Any discussion of campaign climate proposals must begin with this reality: There is no intelligent or nuanced choice to be made between the two major parties. The nation is misled by a Republican president with such a short-term, politically self-interested, obscurantist perspective that he doesn’t even pretend to be addressing the gathering climate crisis. Further, unlike almost any conservative party anywhere else in the world, the GOP falsely treats settled climate science as a matter of great mystery or dispute — and then uses that fictional uncertainty to justify inaction.
There, Senator Kamala Harris of California had it right in Wednesday’s marathon CNN “town hall” on climate change: Congressional Republicans should consider their children and grandchildren, “and then look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves why have they failed to act.”
Democrats, contrariwise, are focused hard on the issue. For my money, the campaign’s undercard candidates outshone the top tier on Wednesday by bringing a sense of passionate practicality to the discussion. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg topped my list, largely because he took the time to outline his plan for a carbon tax, with the revenues rebated to Americans in a progressive way. Such a tax, he noted, would get the economic signals right on energy, and with those signals in place, engage the private sector’s innovative impulses.
Almost as impressive was former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, who explained the way his proposed cap-and-trade system — another method of putting a price penalty on carbon dioxide emissions — would work.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, meanwhile, notably refused to pander to her party’s antinuclear sentiments. Nuclear power, which produces about 20 percent of the country’s electricity, can’t be phased out as the country strives to reduce its carbon emissions, she said.
That’s a point Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey made even more forcefully, noting that nuclear currently provides more than 50 percent of the country’s non-carbon-producing energy. “People who think we can get there without nuclear as part of the mix just aren’t looking at the facts,” he averred.
Harris, contrariwise, used the discussion of nuclear power mostly to pander to anti-nuclear-waste-repository sentiment in Nevada, which, not so incidentally, holds the third contest in the Democratic nominating process.
Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts both would have had viewers believe that we can research and invent our way out of green energy limitations, even while eliminating fossil fuel use and moving away from nuclear energy.
With climate crusader Jay Inslee out of the race, Sanders and Warren seemed to be jockeying for his mantle. Sanders tried by going big — no, huge — with a $16 trillion-over-a-decade climate plan. Most of the other candidates are talking $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion over that period. Warren, meanwhile, has essentially adopted (and expanded) Inslee’s orphaned climate plan.
Both, however, would benefit from a greater sense of realism and a broader appreciation of market-mechanism liberalism.
One extended exchange summed up Warren’s approach to questions about practicality. When CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked how she would respond if, in a debate, Trump said that her plan was a dream, Warren replied: “I am saying that where he is right now is a nightmare.”
That’s a snappy rejoinder, but as she then demonstrated, it reflects a mindset that also tends to treat non-Trumpian realism as just so much naysaying.
“Don’t sit around and tell me what’s not possible,” she continued. “Sit around and look what happens if we don’t make change. You bet that we better dream big and fight hard.”
For his part, former vice president Joe Biden found himself enmeshed in another controversy when a Sanders supporter noted he would be benefitting from a Thursday fund-raiser cohosted by Andrew Goldman, whom the questioner described as a fossil-fuel executive. Biden, who has pledged not to accept campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, denied that Goldman qualified as such. Perhaps not, but as recently as 2018, Western LNG, a company Goldman cofounded, was ballyhooing his involvement with a liquid natural gas project. That raises the question of whether Biden’s promise is more contrivance than commitment.
But no matter which presidential hopeful viewers judged the best, one conclusion can’t be denied: If you want action on global warming, you have a number of candidates to choose from — but only one of the major parties.