Democratic Party Platform 7/1/16 Draft Would Lock In Catastrophic Climate Change

Michael Hoexter, Ph.D.

The Brexit vote is being taken by some commentators as a sign that the basic competence of leadership groups throughout Western countries is in question.  Unfortunately not enough media attention has been paid, public concern raised, and action taken about the most massive and long-standing failure of the political leadership classes, a failure to protect by governments that threatens humanity itself.  Governments and government leaders have failed to lead on climate change, even as most recently in Paris, they have sworn to hold Earth’s surface temperature below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and target 1.5 degrees as the “optimal” goal.  This failure of leadership both in governments and also in the nongovernmental organizations that nominally address environment and climate is almost absolute and is terrifying to behold.

2016 is on track to become by far the warmest year on record globally with a combination of a strong El Nino plus global warming boosting temperatures far above 2015, last year, the warmest year so far in instrumental records.   February 2016 was already 1.35 degrees C above current “normal” and close to 2 degrees over pre-industrial. Warming gases already emitted into the atmosphere with a residence time in the atmosphere of decades (methane) and millennia (carbon dioxide) have not yet exerted their maximal effect on global temperatures, as these excess emissions will continue to capture a greater fraction of incoming infrared radiation from the sun for a long time to come (the greenhouse effect).  Shortly, positive feedback loops may be triggered that add buried or sunken natural stores of methane to the atmosphere which will radically intensify infrared absorption and further bake the earth’s surface.  It is unlikely that human civilizations and perhaps humanity will survive the 3.5 degree C plus world that is almost inevitable with current or even moderately curtailed emissions trends.

The US is second largest emitter of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with China being the largest overall.  The US has however 3 times the per-person emissions of China and many Chinese aspire to the lifestyle not of a bicycle-riding Dane but of an American suburbanite.  Also 25% of China’s emissions can be attributed to its export of goods to the rest of the world, though its lead over the US still remains after attributing these emissions elsewhere. The US is by far the most populous of the very high per capita greenhouse gas emitting countries, those countries that emit 15 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide or more per person, numbers that don’t include non-carbon dioxide GHG’s like methane or emissions from international air and ship travel.  The US is still the dominant though challenged military-political force in the world, projecting its power via the copious use of fossil fuels to power weapons delivery systems like planes, drones, and ships to all corners of the globe.  The mission of the US military, as its jets and aircraft carriers emit copious amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, is often to maintain enhanced access to fossil fuel reserves for the US and its European allies.

A decisive move to prevent climate catastrophe by our now-global, 84% fossil-fuel dependent civilization, depends in part upon decisions that US political leaders make within the next year or two.

Of the two major parties in the US, the Democratic Party is the only one that acknowledges the existence of anthropogenic global warming, though “acknowledges” must be qualified, which I will attempt below.  The Republican Party and its presumptive Presidential nominee Donald Trump deny that global warming exists and/or that it is in any way a problem worthy of attention by government policymakers.  The Republican Party is one of the few major political parties in the world that deny human-caused climate change.

Benchmarking the climate change policy perspective of any party, be it the Democratic Party or others, against the Republican Party’s views on climate change is an exercise in foolishness and self-destructiveness that unfortunately both the Democrats and non-governmental environmental and climate organizations continue to attempt.  No political or climate policy credibility should be gained by a policy proposal that is “better than” the Republican alternative, which is either non existent or entirely retrograde.  Also, finding “middle ground” with climate change deniers on climate change is like cutting a deal with your senile Uncle Miltie that he should wander into traffic only part of the time.

At this point in history, cutting imaginary deals (none are usually forthcoming) or preemptive compromises with climate change deniers means departing from the stark reality of our current and worsening geophysical situation as regards warming emissions and the degradation of the climate and ocean chemistry in large part from those emissions.   We must now be positioning ourselves in relationship to the “object” of policy itself rather than to the views of opponents that are not sufficiently grounded in both natural science and the most plausible socio-economic tools for fixing the problem.

What is required now of government leaders is a full-scale, society-wide mobilization of economic, social and political resources to rapidly (within a decade) change the energy basis of civilizations, all of this led and supervised by governments.  A government-organized and –financed multi-year mobilization has always been the option that was necessary at some point to transform our societies away from our increasingly deadly dependence on fossil fuels.  Yet in the fog of neoliberal economic and political reasoning, government leaders and non-governmental organizations have not been able to conceive of, let alone undertake the transition away from a fossil-fueled to a largely or completely renewable energy powered society.

Working within the aforementioned neoliberal fog based on neoclassical economic assumptions has meant that climate action advocates both within and outside of government have tended to avoid discussion of what positive contributions government action can make to the economy and to climate action.  Without an acknowledgement of these potentials of the institution of government there can be no formulation of an effective climate action political platform.  Hewing to neoliberal assumptions, the emphasis is always on government effects on markets in the private sector, which are assumed via theory to encompass the entire economy; to have a “market-based” policy or policy suggestion is always assumed to be “good” or “realistic” even when it isn’t.  Those non-governmental organizations and environmental groups that are focused on government policy have operated almost entirely in the realm of what “price on carbon” should be instituted, be it a straight carbon tax, a carbon fee and dividend or, the most popular with government officials but extremely complex, the cap and trade system of pollution permit auctioning.

Another part of the non-governmental climate action community has been focused on saying “NO” to various fossil fuel industry projects or investment in fossil fuel companies.  Advocates of “NO” policies, though they are morally and practically justified in saying “NO” often don’t ever arrive at pushing for exactly what government policy should be doing to change our way of life so we do not depend on fossil fuels.  I attribute the inordinate emphasis on “NO” to a climate movement that un-self-consciously assumes a fundamental and fatal fallibility of government that the still-dominant neoliberal view of society has inculcated in government officials and civil society more generally.

Given this unfortunate background history to date, in the political confrontation with the GOP and climate deniers more generally, climate action advocates must undertake an entirely different strategy to be at all effective.  They must re-evaluate or reframe rather than run away from the accusations of the paranoid and opportunistic neoliberal and climate-denier groups that run the Republican Party.  These factions in the GOP and on the fringes of the right-wing say that climate change is simply a pretext to collectivize society along lines of the now discredited Soviet model; for the purposes of supporting their extreme or extremely naïve ideology they erase away any inconvenient aspects of physical science that get in the way of their cartoonish but feverishly held beliefs.

The neoliberal “common sense” that government leadership and initiative, including expansion of government programs, is always inefficient and tyrannical is simply without foundation in reality.  The denigration of government in its entirety should be dismissed as ill-conceived myth-making in the service of an ideological Never-Never Land of yeoman capitalists, from whom all value springs and who are encumbered by government.  These mythical capitalists, as in an Ayn Rand novel, would, in this fantasy of the economy, NEVER damage the social fabric or the natural environment in the search for individual or firm advantages and profit.   Against this repackaged anti-Communism from the mid-20th Century, an oppressive Soviet-style society is highly unlikely to ever again be put in place if government and civil society can work together to solve our most pressing problems, guided by and not looking away from real world data, under government leadership and regulation.  In partial fulfillment of the paranoid fantasies of climate change deniers, who claim to live in the yeoman capitalist Never-Never Land, humanity needs to embrace closer cooperation and engage in many collective efforts led by governments to save itself.   If you are contemplating human self-rescue, there are no easy reassurances for ideologically-driven or delusional climate change deniers, nor should there be.

With the emergence of what is to be a full-scale climate emergency, the embrace of half-measures whether out of ignorance, out of fealty to misbegotten neoliberal ideology/neoclassical economics or out of fear of rabid climate deniers, is itself a form of climate and science denial.  This fashionable form of “green” climate denial that can be spoken in liberal salons and party meetings, wrings its hands about “Republican Congressional gridlock” and climate denial and holds up the meager climate-related achievements of the current and previous Presidential Administrations as holy writ.  Talk is limited to various measures that do not suggest a leading role for government office-holders and government in pointing the way to the post-fossil fuel future.  Nothing that inconveniences the consumer or corporations is discussed at any length out of fear or a thoughtless repetition of tired received wisdom.

The Draft Democratic Platform Minimizes the Crisis

While usually American political party platforms are considered almost a joke, this year, the process of making the Democratic platform has been politicized and is a focus of an important political struggle.  The reason why party platforms have been considered inconsequential is that

  1. they are usually ignored by the public and
  2. officeholders are, once elected, free to abandon adherence to the platform without penalty.

American political parties are loose associations of officeholders in individual districts as opposed to tightly disciplined parties in parliamentary systems.

However, Party platforms are the one place, every four years, for American political parties to project a unified vision to the public at large, even if that vision is only used as an electioneering tool and not as a basis for policymaking.  For the Democratic Party, as the leftward or supposedly “liberal” major Party, this means that the Platform would be a place where political ideals and plans, if they are at all tangential to upcoming policy initiatives, might be expressed.

Having won representation (five of 15 total members) on the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee, the Sanders campaign has made some valiant efforts to inject more progressive elements into the platform.  The drafting committee is still dominated by appointees of Hillary Clinton and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, though Wasserman-Schultz’s appointee Barbara Lee has voted sometimes with the Sanders appointees (Bill McKibben, Cornel West, Deborah Parker, James Zogby and Keith Ellison).

On the issue of climate change, the Sanders appointees have won some concessions or found agreement but also experienced some rebuffs from the Clinton and Wasserman-Schultz appointed majority.  While the proposals of Sanders appointees were preferable on the whole to the resulting document, the July 1st draft would need further sharpening, even if Sanders appointees had won all battles and gotten everything they had proposed into the document.  Below is an analysis of what is lacking in the current draft in order for the Democratic Party to be considered a party of effective climate action.

Preamble: Urgency is Not Really Communicated

The preamble to a Party Platform is the clearest sign of the priorities of the Drafting Committee or at least its majority faction.  The body of a platform can list off planks ad infinitum but a preamble because of its limited length and summary function suggests what the Party actually believes are its top publishable priorities, by which it will “sell” itself in the upcoming election.  There are also “unpublishable” priorities that usually involve serving wealthy donors and special interest groups but a Platform is only going to be addressed to the broader public.   In an ideally uncorrupted political system, ALL of the priorities of a political party would be expressed in a Platform and discussed publicly.

The overarching theme of the Platform Draft, and therefore the differentiator that Democrats would like to communicate to the electorate and Washington insiders, is the idea of that Democrats promote being “stronger together than apart”.

Democrats believe that cooperation is better than conflict, unity is better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls.

It’s a simple but powerful idea: we are stronger together.

The Democrats are, unobjectionably, attempting to claim for themselves the mantle of the Party of social interconnection and togetherness.

The July 1st draft of the Democratic Platform Preamble has 1143 words in it of which approximately 50 words are devoted to or allude indirectly to an ongoing climate crisis.  43 words in one paragraph starting approximately at the 600th word of the Preamble are explicitly about climate change:

Democrats believe that climate change poses a real and urgent threat to our economy, our national security, and our children’s health and futures, and that Americans deserve the jobs and security that come from becoming the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.

I don’t find anything to disagree with the wording of this general statement but as implied in my introduction to it, it is a small fraction, 1/26th of the words in the preamble.  While one can infer that this belief of Democrats about climate change is related to the main interconnectedness theme from its placement in a list of the liberal/progressive concerns that dominate the preamble, the climate change part, as do other parts, seems to be part of a laundry list.

The only other mention of something related to climate change occurs in the first paragraph, where in touting the achievements of the Obama Administration, though these are also called insufficient, there is a mention of

We are getting more of our energy from the sun and wind, and importing less oil from overseas

Lumping sun and wind energy with the tangentially related issue of importation of oil without mention of climate change is perhaps trivializing but, as this is within a description of the Democratic Party’s near past, I will not engage with it.

Overall, then, you might expect a Party with a platform such as this one to expend about 1/20th of its political capital on issues related to climate change.  That Party then would propose federal budgets within which at most 1/20th of the approximately $1.2 trillion discretionary spending budget for all expenditures to projects related to climate change at $60 billion dollars or much less.  Given that military expenditures dominate the discretionary spending budget (54% in 2015) those climate expenditures would be expected to be far lower than 1/20th of the federal discretionary budget according to the weighting in this preamble.

Recommended Preamble Section on Climate Action

Though admitting the seriousness of climate change in the abstract, the sense of urgency in addressing climate change is missing in the draft preamble, even as the words “urgent threat” are inserted.   As an unprecedented mobilization of resources will be a defining characteristic of an Administration and society facing climate catastrophe fully, the preamble must mention in a central place, the full-scale social and political mobilization required to stabilize the climate within a decade and stop destabilizing emissions into the future.  Any US federal government budget that doesn’t allocate upwards of 4 trillion dollars per year (the current total budget of the US federal government is $3 Trillion dollars, the US economy is in total around $17 Trillion dollars in GDP including federal spending) on transforming our infrastructure and built environment to rapidly reduce and eliminate the use of fossil fuels is not seriously confronting climate change.   That is a lot of money but the US Federal government can create as much or as little money as is politically determined, with the sole economic constraint of inflation if government expenditure generates too much demand for goods and services in short supply.  The idea that the federal government runs or is running out of a money is an unfortunate political fiction, all the more unfortunate at a time of still-unrecognized national emergency.

Therefore the preamble of the Party Platform should after touting the achievements of the Obama Administration in the second paragraph, include the following language starting the third paragraph:

Despite progress in some areas over the past 8 years, we are faced with twin challenges: not only are many Americans falling behind or left out of prosperity and a sense of social belonging but also we have not yet fully faced our greatest challenge: the imminent danger of catastrophic climate change.  We Democrats think though, as in facing the Great Depression, World War II and the superpower competition with the Soviet Union, the fundamental solutions to our multiple large-scale social problems should and must be addressed through the work of Americans and government together.  We Democrats believe that the best solution to our multiple sustainability dilemmas involves creating by government financial instruments, which have always been at our disposal, a full employment economy that pushes our society within a decade to a post-fossil fuel economy where everybody participates in just, equitable reward and also, for a time, shared sacrifice. 

As part of a great mobilization to save our American civilization from likely destruction from eventual famine, flood, drought, or other climate-related calamities, we must via a combination of replacing fossil energy with renewable energy, energy efficiency improvements, and conservation reduce annually our global warming emissions by 10% or more per year until they are at zero within less than a decade.  We can do this by building an all-electric energy infrastructure powered by renewable energy that also uses energy and resources wisely.  As we have done in the past, government initiative and finance will help individuals, families, businesses and nonprofit public service agencies create together a livable prosperous future for all Americans.  Government leaders will also ask for reasonable sacrifices or conservation efforts such as choosing to ride bicycles on safe bike routes rather than drive, which may also function as life enhancing options.  The achievement of targets of a 10% reduction in emissions per year over a period of 10 years will create a net zero emissions society.  A list of some initiatives follows: 

  1. Declaration of a national climate emergency and an accompanying national discussion of climate solutions and sacrifices for the benefit of the young and future generations.
  2. A renewable energy smart supergrid to enable renewable energy to replace 24/7 fossil fuel electricity generation and tap into a wide variety of energy sources from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
  3. Electric roadways and electric vehicle charging infrastructure to enable our vehicles to use renewable energy to move about
  4. A continental high-speed rail and maglev rail system to enable an emissions-free long-distance travel across North America
  5. Retrofitting existing buildings and building new buildings that require little energy input to remain comfortable in heat and cold
  6. Creating an electric-bus, electric-rail and safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in urban and suburban areas to create mobility options beyond the personal (electric) vehicle, reduce congestion and increase overall health.
  7. Creating an agricultural and forestry system that pulls more carbon out of the air while providing nourishing foods and useful sustainable materials for a variety of uses.
  8. A Job Guarantee that enables all Americans to work in the transition to a sustainable energy economy or in supplying necessary services during that transition
  9. Shape markets and business decisions by a stable carbon tax starting at $80 per metric tonne and rising $10/year 

We as Democrats believe that we will build on our tradition of working together to help ensure that our children and grandchildren will enjoy the same or better prospects that we have enjoyed.  That starts now with ensuring that the natural basis of our wealth is not destroyed by our current dependence on fossil fuels.   

The preamble could then continue discussing other issues of concern but the relative emphasis of the climate mobilization  (520 words) in the context of an approximately 1200 word preamble would be more appropriate to the task at hand.  At that point, Democrats or a Democratic President asking for appropriations in the order of trillions of dollars per annum for these efforts would not come as a surprise.

Draft Climate Change Planks – Not Rapid Enough & Without a Sure Mechanism

The July 1st Draft’s 965 word climate change section with planks has some language that has upped some of the ambition in contrast to current very low standards in contemporary political discourse regarding climate but is neither ambitious enough nor effective enough to be considered a serious solution to the problem that it summarizes in the beginning.  This, as mentioned above, is the dominant, unconscious narrative in climate change policy and advocacy:  a severe problem with the climate is diagnosed and then an inadequate solution is offered.  In this the drafters of this section cannot be held up as particularly out of touch but only reflective of a dominant discourse that is out of touch with reality.  Furthermore, as we know from reports, Sanders representatives’ efforts to sharpen this section have been excised from the current draft.

The section is titled “Combat Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice”.  Nothing objectionable is here in this introduction though, in comparison to the scope of the challenge, the laundry list approach to listing ethical goods lacks passion and drive.  What is required of political leaders in the fight against climate change is deep inspiration, not “covering the bases” of a pre-established list of right-thinking liberal causes, that can be easily put aside at a moment’s notice.

Then comes a “statement of the problem” which is also not objectionable though vague in the details.  Listed are some of the contemporary effects of climate change and prediction that these will get worse in the future.  The draft then calls for “ambitious, immediate action” or else things will get a lot worse.  Here one needs to know how “ambitious” and how “immediate” the action will be.  Rightly, the moral call not to leave children with a “profoundly damaged” planet follows.

The next paragraph contains some specific targets that are not rapid enough given the above diagnosis and the diagnosis offered here.  This again follows the well-worn narrative path of most climate advocacy today:  offering inadequate solutions for monumental social and increasingly climatological problems.  The call is for 100% “clean energy” by “mid-century” and at the same time a cut of emissions from 2005 levels by 80% by 2050.  “Bold steps” are promised and good jobs are also promised.  A tradeoff between jobs and a clean environment is dismissed, as it should be under the right policy.   Democrats are said to be committed to President Obama’s pledge to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees C and hopefully below 1.5 degrees C.

The problem here is that a large carbon budget is being allowed by the commitment to achieve 80% reduction of emissions in 33 years.  This means that there will be 40 plus years of additional greenhouse gas emissions from the US economy and government when the climate system is now already approaching the 1.5-2.0 degree limits without additional emissions.  If a government is serious about combatting climate change, there should be almost no national carbon budget left, except for activities that yield a net-zero producing economy (think machines/tractors required to erect wind turbines for instance).  Foreseeing and allowing 20% of current or 2005 net carbon emissions 3 or 4 decades hence is self-defeating before one even starts to seriously fight climate change.  These are all unexceptional “terms of art” in the area of climate change promises and projections but they are also critically out of step or perhaps misinformed with regard to the geophysical reality of already too much heat and heat-trapping gases in the climate system.  This is Augustine of Hippo saying “Lord grant me chastity, but not yet”.

“Clean Energy Economy” Planks

What follows is a two-paragraph list of sentence-length or phrase-length planks some of which are more specific, some more vague commitments to do a variety of “green” or emissions-cutting initiatives.  The mechanisms for achieving these goals is unclear and the goals themselves are, as above, generally inadequate or too vague to test their adequacy as goals.  If viewed in contrast to Republican ideas about climate change or the environment, they will sound somewhat progressive.  However, as above, when measured against the stark reality of a rapidly warming world with changing geochemistry, caused by human activity, these promises can seem weak and could easily be brushed aside.

As we need to be at or near net zero emissions within a decade, a promise in one plank, for instance, to generate 50% of electricity from vaguely defined “clean” energy sources is both insufficient and rife with “wiggle room” for greenwashing or bad energy accounting.  Electricity generation accounts for around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and “clean” might include natural gas, in which case that would still contribute to global warming.

Another bland plank/sentence states:

We will cut energy waste in American homes, schools, hospitals, and offices; modernize our electric grid; and make American manufacturing the cleanest and most efficient in the world.” 

Here, there are no concrete targets and therefore no accountability, with trite phrases that function simply as bromides in the “green” energy and energy efficiency discourse space.  Without concrete targets, techniques and mechanisms this is all feel-good rhetoric and nothing else.  There are reiterations of existing “green” federal policies that include increasing energy efficiency standards that are reviewed, every so many years anyway.

Newer and more interesting from the point of view of a net-zero emitting society though still vague is:

by building bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across our urban and suburban areas.

This could be made more stringent and specific and it lacks a funding mechanism or commitment.

More specific is this change to the tax code:

Democrats believe the tax code must reflect our commitment to a clean energy future by eliminating special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies

And following is a vague recommitment to the (inefficient, insufficient, but for the most part “better than nothing”) renewable energy incentives in the tax code

as well as defending and extending tax incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy.

An unenforceable vague statement of good intention regarding government operations captures the stance of the majority of the Democratic Program Drafting Committee and probably the Clinton campaign itself:

And we believe that the federal government should lead by example, which is why we will take steps to power the government with 100 percent clean electricity.

“Take steps”, no deadlines and no definition of “clean” all communicate the opposite of bold and decisive.

There are more vague and fairly timid reiterations of the greener aspects of the Obama Presidency, including his decision not to permit the Keystone XL pipeline.  However, the Clinton representatives on the Drafting Committee did not allow Obama’s “climate-test”, used by Obama as the rationale to refuse the KXL permit, to be the standard for future energy projects, which was pressed for by Sanders appointee Bill McKibben.

Overall, the positioning of the “Clean Energy Economy” planks is a continuation of US federal energy policy under Democratic Administrations with some minor edits.  There is no discontinuity or disruption in the direction of effective climate action to stabilize the climate.  The climate remains a political touchstone to be addressed among a list of other concerns.

“Environmental and Climate Justice” Planks

Two more paragraphs are devoted to a variety of issues related to justice and injustice in pollution as well as differential impacts of any shift away from coal on coal mining communities.  This section seems to be a response to and attempt to recruit parts of the climate movement focused on issues of environmental justice, that has been, I think misleadingly, rebranded as “climate” justice.

The climate justice movement points out the differential impacts of climate change according to mostly racial but occasionally economic differentiations.   While pointing out differential impacts among ethnic, racial and economic groups in the current generation is morally justified, it obscures the larger injustice in our unfolding climate catastrophe between generations; in my experience the “climate justice” concept is a comfortable way to fold the climate catastrophe into the familiar inherited categories of the Old, New, and now intersectionalist liberal/Left.  Most alarmingly, the tendency of the recent “Left” or left-liberals to embrace those divisions between people that have biological markers (race, gender) against those that are non-biological (class), and therefore (the economic ones being) more tractable to government policy, means that these activists create a self-limiting program of government initiatives or simply excoriate government policies and actions of corporations rather than present working solutions.   There seems to be a love for a self-imposed straitjacket of inaction yet continuous moral denunciations, because, in this case, no policy solutions are offered that also address the universal human problem of too much greenhouse gases and eventual heat in the climate system.  It is good if we address racism but we should also not be neglecting our common interests either.  The latter should be a matter of common sense but apparently to some activists, I have encountered, it has not been in the recent past.

The first paragraph of this section is cleverly written from a political point of view because it attempts to link two somewhat different types of differential impact related tangentially to climate.  In the first part of the paragraph, the Flint water crisis and impacts on indigenous communities are addressed though no programmatic solutions are offered.  These are meant to be calls to mobilized communities of color around various environmental justice issues.  A general statement.

Simply put, this is environmental racism.

offers perhaps a glimpse into some efforts by a future Justice Department to bring lawsuits against polluters.  Again, no concrete commitments are made but it is a good sentiment that shows at least some worthwhile political commitments in the abstract.

The clever move then comes when the focus shifts mid-paragraph coal-mining communities (mostly white) who are both environmentally challenged and also an affected by climate policy (though the switch to natural gas that has effected American coal communities the most cannot be called an effective climate policy).  It is a concern what will happen to coal mining communities IF a government fully embraces climate action, but this hasn’t really happened yet.  More likely this is a signal that Democrats will follow in the footsteps of Obama’s Clean Power Plan which targets reducing coal generation and Democrats will attempt to provide a soft landing for these communities.  This is a continuation of a gradualist status quo that is insufficient for our need to transition directly off fossil fuels to renewable energy.

There is here in this paragraph a laudable impulse to unite people of all races around environmental injustice but at the same time, the insertion of this section most likely functions as a means to pacify some of the more organized constituencies in the environmental justice and labor movements that might cause political embarrassment if alienated by the Presidential campaign and nominee.   Whether this dual call would satisfy partisans/activists in either movement or group remains to be seen.

Also very measured is in the second paragraph of this section a call to investigate “corporate fraud” by fossil fuel companies with regard to their funding of climate denial.  This is a step forward in terms of a strategy with regard to the judicial branch but it also is litigating the past to a large extent.  This is not a forthright program to shut down the fossil fuel industry but merely to contain it more scrupulously within existing corporate law.  The first sentence is a relatively toothless call to corporations to disclose climate risk to their shareholders.  In both cases, the assumption is that “climate justice” is only in relation to shareholders and not the public at large.  This is not a foundation for any reasonable climate policy that might instead, for instance, nationalize and shutdown fossil fuel companies.  There is not expansive concept of “protecting the public” and future generations from the depredations of our own fossil fuel habit and its corporate sponsors.

The Draft “Public Lands and Waters” Section

The final section of the draft is a “Public Lands and Waters” section, of two paragraphs, the first of which deals with general environmental issues.  The second contains some laudable impulses to stop drilling for fossil fuels in some areas, while limiting a potential ban with some “reasonable” language that compromises with fossil fuel interests and our fossil fuel habit.

The fossil fuel banning language starts off bold:

We oppose drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast

But then loses conviction in the next phrase:

and believe we need to reform fossil fuel leasing on public lands.

“Reforming” is not banning, limiting or prohibiting.  There is a failure of nerve here that is typical of much of the document.  The next and last sentence in the climate and environment section contains a compromise type word regarding “phase out”

We can phase down extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands, starting with the most polluting sources, while making our public lands and waters engines of the clean energy economy and creating jobs across the country.

Why not say “we will” phase out extraction of fossil fuels?  Why “can”?  Who are the Democrats hesitating for?  Whose “OK” do Democrats need to phase it out?  The emphasis again on “most polluting sources” is something of a retreat from climate to old-style environmentalism (that unfortunately is too common in the “climate” movement as well).  Of course if you take care of two problems at once by focusing on local and global pollution, all the better, but there is missing still in political commonsense the notion that any and all fossil carbon emissions are pollution.

Recommended Edits to the Climate and Energy Planks

Here are top policy priorities for an actually effective climate policy which can replace or supplement existing planks.

  1. Declaration of a Climate Emergency. While there is the potential for abuse of an emergency declaration, there is no substitute for recognizing that climate action is not a patch on our existing energy-related social arrangements but a thoroughgoing effort to eliminate excess greenhouse gas emissions rapidly.  Climate action is the paramount priority of government and of the American public. Political rights must be maintained, in part because that is the foundation of the American Republic, but also because the effort to stabilize the climate must fully harness the creativity and good will of the public throughout.
  2. Climate and Sustainability Public Awareness Program. Some Americans are preoccupied with climate change and some put it out of their minds or are unsure of the basic science. The federal government in cooperation with educators, writers, and entertainers will create a campaign to explain the need for a full-scale transformation of the energy basis and resource-use patterns of our civilization through broadcast media and public events.
  3. 10×10=100% campaign (or a more ambitious 8×12.5=100%) that targets net-zero emissions within a decade or less (8 years at best). Each year the government will set a target of 10% emissions reductions from a combination of 1/3rd conservation of energy, 1/3rd energy efficiency improvements and 1/3rd replacement of fossil energy with renewable energy.
  4. Via a Department of Energy program, build a Smart Renewable Energy Electric Supergrid that balances renewable energy flows (mostly wind, solar, and clean energy storage from sun and existing hydroelectric) with energy demand throughout the day (electricity most often must be generated just before its used). Power will be transported from where it is generated to where it is needed, enabling the replacement of fossil fuel generating stations.
  5. Continental High Speed and Maglev Rail System, enabling rapid cross-continental and intercity travel using renewable energy.
  6. Electrify Interstates and arterial road system. Via overhead or pavement embedded electrical transmission equipment, electric vehicles and trucks can be charged as they move, minimizing the requirement for on-board electrical storage.
  7. High Performance Building Program – Using a combination of zero-interest energy efficiency loans and grants, the federal government will help finance a massive renovation and rebuilding of American buildings to be very low energy and comfortable with little energy input, after the Passive House Standard that is growing now in international popularity.
  8. Carbon Sequestration Program in Forests and Agricultural Practices
  9. Emergency Cooling Program – Develop treaties that enable coordinated efforts to keep the earth cool as emissions are slowed and stopped

As time is short, I will refer to readers to these documents I have written over the last couple years in which some of the ideas that should appear in a Democratic Platform that would actually “care” about climate action:

Why Shouldn’t the US Federal Government Invest $4-$6 Trillion Per Year on Climate Protection?

A US Climate Platform: Anchoring Climate Policy to Reality

In a subsequent post, I will discuss the positioning of a Democratic Party that seriously cared about climate change versus a party of climate denial such as the GOP led by Donald Trump or another candidate.

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