The Climate in Emergency

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

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More Candidates!

I have already profiles the two front-runners for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, plus Martin O’Malley, who is also seeking the nomination. I have not profiled any of the Republican hopefuls because this here is a blog on climate change and none of them are serious on the issue (although their collective denialism shows signs of weakening). But there are more candidates to cover.

To be clear, our next President will almost certainly be either Clinton, Sanders, or one of the Republicans. I don’t mean to discourage anybody–I’m in favor of underdogs, and anyway limiting the Presidency to those who are already politically powerful is antithetical to democracy. But at the same time, I doubt most people will have a chance to cast a vote for Lincoln Chafee or Lawrence Lessig. I think they will probably drop out before the primary process is complete. And most independents and “third party candidates” will not have ballot access in most states.

But they are still running and should be heard–and may in some cases be able to shape the political discussion for the front-runners.

Lincoln Chafee is the Democratic hopeful no one has ever heard of. Or, at least I hadn’t heard of him until he turned up on the debate stage the other week, though he declared back in June–and while I’m not a news junkie I am pretty aware. Publicly, he seems best well-known for favoring the metric system, although that is hardly his most important or most interesting platform plank (that would be his self-identification as a pacifist, a truly radical stance for a prospective Commander-in-Chief).

He does have experience, having served in the US Senate and as Governor of Rhode Island. He is also a former Republican–he switched as a Senator, first to Independent, then to Democrat. His website paints a picture of him as an intelligent, thoughtful, and principled person. His main drawback as a potential President seems to be that no one has heard of him and therefore few people have bothered to write anything about him. He is a bit of a cipher.

As far as climate change, he certainly talks the talk, acknowledging the seriousness of the problem and pledging to do something about it. He says he would not approve Keystone, a nice and concrete promise and one not without some political risk. And while he refused to pledge not to take campaign money from the fossil fuel industry, at least he acknowledged the question, which Hillary Clinton did not. He also walks the walk, at least to some extent–in addition to a history of sticking up for environmental legislation generally, he is responsible for putting Rhode Island on track for a very steep reduction in fossil fuel use.

On the other hand, his economic plans center around the concept of “growth,” something that is logically incompatible with sustainability given that the Earth’s resources are finite. His score with the League of Conservation Voters is 78, which is not bad but is not stellar.

Would he stand up for the planet if he made it to the Oval Office? Maybe. I don’t think he’s in Martin O’Malley’s league or Bernie Sanders’, but he certainly wouldn’t be a disaster, either. His presence on the scene is encouraging.

Lawrence Lessig is a political outsider who plans to stay that way. Not only does he have no prior experience in public office (he is a writer and law professor), but he plans, if elected, to resign after just one year. Lack of experience is not necessarily a problem except that it means we more or less have to take his word on his values and intentions. His intention to resign is a problem. I expect he’s trying to underline is lack of ambition, but the job is a four-year minimum commitment. Says so in the Constitution.

Frankly, I think he should run for Congress instead. His entire game plan is to get a law passed that would get money out of politics–a noble and necessary goal, but that’s not something a US President can do. The Chief Executive can support legislation as part of his or her agenda, but the White House just isn’t where legislation happens. Mr. Lessig knows that, of course, and is almost certainly using the cachet of a Presidential campaign to draw attention to his cause, not actually hoping to win. I’d rather he simply go to Congress where he belongs and get the job done.

But he is interesting in that he recognizes that climate change is part of his one issue–that the problem of money in politics really has to be solved for our country to make much progress getting off of fossil fuel.

I wish all candidates would have an equivalent recognition–that Mr. Chafee would address climate change in terms of his primary issue (peace and security), for example…most people treat the environment as a separate issue, and it really isn’t.

Unless I get seriously distracted by other topics, in the next week or two I will post on a few of the even longer shots out there.