If there’s any hope of getting something passed to actually address climate change, it will have to include nuclear power, fracking, and building alliances that include stakeholders like labor and (gasp!) business. Yet none of the 2020 Democrats on the stage during Wednesday night’s CNN climate town hall was talking about how to put this kind of coalition together.
Let’s start with nuclear energy. It is—by far—the most obvious way to cut carbon emissions quickly. Yet only Joe Biden’s plan even allows for the possibility.
All of Biden’s chief primary rivals see Mr. Burns everywhere they look. Elizabeth Warren came out explicitly against it, and Bernie Sanders’ plan would actually stop the building of nuclear power plants and enact a moratorium on license renewals.
This is insanity, since nuclear energy doesn’t produce any direct carbon dioxide emissions. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes put it, “Far from being the Devil’s excrement, nuclear power can be, and should be, one major component of our rescue from a hotter, more meteorologically destructive world.” That’s not to say that there aren’t some disadvantages, but the reflexive dismissal of nuclear energy as part of a common sense climate plan seems to contradict the assumption that climate change is an existential threat and that time is running out.
Likewise, most of the Democratic frontrunners (save for Biden) want to ban fracking. This, too, is crazy since natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide as coal. Natural gas might not be an environmental panacea, but, according to the EPA—and I mean here the nonpolitical professionals at the EPA, not Trumpy types—the shift from coal to natural gas is partly responsible for the recent decline in emissions.
Yet none of the Democrats is enthusiastic about it, and most of the Democrats—including the frontrunners—are hostile to it. Sanders has even called for a “full ban” on fracking on both public and private land. Unless one is wedded to a political ideology that transcends the desire to cut carbon emissions, this is utterly irrational. What is more, a ban on fracking would literally cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
In addition to nuclear energy and fracking, a third component of a reasonable climate plan would likely include a revenue-neutral carbon tax, where the money goes to households via a dividend check, or replaces income or payroll taxes.
One could imagine such a policy gaining bipartisan support—indeed, there are prominent Republicans (albeit Republicans who are outside the current Trumpian mainstream) who have embraced this kind of idea, such as former Reagan Chief of Staff James Baker, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw.
Of course, Democrats don’t want a revenue-neutral carbon plan. What they actually want is to tax carbon and redistribute revenue toward a redistributive (read, socialist) regime. In other words, it’s more about social engineering than stopping climate change.
And whether it is curbing cow farts, banning plastic straws, telling us what to eat, or suggesting that we fund abortion as a means of population control—Democrats are pushing ideas that are simultaneously terrifying and easily lampooned.
This is truer of some candidates than others, but everybody is implicated, not just the lefties. Responding to a question from Anderson Cooper about whether the Green New Deal goes too far or promises too much, Biden defended the plan, saying that it does not go too far, though it does lack specifics. On this, he is right—but the devil’s in the details.
If nothing else, Biden’s answer—refusing to distance himself from this fantasy-land plan—was indicative of how much Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders wing has captured the Democratic Party.
Ironically, today’s Democrats are pursuing ideas that make it less likely climate change will be addressed legislatively. There is data to suggest that “Political disagreement [is] substantially smaller when it [comes] to Republican-backed policies.”
What is more, for those who think climate policy could be rammed through on a party-line vote, it’s important to remember that a climate bill passed by junking the filibuster could be easily repealed upon the next political pendulum swing, which is what happened to Australia’s carbon tax.
Rather than embracing proven technology to limit carbon pollution, such as nuclear energy and fracking, Democrats are seeking to ban or limit it. Rather than seeking conservative support for a carbon tax, Democrats want to use the revenue to advance a socialist agenda. And rather than being honest about the potential cost of tackling climate change, they are suggesting that it would only create millions of jobs.
These estimates are at best rosy, but most likely, just wrong.
As has been the case throughout this campaign, the viable candidates are all (to varying degrees) pandering to the crowd, rather than willing to tell us the hard truths. A Democrat who had the guts to defend nuclear power at a forum like that would be someone worth taking seriously. But don’t expect to hear any Sister Souljah moments from this crowd.
The 2020 Democrats have moved from inconvenient truths to convenient lies. In their fantasy world, America can power the whole planet with wind and solar, monkeys pedaling bicycles, and unicorn farts. If we are to find a serious solution that can become law—and endure—Democrats are going to have to get serious and be more realistic.