Democrats Already Promising to Do Virtually Nothing on Climate Change if They Get Power

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Hey, remember that recent report saying we have essentially a decade to stop the absolute worst effects of climate change? Well, strap in, because the one mainstream political party in America which actually believes climate change is both real and caused by humans has apparently decided the time is ripe for some good ol’ fashioned incrementalism.

The Hill reports that, even if Democrats take one or both chambers of Congress in November, many want to avoid pushing for major climate change legislation, as they did in 2009, when they had a unified government and were still unable to get cap-and-trade passed. The reason given is that any legislation is obviously going to die as soon as it hits President Donald Trump’s desk. Per the Hill:

Considering those “constraints,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Democrats should “focus on the practical and the opportunistic” to make short-term progress while fighting for bolder measures — “the aspirational goals” — over the longer term.


“I could imagine that we can do ancillary pieces that are very much reinforcing this issue and concern for climate change,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee.


Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said the notion that cap-and-trade or carbon tax legislation could pass the Senate and win Trump’s signature “is extremely unlikely.” He suggested Democrats adopt a two-tier approach: Pass piecemeal bills on issues where there’s bipartisan buy-in — like energy efficiency and grid modernization — while simultaneously holding hearings on the larger climate problem to build support among industry leaders and other stakeholders.


Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader, declined to comment to the Hill on the party’s climate agenda if it takes back the House, while her top deputy, Rep. Steny Hoyer, stressed areas “of potential bipartisan agreement.” Thankfully, not everyone agrees with this approach:

“I do think we need to go big,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “I’m all for incrementalism in policy. We do lots and lots of it, and it’s a good way to move forward. But this situation is so serious that we can’t do it in little steps.”

Beyer acknowledged the political hurdles facing such a plan, not least Trump’s rejection of consensus climate science. But he sees a path for working with moderate Republican senators and getting a climate change bill to the president’s desk. If it gets that far, he thinks Trump — enticed by the opportunity to claim a victory — might change his tune.

“Politically, it wouldn’t be smart for Democrats to give him a win, but we’re not talking about politics, we’re talking about the fate of the planet and the fate of humanity,” Beyer said.

I’m not sure I share Beyer’s optimism that the Republicans are going to help put a climate change bill over the top—especially if they’re still in control of the Senate—but the point is moot. Even if the Democrats know aggressive action on climate change is dead on arrival, they should still do it, because it emphasizes the urgency that’s needed to deal with the problem and showcases what the Democrats’ agenda will be when they take power.

Pushing for aggressive climate action doesn’t mean that you don’t compromise when you’re forced to, just like how running on Medicare for All doesn’t mean you dismiss Medicaid expansion in red states or sabotage efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs. There’s a time and a place for incrementalism; the period when you’re actively campaigning to be in the driver’s seat of policymaking isn’t it.


We hear time and again that the Democrats’ problem is that no one knows what they stand for. There is perhaps no better way to let people know what you stand for than advocating for the world you want. And when it comes to the climate, the problem is just too pressing to think narrowly.