The Washington Post

The pol­i­tics of cli­mate

The Demo­cratic plans aren’t per­fect. But they’re plans. That’s a big step up.

- U.S. News · US Politics · Ecology · Politics · Donald Trump · Piers Morgan · Joe Biden · Elizabeth Warren · Massachusetts · Washington · Texas · Paris · United States of America · Barack Obama · Washington State · Jay Inslee

“Ibe­lieve that there’s a change in weather, and I think it changes both ways,” Pres­i­dent Trump said in an in­ter­view with Bri­tish broad­caster Piers Mor­gan that aired Wed­nes­day morn­ing. This is more than an em­bar­rass­ment. Mr. Trump’s re­fusal to ac­cept that the world is warm­ing and that hu­mans are largely re­spon­si­ble is dan­ger­ous to the planet’s fu­ture.

By con­trast, Democrats chal­leng­ing him in next year’s pres­i­den­tial race all ac­cept the science — and, in­creas­ingly, are en­gag­ing in a ro­bust de­bate on how to re­spond. Former vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den re­leased a cli­mate plan on Tuesday, the same day Sen. Eliz­a­beth Warren (Mass.) un­veiled an el­e­ment of her com­mit­ment to im­ple­ment a Green New Deal. Wash­ing­ton Gov. Jay Inslee has premised his cam­paign on a vo­lu­mi­nous cli­mate pro­posal, the last piece of which emerged Wed­nes­day. Former con­gress­man Beto O’Rourke (Tex.) re­leased his plan in April. All de­serve credit for de­liv­er­ing sub­stan­tive, de­tailed pro­pos­als for vot­ers to con­sider.

The can­di­dates agree on many essentials. All want to re­main in the Paris cli­mate agree­ment, while Mr. Trump would make the United States the only coun­try in the world out­side it. They agree that

the pres­i­dent should use ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­i­ties more am­bi­tiously, as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tried to do in his Clean Power Plan. Mr. Bi­den prom­ises to sign ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on day one that would “go well be­yond the Obama-Bi­den Ad­min­is­tra­tion plat­form.” All agree that emis­sions must dis­ap­pear, on net, by mid-cen­tury, which would give the world a chance to keep warm­ing from go­ing above 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius and limit the re­sult­ing dam­age.

To get there, the can­di­dates would pour money into re­search and de­vel­op­ment, the need for which the pri­vate sec­tor will not meet alone, to con­tinue cut­ting the cost of green tech­nolo­gies. New re­search will be par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for sec­tors that now have few op­tions for wean­ing off car­bon diox­ide, such as ce­ment-mak­ing and agri­cul­ture.

Where the can­di­dates need to be straighter with vot­ers is on how to en­sure green tech­nolo­gies find a wel­com­ing mar­ket. Mr. O’Rourke would ap­ply a “legally en­force­able stan­dard” to har­ness “the in­no­va­tive po­ten­tial of the pri­vate sec­tor and power of mar­ket forces.” Mr. Bi­den wants an “en­force­ment mech­a­nism” that “will be based on the prin­ci­ples that pol­luters must bear the full cost of the car­bon pol­lu­tion they are emit­ting.” They seem to be say­ing, in eu­phemism, that they fa­vor a car­bon tax or a sim­i­lar in­stru­ment. If they do, they should ditch the eu­phemism. If they do not, they are wrong.

Mr. Inslee has fa­vored car­bon pric­ing in the past. Now he pro­poses a de­tailed, long-over­due over­haul of util­i­ties reg­u­la­tion, along with a hard re­quire­ment that all util­i­ties de­rive the elec­tric­ity they dis­trib­ute from re­new­able sources by 2035. Com­pelling eco­nomic anal­y­sis in­di­cates his man­date plan, known as a port­fo­lio stan­dard, would re­sult in far more eco­nomic waste than would a well-de­signed car­bon price. But Mr. Inslee has po­lit­i­cal scars from fail­ing to sell vot­ers in Wash­ing­ton state on a car­bon-pric­ing pro­gram; ul­ti­mately, the po­lit­i­cally vi­able ap­proach there was like the one he now wants to take na­tional.

The can­di­dates also seem to be com­pet­ing to see who can pro­pose spend­ing the most money. Mr. Bi­den is­sued the usual sop to waste­ful, en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­pect bio­fu­els; Mr. Inslee pro­posed mas­sive sup­ports for elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

Still: They all ad­mit the prob­lem, set the right goal and sug­gest ways to get there. It’s a lot bet­ter than the con­ver­sa­tion — or lack thereof — in the other party.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA