There are clear signs that climate change has emerged as a central issue for Democrats going into the 2020 presidential elections. This is the first election cycle in American history where climate change will be a front and center issue, at least for the Democrats. President Obama deserves credit for leading Democrats in the fight for climate action. While his legacy of climate action is laudable it is being systematically dismantled by the Trump administration. This is in part why the current slate of Democratic candidates are making the climate crisis a central plank of their presidential campaigns. The Dems’ focus on climate action has been more than a decade in the making. Here is a brief review of the long and winding road that has led us to the present moment.
In 2008 the DNC adopted a progressive policy platform that included climate action. After a green stimulus package was passed in 2009, Democrats backpedaled. In 2010 there were 44 Democrats who opposed a climate change bill and their avoidance of climate change was clearly evident in the 2010 midterms. It should be noted that their populist platform did not win them votes as Democrats suffered major losses in the 2010 midterms.
This changed in 2012 with the adoption of a progressive party platform and the Climate Change Caucus led by former Democratic Senator for California Barbara Boxer (1993 to 2017). Shortly thereafter the Democrat’s adopted an “all of the above” energy strategy that included fossil fuels. The DNC policy platform in 2012 was less environmentally focused then the one they adopted in 2008. They abandoned a few key policy positions including dropping their call for an end to fossil fuels and support for cap-and-trade. Although they continued to support an international deal to curtail GHG pollution, they no longer demanded that the agreement be binding.
While Republicans are maligned for being on the take from the fossil fuel industry, Democrats are not blameless. Nonetheless, Democrats showed renewed interest in global warming in 2014 with Democratic Senators launching a climate action task force.
In 2015 Democrats made a deal with the devil. In exchange for clean air, water, and energy Democrats supported increasing oil exports. In 2016 they added a climate amendment to their party platform. However, this was not reflected in the debates that year as climate change was a either a side issue or altogether absent.
In the 2016 presidential debates climate was largely ignored.
At a January 27th Town Hall, with the exception of Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, Democrats avoided the issue of climate change for the most part and the front-runner Hillary Clinton maintained her silence. This was true of the first, second, third and fourth Democratic debates as well as the CBS
Democratic Debate in November.
Although the Democratic candidates each offered some form of climate and environmental position, with the two notable exceptions cited above, the rest (Lincoln Chaffee, Larry Lessig and Jim Webb) were not committed to serious climate action.
Democrats did very well in the 2018 midterms, with women leading the charge and speaking out about climate change. Many of these candidates expressed their support for a Green New Deal. The blue wave welcomed the return of science to the House of Representatives, a chamber that had become a mouthpiece for fossil fuel powered climate denial. There were also a host of environmental victories in plebiscites across the country.
History will record that in 2019, climate change came of age in American political discourse. This was evident in the first and second Democratic Presidential debates as well as first and second CNN debates.
In 2016 O’Malley was the climate hawk pushing Democrats towards climate action. In 2019 Jay Inslee assumed the mantle
of this responsibility. He may have dropped out of the race but as the
most progressive voice on climate action he has helped to push the issue
into the spotlight. Both Warren and Castro have reached out to Inslee
and drawn on his climate platform.
The fact that all the Democratic front runners have released climate proposals in 2019 is indeed groundbreaking. On the evening of September 4th, 2019 the ten leading Democratic candidates also participated in a series of climate town halls. This is a far cry from previous elections and it lends credence to the belief that if elected, Democrats will revive climate action in the U.S.