Climate Change in A Divided Government

Cartoon by Alex Bowman

by Miro Korenha, co-founder/publisher Our Daily Planet 

President-elect Joe Biden won more votes than any other presidential candidate in American history. It’s a significant feat and one of which he, his campaign and his diverse coalition of supporters should feel exceptionally proud.

But, even after four years of staggering corruption, ineptitude, and destruction of the services and regulations that protect Americans, nearly 50% of the nation voted for the status quo. What’s more, is that those voters won’t merely fade away on January 20th, 2021, they will become more inflamed and vigilant in expressing their political convictions.

The absence of a wave election for Biden means that there’s not a single mandate for his presidency—he will have to juggle the thankless task of being all things to all people while navigating a global pandemic and a crumbling economy. What this means for climate action is unclear, especially if Democrats cannot regain control of the Senate with Georgia’s special Senate elections this January. Capital, both monetary and political is finite and curbing the 1,000+ daily deaths from COVID-19 will surely take precedent.

This doesn’t mean that meaningful and impactful climate action is impossible while managing the coronavirus crisis. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, but President Biden will need the unified support of his climate and environmental coalition when he assumes office and begins to implement the change that he campaigned on with the powers available to him.

The Biden transition has given clear signs that climate change will most certainly be a priority in the first 100 days of the administration, and the President-elect has discussed international climate cooperation with almost every foreign leader he’s talked to in the past week. What’s more is that the Biden administration is expected to embed climate change across the breadth of the federal government in a way that’s never been done.

Yet this progress will come at a time when half of the nation voted for deregulation, denial, and inaction when it comes to the climate crisis. It makes it more crucial that the factions of the Democratic party (both moderate and progressive) find a way to constructively advocate for climate action and help the Biden administration succeed in its aims. As E&E News reported earlier this week:

“Moderate lawmakers, alarmed by dwindling House seats, might seek compromises that appear to liberal activists as a surrender to corporate polluters. Progressives stand to demand an all-or-nothing attack on global warming that could strike union leaders as strident and out of touch.” 

If we thought that the political right’s spreading of climate misinformation and obstruction to climate legislation were bad before, these tactics will only multiply in the next Congress. Congressional Republicans see the fact that they picked up seats in the House as their mandate to double down on divisive rhetoric and to push back harder than ever on Democratic policy ideas that include any form of even modest climate action.

Instead of taking aim at the Biden administration for not doing enough, progressive climate activists should use their digital messaging prowess and organizing strengths to push back against the behemoth climate disinformation machine that’s driven by the RNC, right-wing media, Facebook and dark money groups. We know that America has a frustratingly complicated understanding of what “socialism” means (a personal gripe for me: folks somehow don’t see that the same government that keeps food safe in grocery stores indeed has the power to increase the quality of life). And the right will only continue to label every significant Democratic climate policy idea as such unless a unified party starts to fight back and reclaim this narrative. Doing so will require Democrats and left-leaning groups across the political spectrum to dispel the notion that the government is somehow the enemy of the people.

And as Democrats, our weapons and rhetoric cannot be pointed at each other if we want the Biden administration to achieve as much progress on climate change as is possible. Conspiracy theorists and next iteration of #MAGA nation will work tirelessly to attack Biden and Democrats and pour money into reclaiming Congress and the White House in two and four years—we can’t let them succeed.

Detraction is easy, yet adeptly governing is exceptionally difficult even in normal times. As a coalition of people who deeply want to protect our planet and those most vulnerable to climate change, we’re going to have to make a choice about who we’re fighting and what winning looks like. My stance is that it’s not a winning strategy to make success more difficult for the most progressive climate agenda that’s ever been proposed at the White House.



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