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by Miro Korenha, co-founder and publisher of Our Daily Planet
When it comes to public policy and diplomacy, the most contentious proposals are often won and lost on the merit of word association. In past decades, the Affordable Care Act was pilloried by the right for its alleged “death panels,” the Iraq War was sold to the American public under the guise of the nation harboring “weapons of mass destruction,” and our nation’s war on drugs regrettably portrayed substance dependency as a mere binary where one could “Just Say No.”
Yet, one of the most successful blockages of policy has resulted from a decades-long disinformation campaign on the part of the Republican Party and special interest groups that labeled any form of environmental protection as a “jobs killer.” This moniker gained traction during President Obama’s first term as Republicans, and industry groups argued that a still-recovering economy could not afford more environmental regulations. This came at the detriment of public health as the Obama administration ultimately abandoned its plan to enforce stricter air pollution limits.
This disinformation formula has been wildly successful for right-wing groups and politicians as it’s still their go-to tactic when attacking policies to protect the environment and address climate change. We saw this play out with their attacks on the Green New Deal throughout the 2020 election cycle, as bogus claims about the resolution’s cost reverberated in social media echo chambers.
Despite that there’s no consistent evidence that regulations contribute to long-term changes in the unemployment rate, Democrats have struggled to offer a counternarrative…until now.
While on the campaign trail, then-candidate Biden made green jobs the central component of his climate change action plan. He stayed consistently on message when talking about climate change and the economic opportunities that lie in mitigating and adapting to a warming planet. This precise language carried over to the White House during President Biden’s first weeks in office. As the President held “Climate Day” to recognize the series of executive orders he signed to restore and expand environmental protection, he stated to the press that “Today is Climate Day at the White House, which means today is jobs day at the White House.”
The President’s appointees and cabinet secretaries (and nominees awaiting Senate confirmation) have also stayed consistently on message that climate change action = jobs. During the White House press briefing on Climate Day, the President’s climate envoy John Kerry and domestic climate advisor Gina McCarthy mentioned jobs nearly 30 times when introducing the President’s climate agenda. McCarthy even published an op-ed yesterday outlining precisely how the President’s climate plan is a jobs creator.
Additionally, newly-confirmed Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, explained that the Biden infrastructure plan would create jobs and allow “American small businesses, workers, families, and farmers to compete and win in the global economy and [tackle] the climate crisis.” And at his confirmation hearing, EPA nominee Michael Regan continued to connect climate action to jobs, despite adversarial questions from Republican Senators.
This disciplined climate messaging on the part of the Biden administration isn’t the silver bullet to countering years of disinformation that pitted employment against environmental protection, but it’s a good start and a playbook for the rest of the Democratic party to emulate.
Congressional Republicans will continue spinning a narrative that declining oil and gas jobs can be protected by political will alone, instead of being honest that market forces will increasingly select clean energy. Replacing jobs in declining sectors of the economy is more complicated than merely offering new opportunities in industries like solar power. Still, workers must continue to feel supported and assured of their potential role in a clean energy future.
And while not every American needs a new job, it’s vital that political leaders who are serious about protecting the planet work actively to reframe the public’s perception of environmental action from one of overreach to that of opportunity. Perhaps some in the environmental community will argue that climate action and environmental protection are far more complex than their potential contribution to employment levels. Yet, bold policy on these fronts can only be achieved with climate champions in office. Those lawmakers need a roadmap of how to campaign on environmental issues, and thus far, the Biden administration has worked adeptly to flip the script and set the standard.
However, it’s important to note that Republicans won’t relinquish their rhetorical campaign without a fight. They’re undeterred by facts and truth; thus, Democrats must promote the Biden climate priorities with equal intensity. Any hesitation or display of dissension will be blood in the water, and the GOP will hijack the agenda and reclaim the rhetorical battleground. The fate of our planet can’t afford to witness this reality.
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