As a Sunrise movement “elder” (cough, cough), I volunteer to read through the volume of emails that come in to the organization’s site on my designated day of the week. While there are lots and lots of inspired activists who contact Sunrise to offer their time, ideas, and hard work as ways to promote climate action, there also seem to be an enormous amount of climate deniers, hate-mongers, naysayers, and curmudgeons. They’re the cult followers of an administration that preens over any measures to dilute vehicle emission standards, weaken clean water policies, or attach higher caps for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
But the climate change controversy this week was focused on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which found itself quickly backtracking when public opinion built toward devoting one of the 12 Democratic presidential debates to the climate crisis. This sentiment corresponded to a CNN survey this week that found that 3/4 of Iowa Democratic caucus participants said that their candidate must have “recognition of climate change as the greatest threat to humanity.”
One of the groups that has brought climate change to the forefront of the everyday voter is the Sunrise movement in which I am involved, which emphasizes accruing political power through elections as well as engaging in protest to bring down the fossil fuel billionaires. Self-described as “building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process,” the group, on first glance, might seem, well, a bit naive and too youthful to be effective.
Yet visibility efforts by the Sunrise movement and others caused DNC Chairman Tom Perez, who rejected a climate-focused debate last week, to defend the party’s opposition in a post on Medium on Tuesday. He said the “debates are an opportunity to see our candidates engage on a range of issues that matter to the American people and that the next president will have to tackle.” He added that he “could not allow individual candidates to dictate the terms of debates or limit the topics discussed.”
Perez seems to be back-peddling from that statement now, just a few days later.
Please stop saying that a #ClimateDebate can’t happen because 1 candidate asked for it.
1. The call for a #ClimateDebate emerged from the people, not a politician.
2. 15 candidates have now added their voice & platform to amplify that demand.
— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) June 13, 2019
That “1 candidate” who has been promoting a DNC debate about climate change is Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, who was the first Democratic contender to call for a debate focused solely on the climate crisis. “Today, my team received a call from the Democratic National Committee letting us know that they will not host a climate debate,” Inslee, who launched his presidential campaign in March at a solar panel installation company in Seattle, said in a statement. “Further, they explained that if we participated in anyone else’s climate debate, we will not be invited to future debates. This is deeply disappointing.”
Inslee is ready to debate climate change plans. His own would require “zero-emission” electricity generation across the US by 2035 and call for the federal government to invest $3 trillion over a decade to upgrade buildings, create “climate-smart infrastructure,” encourage “clean manufacturing,” and research “next-generation” energy technologies.
I’m the only candidate in the race who is saying that climate change has to be the first priority of the new president. If it’s not job one, it won’t get done.https://t.co/tWfCl4o0qs
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) June 13, 2019
It’s not just Inslee who’s creating a buzzing sound in Perez’ ears. Perez has been bombarded by reminders that past presidential debates have largely ignored the climate crisis, even in the face of scientific evidence showing that immediate and drastic action must be taken to avert catastrophic warming. Journalist moderators asked no questions on climate change in any of the 3 debates between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, despite a drive by environmental and social activist groups to elevate the visibility of the issue in the debates.
Agreements Surge about the Need to Foreground Climate Change in 2020 Elections
Most of us know that accepting the vastness of the task ahead of us to fight off global warming can be intimidating and demoralizing.
Complex conversations swirl about climate change — How will we as a society learn to forego fossil fuels? What incentives are needed to transform our transportation sector to all-electric vehicles? What degrees of building infrastructure upgrades will be enough? How can we learn to consume less, eat vegan, and choose trees over built environments? What can we do to halt population growth?
And, while there are a lot of things to discuss about how to fight climate change, almost all Democrats agree that the US needs to have zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Many Democratic candidates have also signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.
“I pledge to not take contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.”
Mr. Perez, are you listening?
Climate Change Controversy Not Worth the Time to Some Legislators
Of course, while many lawmakers are turning their attention to climate, as scientists grow more concerned about the rise in Earth’s temperature and the House of Representatives has formed a new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, others remain entrenched in the oh-so-yesterday argument as to whether the climate crisis is human-made or not. Look no further than House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, who was a recent guest on CBS This Morning. Co-anchor Tony Dokoupil prodded him about the climate problem.
“Scientists have agreed that climate change is a catastrophic risk. Do you have a plan, as some other members of your party are beginning to to address it?” Dokoupil asked.
“First of all, we do know that the earth’s temperature changes — it goes up and down,” said Scalise.
Dokoupil continued, “So you don’t accept the science?”
“In the 1970s, they said we were entering a new cooling period,” Scalise replied.
Clearly, Scalise is not a man who likes to read. As early as 2009, the US National Climate Data Center and Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shared their research that naturally occurring periods of no warming or even slight cooling can easily be part of a longer-term pattern of global warming.
What’s so important for people like Scalise to understand is that, as NOAA outlines, given the size and tremendous heat capacity of the global oceans, it takes a massive amount of accumulated heat energy to raise Earth’s average yearly surface temperature even a small amount. Behind the seemingly small increase in global average surface temperature over the past century is a significant increase in accumulated heat. That extra heat is driving regional and seasonal temperature extremes, reducing snow cover and sea ice, intensifying heavy rainfall, and changing habitat ranges for plants and animals—expanding some and shrinking others.
Those extremes are the gist of what the Democratic candidates should be debating in anticipation of the 2020 Presidential elections. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s eye-opening October report was a slap that we all needed. The Sunrise youth are pressing for it. The Wall Street Journal noted this week that a small but growing number of Republican lawmakers are urging action on climate change, driven by shifting sentiment among GOP voters and the effects of global warming, from stronger hurricanes to more-destructive wildfires.
Is any other topic so essential to us as dealing with the climate crisis? DNC: Wake up!
Unless otherwise noted, images were retrieved from Pixabay.
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