By Monica Medina and Miro Korenha
Governor Jay Inslee threw his hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination for President yesterday and pledged to center his entire campaign on the issue of climate change. This is great news. He has taken the Green New Deal and thrust it into the conversation about who will be the most capable opponent to take on President Trump. We can see it now – a sea of people wearing blue hats and t-shirts with the letters “MACA” for “Make America Cool Again” and a picture of the planet embroidered on them. The double meaning of this slogan would be lost on some but not on most Americans. The majority of Americans acknowledge that climate change is real, people are causing it and more and more of us are beginning to feel its effects first hand. Wouldn’t that be a great way to tee up a fight with the President on the single most important challenge we face today? We think so.
But immediately the skeptics pounced –from the right of course, but also from the left. At the conservative CPAC conference, Vice President Pence, alluding to Governor Inslee’s failed carbon tax proposal, said the green in the Green New Deal stands for the money it will cost Americans in higher taxes and regulatory costs. Additionally, Republican National Committee communications director Michael Ahrens said in a statement: “Jay Inslee’s chances of becoming president are exactly what he’s polling at: zero. His campaign will only force Democrats into embracing more extreme policies, like a carbon tax, which would kill jobs, raise energy prices, and disproportionately hurt working-class Americans.” It’s not clear where Ahrens gets his talking points as a future with increased renewable energy can bring energy prices down and the two fastest-growing jobs in America: solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians.
But far more disheartening was the reaction from the “liberal” media. The entire lineup of MSNBC anchors was anxious to discuss and dismiss climate change as a fluffy, feel-good issue and hardly “meaty” enough to build a campaign around. They seem to have forgotten all the news lately – the news that they read and report on a daily basis. How about the fact that the Black Friday Report on Climate Change dropped this bombshell – climate change has cost the U.S. economy $350 billion over the past decade. Or the fact that NOAA reported that in 2018, there were 14 weather and climate disasters that cost a billion dollars or more and these resulted in a total of $91 billion in damages. Or that our military and intelligence leaders consider climate change a top national security threat – even if the President is trying to rewrite that assessment with a bunch of non-experts from the White House. Or that experts estimate (using EPA’s own statistics) that regulatory rollbacks, such as the clean car rule and the clean power plan, will cause thousands of premature deaths while leaving these rules in place would actually save $90 billion annually in human health costs.
A friend of ours wrote us and asked point blank “Is Inslee’s campaign dead on arrival because it’s focusing on one issue?” Inslee’s campaign will face an uphill battle because he is unknown outside of his home state of Washington. But if anything, centering his campaign on climate change will give him an important plank – one that is a rallying cry for many on the left, just as building a border wall was for Trump supporters in 2016.
However, climate change as a political issue is also much more significant than even most Democrats give it credit for. It encompasses literally every other voting priority like jobs, economy, national security, healthcare, immigration, etc., etc. Dems have just never communicated it as such. It can provide a unifying framework on which to hang many popular proposals. It can give the Democrats a platform that holds together thematically – and that is easy to communicate. It is a much better vehicle to engage the public than a bunch of policy memos and wonky ideas that none of these candidates could make appealing.
Climate change, and its government response – the Green New Deal – is big and bold and will make us great again by moving the nation forward, rather taking us back. Much like its namesake, President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, there’s something for everyone. It is about the economy, an energy revolution, national security, agriculture, immigration, public health, and enjoying the outdoors. It is about making every sector of our economy work more efficiently and cost us less – pollution is nothing more than waste that someone else has to pay for – either through illness or blight or ravaging fires or storms. Corporate polluters have been given tax cuts for decades and regulatory rollbacks will cost millions of American lives. They’ve also been responsible for spreading climate denial and perpetuating the false narrative that action on climate comes at the direct cost of the economy. It’s time that the health and safety of the American public are prioritized over the profits of fossil fuel companies.
So bring it on, Governor Inslee. Keep talking about climate change. We need it. And maybe if you keep it up, even the Democrats will see it for what it is – the fuel for a blue wave in 2020.