When President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address nearly a year ago, he didn’t talk about climate change. But he didn’t get criticized nearly as much as the Democratic Party did for failing to mention the topic in its official response to Trump’s speech. The omission led the Sierra Club to declare that Democrats had “a climate change problem,” while the far-right website Breitbart announced that global warming had “officially ceased being an important issue in U.S. politics. #Winning!”
But the political climate in Washington has changed since then, especially after Democrats won back the House of Representatives in last month’s blue wave. Environmental protestors have flooded the Capitol twice in high-profile demonstrations, demanding senior Democratic leaders support a “Green New Deal.” Recent polling shows that Democratic voters are prioritizing climate change as an issue for the next Congress. And Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2020 are facing pressure to support aggressive climate policies.
That last development is particularly surprising given that most Democratic candidates didn’t talk about global warming at all during their midterm campaigns. So what happened? Who is responsible for this newfound climate enthusiasm, and is it sustainable? Will it lead to meaningful action over the next two years, or peter out by 2020?
Some credit must be given to progressive darlings like incoming New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three-term Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who showed with their midterm campaigns that it was possible to mobilize voters around the promise of comprehensive climate legislation. O’Rourke lost his challenge to Senator Ted Cruz by fewer than 3 points, despite running as a staunch environmentalist in an extremely Republican state. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign centered on creating a Green New Deal, an ambitious plan inspired by FDR’s New Deal to invest trillions in renewable energy development and manufacturing. At the time, climate scientists told me that, if Democrats ever decided to mobilize on global warming, a plan as aggressive as Cortez’s could make a tangible difference in lessening some of warming’s expected catastrophic effects. [Continue reading…]