If Anything Can Unite the Democrats, It’s Climate

recent Gallup poll exploring issue priorities of Democrats and Republicans found that the “sharpest issue-priority disagreements,” by far, were regarding climate change. While 72 percent of Democrats deem climate an “extremely or very important issue to their vote this year,” only 25 percent of Republicans say the same.


The divide has long been bad news for climate legislation, thwarting any hope of a congressional supermajority. But it should be good news for Democrats hungry to unite Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters for the general election.

No doubt the most devout Sanders supporters will never dismiss the various points of disagreement on their platforms, including when it comes to the environment. Unlike Sanders, Clinton does not embrace a “carbon tax” or a complete ban on fracking.

But in Sanders’ own words, just a few days ago, “The scientific community has made it absolutely and abundantly clear … if we do not get our act together in the very, very short window of opportunity that we may have, that a dangerous situation today will only become much worse in the future, meaning more drought, more flooding, more extreme weather disturbances, more acidification of the oceans, more rising sea levels.”

Some on the left argue that the Clinton plan is insufficient to the task. Unlike Sanders, she doesn’t pledge to leave all remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Sanders promises to “Work toward a 100 percent clean energy system.” She only pledges to increase by 2026 the percent of renewable power that generates the nation’s electricity, from a projected 25 percent under Obama’s Clean Power Plan to 33 percent.

In the primary, climate hawks can take the argument of urgency to reject the incrementalism of Clinton. But in the general, they cannot.

When progressives decide to vote third-party instead of the Democratic “lesser of two evils,” often the grounds are that a Democratic defeat will force the party to work harder to earn progressive votes in the future, or that hitting rock-bottom may prompt a major change in public ideological sentiment.

But the climate can’t afford four to eight years of inaction or worse for such a strategy to pan out.

If you are convinced that Clinton’s climate platform is insufficient, the logical course of action is not to let the Oval Office become occupied by someone who calls global warming a “hoax.” The logical course of action is to first elect the person who accepts climate science and is open to action, then follow Sanders’ admonition that “we need a movement” to push the political system farther and faster towards a comprehensive climate solution.

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