Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Christian Science Monitor has written about a fascinating climate split in the Democrat Party, between “cynical” politicians and “young hawks” who see climate as an existential issue.
The Democrats’ climate change conundrum
A large majority of Democrats are concerned about climate change. But they’re split over how radical the remedies should be.
Climate change is a top liberal priority, but that very urgency is making the issue divisive as much as unifying for Democrats.
A wide rift has opened over a basic question: Just how ambitious should the Democratic Party be in trying to reduce carbon emissions and stabilize Earth’s climate?
Dueling views emerged as supporters of Hillary Clinton faced off against fans of Bernie Sanders in crafting the party’s 2016 platform. The Sanders camp is seeing the platform as a missed opportunity for the party to push for more meaningful action on global warming – notably a carbon tax and a ban on “fracking” as a means of fossil fuel extraction.
The question for Democrats is not whether to ramp up the effort on climate policy, but how and how rapidly.
“It’s a tough issue for both sides to talk about, but particularly for the left side to talk about,” says David Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College. “When you get down to the specific policies, especially policies like a carbon tax [that] impose costs on voters, then it becomes an uncomfortable topic.”
One of Sanders’s delegates is Bill McKibben, a climate activist and founder of the environmental advocacy group 350.org, who last Monday wrote in Politico that the Clinton campaign was “obstructing change to the Democratic platform,” particularly on climate policies. In particular, he highlighted how two of his proposals – to call for a carbon tax and a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the platform – were voted down 7 to 6.
“The Clinton campaign is at this point rhetorically committed to taking on our worst problems, but not willing to say how. Which is the slightly cynical way politicians have addressed issues for too long,” he wrote.
Two days later, one of Clinton’s delegates on the drafting committee, Carol Browner, shot back with her own Politico column.
“It’s perfectly fair to debate the best way to achieve our shared goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius this century,” she wrote. “But debating the merits of different policy solutions is quite different from setting up a litmus test for what it takes to be ‘serious’ about climate change.”
But this approach may not pass muster with climate hawks who increasingly see climate change not as a political or policy issue, but as an urgent existential one.
“There’s been progress made, and I’m happy to see that, but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied,” says Adam Hasz, executive coordinator for SustainUS, a youth-led environmental advocacy group.
The Christian Science Monitor is a publication of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, founded in 1875.
I think the author makes a very interesting point, about the range of views in the Democrat Party, and the friction between climate hardliners who demand immediate action, and less committed Democrats who see climate as an important issue, but don’t embrace the urgency demanded by the hawks.
Whether this split will widen into civil war within the Democrat Party is an open question. The recent strong public exchange between McKibben and the Clinton team in my opinion suggests tensions are still running high. If the Clinton team is forced to distance her campaign from climate issues, say due to a vigorous effort to promote awareness of the damage climate regulations do to job security, tensions between hardline climate hawks and the Clinton team could boil over. The Democrat Party might split right down the middle.
Note: the link to the Bill McKibben Politico piece has been updated – the original link in the Christian Science Monitor post didn’t work.