Democrats are letting Trump off the hook for climate denial

Another missed opportunity.

Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
Hurricanes Katia, Irma, and Jose. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Thanks to twin record-smashing hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the relatively fleeting attention of the media and the public is on all things related to superstorms, but the Democrats are missing a huge opportunity to talk about climate change.

The party that understands climate science is real — and strong action to cut carbon pollution is the only way to avoid catastrophic impacts for Americans — has decided to remain largely silent on the link between climate change and super hurricanes, as Politico noted Tuesday

Apparently this is by design. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said the silence was “part of” the party’s overall strategy, which Politico characterized as “keeping the climate politics to a minimum after the hurricanes.”

But downplaying climate change when the media and public are paying attention is a terrible idea for the party and the nation. The party needs to rally its supporters and overturn the Congressional majority and take back the White House if it wants to see any action on preventing catastrophic climate change (or on its other priorities) — and the nation needs climate action ASAP.

CREDIT: Gallup
CREDIT: Gallup

Trump’s popularity is at a record low, and climate change is both a greater concern to Americans than ever and an across-the-board winning political issue according to polling and public opinion analysis. When will be a better time to talk about climate change?

Even the Republican mayor of Miami spoke out Friday, telling the Miami Herald, “This is the time to talk about climate change. This is the time that the president and the EPA and whoever makes decisions needs to talk about climate change.”

Meanwhile the national GOP — which denies the reality of climate science and does not want to take any action that would upset its fossil-fuel supporters — generally either dodges questions or spouts gibberish.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruit is pushing the ridiculous idea that somehow for anyone, including scientists, to talk about “the cause and effect of these storms,” during Irma is “very, very insensitive to the people in Florida.”

But if we can’t talk about what’s to come, and what’s driving it, then how can we plan for it? How can we rebuild wisely?

Politico notes that “Democrats appear to be heeding the warnings” of climate science denier Pruitt. And while there are a few exceptions, like Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), who have spoken out, Politico quotes climate hawk Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) saying there’s no urgency to make the climate-hurricane link: “We have a lot of time to make that point.”

The time is now. Most of the time, the media simply isn’t listening. Coverage is driven by the attention of news consumers — the public — and people have an appetite to hear about hurricanes now, not after everything has been cleaned up. Indeed, one could make the further argument that in the 24-hour cable news culture, the media is actively for anything that is related to the topic of the moment. Only Democrats could come up with the idea of not talking about a subject when people are actually interested and listening.

And so, as in the 2016 election itself, Democrats let slip by an opportunity to raise an issue that is not merely an existential threat to America, but a clear winner politically.

It wasn’t always like this.

In 2012, when Sandy slammed his state, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) pointed out, ”We have a one-hundred year flood every two years now.”

“Climate change is a reality,” he said. “There is no more time for debate.”

In a cover story titled, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid,” Bloomberg Businessweek explained many of the links between Sandy’s unique level of devastation and global warming.

Politico itself is surprised by the Democrats’ move. “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have handed Democrats their most potent opportunity in half a decade to hammer Republicans on climate change,” it reports.

The rest is silence.