Opinion: On climate change, Democratic presidential candidates’ proposals are just the beginning

Combatting climate change must be the front-and-center issue for the 2020 presidential campaign -- and for the next president.
(Charles Mostoller/BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO)

What a difference three years make.

In the last presidential election, climate change was virtually nowhere to be found as a campaign issue. Donald Trump denied its very existence, and while Hillary Clinton had a platform plank dedicated to it, she didn’t spend a whole lot of campaign time talking about it. (The issue did have more prominence in the Democratic primaries, propelled by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.)

And the media didn’t press the issue too much, either. Even during the televised debates, where journalists could have forced the question, they left it alone. That wasn’t our finest hour; we in the media need to do better spotlighting the issue.This time around, while the president keeps his head stuck in the tar sands, we already have major policies floated by Democratic candidates, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to make it the foundational issue of his campaign, and former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren trotting out trillion-dollar proposals.

And the Green New Deal, a sweeping and ambitious proposal pushed by progressive Democrats, stands to be the reference point against which many such proposals will be measured. The Washington Post has assembled positions by all 23 Democratic contenders in one handy scroll-through chart.


That’s all well and good, but as we all know talking about the issue is just the start. We need action.

Two-thirds of us recognize that climate change is happening and that human activity is the main propellant. Yet only 45% believe that the impact will affect us in our lifetime — clearly, too many of us aren’t paying enough attention to the more intense storms, longer and more severe droughts, melting glaciers and polar ice caps — all predicted results of global warming.

It’s happening, people.

But without sustained political pressure, even the best climate-change proposals in the world won’t get very far. And if Trump wins re-election, the nation will lose at least another four years in trying to get federal leadership on the most severe and existential issue of our times.


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As it is, his underlings are trying to undercut the role of science in setting federal policies, including how we produce and consume energy, and desperately trying to drill, excavate and burn more fossil fuel before he leaves office.

So it’s heartening to see the Democrats making the issue front and center. But it’s incumbent on the rest of us to make sure it stays there, and that, should one of the Democrats win in 2020, the new president continues to push for immediate and radical changes to address this unfolding crisis.

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