. Bernie Sanders can and already is; radicals have been trading Bernie Sanders quotes on Facebook for a couple of years now.

But could Bernie Sanders use the Executive Branch effectively if Congress proves as intractable for him as it has for Mr. Obama? As an experienced legislator he clearly knows how to work with the Legislative Branch, but that won’t help if it refuses to work with him and that may happen (see my earlier comment about giant killers). Maybe he can, but he’s something of an unknown in that respect. Mrs. Clinton, in contrast, has extensive experience with executive power and diplomacy, and while she’s even more likely to face a hostile Congress (see my earlier comments about people disliking Hillary), it is entirely clear that she can and will play hardball when necessary. We will not lose President Obama’s climate actions on her watch.

We have time in which to make up our minds (or to watch registered Democrats make up theirs, in states with closed primaries). What we do not have to for is to be lackadaisical about making sure that everyone gets out to vote this time. We cannot see a repeat of the recent mid-term election, when liberal and progressive voters stayed home and pro-business, anti-climate candidates swept gubernatorial and congressional races in state after state.

The Earth has to win this one.