The reality is that there is such an issue, the Democrats are that much better on it and the Republicans that incomprehensibly bad, and yet the Democrats almost never talk about it, and in fact allow the facts and the science to be ignored, distorted and denied as if there is legitimate scientific debate, which there is not. It's baffling and infuriating. It's not only about the issue itself, which to any responsible observer takes primacy and precedence, but it's also about the politics; and even the most calculating politician ought at the very least to be passionately eager to take advantage of what could be such a uniquely powerful political advantage.
The issue is climate change, and the mere mention of it often causes even many elected Democrats and Democratic activists to cringe, sigh, or otherwise turn away and hide. But it shouldn't. To many it is a given that climate change is at best a political irrelevance, and at worst a political loser, and this includes many if not most Democrats who do understand the reality of the importance of the issue itself. But they don't know how to play it, politically. Or they are afraid to play it, politically. And thus do Democrats fail not only the issue but also their own political self-interest.
The facts and science of climate change are clear. In the scientific community there is no debate about the reality of climate change. Humans are causing it. The burning of fossil fuels is the primary means by which humans are causing it. The consequences will be of the most devastating magnitude, and while the scope of the complexity of those consequences is beyond our full understanding, what we do understand is that those consequences are happening faster, and are of even greater danger than had been anticipated.
The professional denialists, who are well-funded by the most cynical, cruel, and craven special interests, can always find some deliberately dishonest stooges who have some semblance of scientific credential to spread false propaganda, but that small number of fools and liars is but a tiny fractional minority among the thousands of scientists who do accept what now is as settled science as are the theories of gravity and relativity. And that that small number of fools and liars never manages to get their false propaganda published in peer-reviewed science journals, because whatever their alleged credentials to speak on this issue they are not in fact conducting scientific research on this issue. The weight of evidence in peer-reviewed literature is overwhelming. The people who do actually study climate science are in broad and deep consensus, and the only scientists who ever succeed in publishing anything even remotely contrary fill their own reports with numerous caveats about the holes in their own evidence. How deep and broad is the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change? The number of scientific societies that acknowledge the reality and danger of human-caused climate change includes:
National Academies of Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), American Physical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Society, Geological Society of America, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Society of Agronomy, American Society of Plant Biologists, American Statistical Association, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, Botanical Society of America, Crop Science Society of America, Ecological Society of America, Natural Science Collections Alliance, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Society of Systematic Biologists, Soil Science Society of America, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Science Academies of the G8+5 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa), European Academy of Sciences and Arts, Australian Institute of Physics, and International Union of Geodesy and GeophysicsAny seeming debate on the basic fact of the existence of human-caused climate change is wholly concocted by the professional denialists and their also witting stooges in the irresponsibly execrable traditional media. But the public is not fooled. The public already overwhelmingly supports responsible action on climate change, which means that the public already understands the reality that the Republicans so assiduously deny. In other words, although making climate change an issue of primary importance to the widespread public won't be easy, the widespread public already has taken the first steps, all on its collective own.
Some leading climate activists were astounded in disappointment that the president did not specifically mention climate change in his Earth Day 2012 proclamation, but there was better news just days later, in the president's Rolling Stone interview:
James Hansen, NASA's leading climate scientist, has said this about the Keystone pipeline: that if the pipeline goes through and we burn tar sands in Canada, it's "game over" for the planet. What's your reaction to that statement?While some environmentalists do consider Keystone itself a make-or-break issue, and while the specifics of what the president meant by taking further steps in a serious way remains typically opaque, his specific mentions of the obscenely well-funded anti-science climate denialist industry, of climate change as a campaign issue, and of responsible action on climate change as a means of economic growth and job creation was very heartening. As I've previously written, with President Obama we are at least in an honest paradigm on climate change, while with the Republicans we are not. As he is on so many issues, Mitt Romney has been all over the map on this issue, and is very cozy with leading fossil fuel industry climate deniers. Two years ago, every Republican Senate nominee was some flavor of climate denier, and there is no reason to think this year will be different; even dishonestly self-styled moderate Scott Brown is just another cookie-cutter anti-science Republican climate denier.
James Hansen is a scientist who has done an enormous amount not only to understand climate change, but also to help publicize the issue. I have the utmost respect for scientists. But it's important to understand that Canada is going to be moving forward with tar sands, regardless of what we do. That's their national policy, they're pursuing it. With respect to Keystone, my goal has been to have an honest process, and I have adamantly objected to Congress trying to circumvent a process that was well-established not just under Democratic administrations, but also under Republican administrations.
The reason that Keystone got so much attention is not because that particular pipeline is a make-or-break issue for climate change, but because those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared and concerned about a general lack of sufficient movement to deal with the problem. Frankly, I'm deeply concerned that internationally, we have not made as much progress as we need to make. Within the constraints of this Congress, we've tried to do a whole range of things, administratively, that are making a difference – doubling fuel-efficiency standards on cars is going to take a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere. We're going to continue to push on energy efficiency, and renewable energy standards, and the promotion of green energy. But there is no doubt that we have a lot more work to do.
Part of the challenge over these past three years has been that people's number-one priority is finding a job and paying the mortgage and dealing with high gas prices. In that environment, it's been easy for the other side to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to debunk climate-change science. I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way. That there's a way to do it that is entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation – that taking steps, for example, to retrofit buildings all across America with existing technologies will reduce our power usage by 15 or 20 percent. That's an achievable goal, and we should be getting started now.
The differences between the two major political parties on this most critical issue remain paradigmatic. The Democratic Party has not as of yet taken an aggressive approach to addressing this issue, but the Republican Party refuses even to acknowledge that this is an issue that needs addressing. If the Democrats were to get aggressive on the politics it would enable them to get aggressive on the necessary policies. If the Democrats were to get aggressive on the politics they would galvanize the public, and relegate the Republicans to the political septic tank in which they belong. But to do that the Democrats need to start talking about climate change at every opportunity. They need to treat it as the issue of primary importance that it is. The political framing is simple and accurate:
- The scientific consensus on climate change is overwhelming.
- The Republicans deny the scientific consensus on climate change, and undermine all efforts to address it responsibly.
- By denying the scientific consensus on climate change, and by undermining all efforts to address it responsibly, the Republicans undermine national security.
- By denying the scientific consensus on climate change, and by undermining all efforts to address it responsibly, the Republicans court economic devastation.
- By denying the scientific consensus on climate change, and by undermining all efforts to address it responsibly, the Republicans endanger hundreds of millions of lives, and risk the geopolitical consequences that come with the endangering of hundreds of millions of lives.
The case should be made at every presidential campaign stop, and by every Democrat who manages to get face time on TV. The president and all Democrats should speak to what people already are experiencing, specifically mentioning the extreme weather patterns that are shattering records across the country and around the globe. More and more Americans already link extreme weather to climate change, and while the president and every other Democrat should emphasize that while scientists have been cautious and hesitant about linking specific weather events to climate change, these specific weather events so accord with what has been expected from climate change that more and more and more of the scientists now are drawing the link. The president also ought at every campaign stop to draw attention to the climate scientists active in almost every state, telling people they should be proud of the research being done by people in their own communities. He and all Democrats also ought to highlight the continuous and consistent flow of new scientific research, thus underscoring with constantly updated data just how overwhelming is that scientific consensus on climate change.
The media behave recklessly and irresponsibly on climate change, and the president and all Democrats also ought to emphasize that, and challenge them to report the scientific facts and stop dishonestly acting as if there is legitimate debate on the issue. The science is there, and the science should be endlessly emphasized and reiterated, and any members of the media who cherry-pick from the miniscule number of denialists who have some sort of scientific credential, or who ignore scientists altogether in an effort to make of climate change but another partisan political argument, ought to be called to account. When the media fail to report honestly, they should be shamed and discredited for it. Just as the Republicans should be shamed and politically obliterated for it.
The scientific facts are clear, and the only remaining scientific questions are about the consequences of climate change, for the intricacies of climate are so much larger than we humans can comprehend, and those consequences are in fact turning out to be worse (pdf) than had been predicted. The public already is awake to the realities of climate change, and the Republicans deny and lie about those realities. By elevating the profile of climate change as a political issue, the Democrats can devastate the Republicans politically. And by politically devastating the greatest enemies of responsible action on climate change, the Democrats can thus make it not only politically possible but politically imminent for responsible action on climate change to happen.