Democrats' New Platform Is Great On Climate Change But No One Will Ever Know

Korean Resource Center via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The Democratic National Convention is underway in Charlotte, North Carolina today, and analysts predict that holy hell I'm already boring myself. As I noted in an equally cynical post on the RNC, these overwrought political carnivals exist solely to give the media an opportunity to manufacture new narratives out of the same tired talking points they've been imbibing for the past year.

Then again, I wrote all that well before Clint Eastwood spent twelve minutes debating a piece of furniture on national television. Anyhow, Michele Obama will take the stage tonight to stump for health care, and so far the only noteworthy bit to emerge is the Democratic party platform.

It's noteworthy because it tackles global warming head-on; after the defeat of the climate bill the party has spent the last few years generally shying away from the issue. Here's the Democrats' platform on Environment:

  • President Obama has taken the most significant strides in decades to cut pollution and advance public health – protecting our children and communities from harmful pollution by restoring and advancing safeguards for clean air and water and by working to reduce carbon pollution. Pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and mercury are a threat to human health, and Democrats will continue to stand up to polluters in the interest of environmental and public health.
  • We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation – an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. Obama has been a leader on this issue. We have developed historic fuel efficiency standards that will limit greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles for the first time in history, made unprecedented investments in clean energy, and proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants. As we move towards lower carbon emissions, we will continue to support smart, energy efficient manufacturing. Democrats pledge to continue showing international leadership on climate change, working toward an agreement to set emission limits in unison with other emerging powers.

  • Democrats will continue pursuing efforts to combat climate change at home as well, because reducing our emissions domestically – through regulation and market solutions – is necessary to continue being an international leader on this issue. We understand that global climate change may disproportionately affect the poor, and we are committed to environmental justice.

Hmmmm. Most of that is right on. But I'm not so sure that many would agree that Obama has been a "leader" on climate issues. He's rammed through some good executive orders (MPG standards) and guided some regulatory bodies to do the jobs they've been mandated to do by the Supreme Court (EPA on greenhouse gases). But he has not cultivated the kind of leadership necessary to drive substantive change in the climate arena.

David Roberts argues today that it doesn't matter how thoroughly Obama discusses climate issues or attempts to persuade the public; he's hamstrung by a steadfast, uncompromising opposition and a political system that structurally favors said opposition. And that's pretty much right.

So Obama can't tout a legislative victory, and his advisers are probably still telling him talking climate is 'politically toxic'. Which might help explain why Obama and the DNC are going climate heavy on its platform document, which will be read by a tiny audience of political junkies. Climate activists and enviros will see the pro-climate stuff and post blogs about it, which will reach their constituencies and perhaps fire them up, but most of it will scarcely get mentioned in the mainstream media. It's the same reason Obama is putting extra emphasis on climate issues when he stumps at colleges—that's precisely the demographic that wants to hear about climate solutions, and it's delivered within an ecosystem where it will be least controversial.

So yeah. Obama and the DNC are hitting all the right notes on climate, but they're effectively slinking around the room and whispering their affirmations in the pertinent parties' ears. Whether it ultimately matters or not, Obama and the Democratic Party are still doing extraordinarily little to make the case for climate action to the bulk of the citizenry.

Tags: Global Climate Change

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