Sohn: Our planet and our families depend on a 2020 candidate

Sohn: Our planet and our families depend on a 2020 candidate

September 8th, 2019 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

A coal-fired power plant belches climate-harming carbon into the sky in 2018. / File photo/Luke Sharrett/The New York Times


Elizabeth Warren put it well.

"The world's leading experts have long known that climate change is real, it is happening, and we are running out of time," she said last week in an essay to CNN. "We face record floods, wildfires, and extreme storms that rip apart whole communities. People are dying. There are billions of dollars in damage. The air we breathe and the water we drink are being poisoned by dangerous amounts of pollution. Taking bold action to confront the climate crisis is as important — and as urgent — as anything else the next president will face. We cannot wait."

A report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned recently that we and our planet have only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change.

Voters looking to the 2020 presidential election that's 14 months away seem to agree.

The climate crisis is a pre-eminent issue in the Democratic nomination fight, with polls showing it in the top two policy priorities for Democratic voters, rivaled only by health care.

But that is not — nor was the CNN climate change town hall on Wednesday — a clarion call for the Green New Deal put forward by the youngest House member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

A plan to fix climate change by targeting "net-zero" emissions by 2050 or earlier may help build jobs, especially in the alternative energy sector, but it need not offer a federal job guarantee. Nor is there any rational reason to mix climate control goals with universal health care — a worthy but separate cause in itself.

Let's keep our eyes on the prize. As they say in the newspaper business: If you vigorously pursue stories for Page 1, all the other pages will fill themselves with the leftovers.

In CNN's town hall, and in the candidate position papers laid out beforehand, 17 Democratic candidates have embraced net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier, which means fossil fuel use would be drastically reduced and any remaining carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere would need to be captured and buried or offset by planting trees. Similarly, all say they would spend trillions of dollars over the next decade to get there, though not all are exactly clear on where the money would come from, or how they would get Congress to cooperate.

And then there's incumbent president Donald Trump, who calls climate change a hoax cooked up by the Chinese. Trump's policy has been to dismantle everything America has done to combat pollution that contributes to catastrophic global warming. He pulled us out of the Paris climate accord and has rolled back linchpin energy and fuel economy regulations set in motion by former President Barack Obama.

Still, Trump's advisers can read the polls, notes Politico, "which helps explain an unusually defensive speech he recently delivered highlighting America's relatively clean air and water. He's particularly out of step with young Republicans; more than one third of his own supporters under 40 disapprove of his brazen denial of climate science, which helps explain why some Republicans who can usually be relied on to defend his policies are distancing themselves from his stance on global warming."

Meanwhile, Fox News keeps hammering away at the any Democratic candidate's climate proposal as though it's a mimeographed version of the Green New Deal, which Fox paints as a crazy-socialist-egghead message.

From Politico: "Polls show that frequent Fox watchers hear much more about the Green New Deal than other Americans do, and dislike it much more than other Americans do." Data for Progress focus groups have shown that Fox messaging is having a powerful effect, with many voters associating the plan with "cow farts" and a (not real) "$93 trillion price tag."

Democratic candidate, billionaire and strident Trump critic Tom Steyer has said he started intervening in energy-related state ballot initiatives because environmental groups were getting outspent by fossil-fuel and GOP interests by 25-to-1.

"We're up against a very effective and centralized propaganda machine, and we need to fight back," says Julian Brave NoiseCat, a 26-year-old indigenous rights activist who is now the strategic director at Data for Progress. "We can't just remain in a defensive crouch, and that's what Democratic leaders in Congress have done."

Finally last week, our Democratic presidential candidates began to stand up. And while the Green New Deal served them as a starting point, it was not their whole message.

Rather, their message is just what we voters and residents of Earth know we need: aggressive investments in wind and solar power, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, public transit. We're also looking for reduced government subsidies and other artificial supports for fossil fuels. We're looking for tightened regulations on carbon and other pollutants. And we know fully that any candidate worth his or her salt would undo just about everything Trump has done in the climate arena.

If you didn't watch Wednesday's town hall on CNN, go online at or YouTube and spend a little time each day catching up. Each candidate got a turn in the hot seat to explain his or her climate platform and make a case for why it will work.

Look it up. Our future depends on it.

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