Dems Build Momentum For Climate Change Action Ahead Of 2020 Elections

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Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) wants to talk about the need for climate change action.

Senator Jack Reed, photo retrieved from

He says with the effects of greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of fossil fuels are all around us, and he offers evidence.

  • The last 4 years were the hottest ever recorded.
  • More frequent and powerful weather events have wreaked havoc on local ecosystems and caused billions of dollars in damage across the US.
  • Warming oceans are causing fish populations to move, making things more difficult for fishing communities.
  • Energy price spikes due to extreme temperatures are straining household budgets.
  • Rising sea levels are putting more and more homes at risk of flooding and storm damage, harming property values.

“Building a clean energy future will require hard work, but it also presents many opportunities,” Reed argues in an email correspondence, “to support local communities, create green jobs, protect the environment, and improve public health. Please be assured that I will continue working toward these important goals, so as to ensure that our children and grandchildren can inherit a clean and livable planet.”

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Reed is one of the Democrats who is keenly awaiting the 2020 election, with the goal to defeat Trump, reestablish control of the Senate, and maintain their hold in the House of Representatives. And then they can think about passing climate legislation.

But can the US afford to wait?

Reed says he has been so outraged and disheartened by the misguided and irresponsible actions of the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans to undo important environmental protections and increase the domestic production of fossil fuels. Organizations like Sunrise concur, maintaining that the political and media establishment have kept climate change at the bottom of the national agenda. As young people who will live through climate catastrophe unless “bold and immediate action is taken,” they’re concerned that the US is running out of time to address this existential crisis.

So Sunrise is demanding a #ClimateDebate. The Democratic National Committee promised a while back that climate would be foregrounded in the Miami and Detroit debates. So what happened? The 15 minutes and half of the field answering a question on climate change was a bare start. Sunrise calls this approach to the emergency of climate crisis “downright irresponsible.”

What Do the People Think about Climate Action?

Sunrise photo by Carolyn Fortuna, CleanTechnica (available freely for reuse if correctly attributed).

A majority of Americans are worried that extreme heat, drought, flooding, or water shortages might harm their local area. Those concerns emerged during the “Climate Change in the American Mind: April 2019″ survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. Here are some of the most interesting findings from the survey.

  • About 6 in 10 Americans (62%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. More than 1 in 5 (23%) are “very worried” about it.
  • Nearly 4 in 10 Americans (38%) say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming.
    • About 4 in 10 Americans (38%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now.”
    • More than 4 in 10 Americans (44%) think they will be harmed by global warming, while more think their family (48%), and/or people in their community (48%) will be harmed. More than half of Americans think global warming will harm people in the U.S. (59%), people in developing countries (64%), the world’s poor (64%), future generations of people (69%), and/or plant and animal species (71%).
  • About half of Americans (51%) say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month. Fewer (23%) say they hear people they know talking about global warming at least once a month.
  • Very few Americans (12%) think it is too late to do anything about global warming, and only 4 in 10 (40%) think the actions of a single individual won’t make any difference in global warming. About half of Americans (49%) think new technologies can solve global warming without individuals having to make big changes in their lives.
    • Majorities of Americans think of global warming as an environmental (75%), scientific (69%), severe weather (64%), agricultural (63%), health (58%), political (57%), economic (54%) and/or humanitarian (51%) issue. Fewer think it is a moral (38%), poverty (29%), national security (27%), social justice (24%), and/or religious issue (9%).
    • A majority of Americans are worried about harm from extreme events in their local area including extreme heat (69%), droughts (64%), flooding (60%), and/or water shortages (59%).

The numbers of individuals in the US who are thinking about climate change personally are rising quickly. “We’ve not seen anything like that in the 10 years we’ve been conducting the study,” Anthony Leiserowitz, a researcher at Yale, reflects.

So, What Actions are the Democrats Taking to Combat Climate Change?

The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis is in place to examine how climate change is affecting the country and the planet and to mobilize action and support for bold climate solutions. The Special Committee’s duties are to:

  • Prioritize oversight and investigation of the efforts of special interests to foster climate denial;
  • Convene meetings and conduct outreach with front line communities impacted by climate change, as well as experts from the environmental, national security, and finance and economic development communities; and,
  • Hold a series of hearings through 2019 and 2020, including expert witnesses and testimonials.

Are investigations, meetings, and hearings enough to challenge US policies that enable the climate crisis to worsen daily? The Dems’ track record on climate action has been mediocre at best. After the tense negotiations to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the Senate faced a prolonged and nasty legislative session in their attempts to pass significant climate legislation, so they postponed the effort — indefinitely.

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who chairs the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, outlines that upcoming climate legislation must include labor union endorsement. “We just can’t do this and say some pablum about a just transition,” he told The Atlantic. “That’s offensive, honestly. If you work in power generation, or pipeline laying, or electricity transmission, you want to know, how is this going to impact your ability to provide for your family?” Schatz has been brainstorming with Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, since his appointment to the Special Committee.

Final Thoughts on the Dems & Climate Change Action

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” were needed to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Progressives are pushing Democrats to embrace the Green New Deal at the same time many Republicans are ridiculing the idea as socialism. “While some of my colleagues would prefer to ignore or deny climate change,” Reed outlines, “I am proud to support a resolution affirming that climate change is real, that it’s caused by humans, and that the United States and Congress need to take immediate action to address it.”

To combat what Reed terms “this real threat to our environment, economy, and national security,” he’s advocating for a national energy policy that limits carbon pollution, holds big polluters accountable, and invests in the clean energy technologies of the future. He acknowledges that changing how we meet our energy needs will not be easy, but the long-term benefits of doing so are clear, as are the dangers of doing nothing.

Reed has long supported clean energy incentives and strong investments in renewable energy technologies. He cites his “strong record of standing up to those who want to go backwards,” and Reed has voted to fund the expansion of clean energy, cap carbon emissions, increase efficiency standards, and invest in resilient infrastructure.

Can Reed and the other Senate Dems make a difference in the next couple of years? Will the shift in public sentiment result in concrete policy proposals? Will Senate Republicans who have embraced “innovation” as a possible solution to climate change join in bipartisan efforts to save humanity from the dire effects of climate change? Can the solutions framed in the Green New Deal move climate conversations to actions?

All eyes are on the Dems.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

Carolyn Fortuna has 1364 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna