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2020 and the Climate

2020-07-17 10:30:02

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Climate change has been a tricky political issue for the Democratic Party for a long time. The party doesn’t seem to have won over many swing voters in recent years with its promise to slow global warming. Instead, some working-class voters — worried about higher energy costs or losing fossil-fuel jobs — have flipped to the Republicans.

The clearest sign of the difficulties came early in Barack Obama’s presidency. On other issues — health care, economic stimulus and Wall Street reform — congressional Democrats stayed largely united. On climate policy, they did not.

But the politics of climate may be shifting.

Gallup’s polls have shown a gradually rising share of Americans concerned about the environment since the early 2000s. Roughly 60 percent now say that the quality of the environment is poor or only fair; that it is getting worse; and that the federal government is doing too little to protect it. And more than 70 percent favor tougher restrictions for power plants and vehicle emissions, as well as a push to develop clean-energy alternatives, according to Pew.

This week, President Trump and Joe Biden have staked out dueling positions on the climate. Biden proposed a $2 trillion plan to attack climate change. Trump has continued weakening environmental rules and said Biden’s plan would “kill our energy totally” and force 25 percent of U.S. companies to close.

In past campaigns, this contrast would have made some Democrats nervous, especially during an economic downturn. Today, though, party leaders increasingly believe that the climate is politically helpful to them. John Podesta, the longtime Democratic official, told me he thought Trump was walking into a trap by continuing to highlight the issue.

A coalition of progressive groups released a poll yesterday that asked if people supported “spending trillions of dollars to invest in clean energy infrastructure.” About 55 percent of voters said yes. Even larger majorities of Hispanic and younger voters said so — and Podesta said he thought that emphasizing climate issues could lift turnout among those groups (which is below average).

There is still one big political risk for Democrats on the issue: the possibility that addressing climate change will raise energy costs. But the party seems to have learned some lessons there.

While Democrats in the past have emphasized measures to increase the cost of dirty energy — like a cap-and-trade system — Biden is not. He is instead largely ignoring the potential cost increases and focusing on more popular consequences, like cleaner air and an increase in green-energy jobs.

Related: In the Book Review, the economist Joseph Stiglitz writes about a new book by Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish writer who has long argued that environmental activists are exaggerating the risks of climate change.

In Iraq, flaring — the process of burning away the natural gas that bubbles up from oil wells — bears a devastating cost. In addition to polluting the environment, the practice is making people sick across the country’s south. “Imagine that in the town you come from every family has someone who has cancer,” a resident of one village said. “This is the situation.”

It’s also a wasted resource — the burned gas is enough to power 3 million homes in a country that faces chronic power shortages.

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What should replace the monuments — of Confederate generals and others — now coming down?

In a Times Op-Ed, David Blight — a historian who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Frederick Douglass — argues that the issue needs leadership. He calls on Joe Biden to create a task force of historians and others that would link localities with artists and resources, study how other countries have (or have not) confronted their own dark pasts, and propose ways to memorialize history beyond statues.

Other recent suggestions include:

  • Honor “people who have significantly helped move this country forward,” as the historian Keisha Blain told Fast Company last month. She suggests statues of Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer, the Black voting-rights activist.

  • Memorialize the victims of state violence. In Louisville, Ky., some residents have suggested a monument to Breonna Taylor, a Black woman fatally shot by police earlier this year, and David McAtee, who was shot when police and National Guardsmen confronted curfew violators, Salon’s Ashlie Stevens reports.

  • Choose patriots. Brent Staples of The Times’s editorial board has argued for renaming military bases after the Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who ordered land set aside for formerly enslaved families, and the Civil War surgeon Dr. Mary Walker.

Looking for something that doesn’t involve using the oven? These Vietnamese summer rolls paired with a black bean garlic dipping sauce are cold, refreshing and easy to make with kids.

Our weekly suggestion from Gilbert Cruz, The Times’s Culture editor:

Every day is like the one before. Stuck in the same general geographic area, you try to come up with new things to do, but each morning you wake up and say, “Again? Still?”

Am I describing pandemic life? (Am I just describing life?) It’s definitely the situation in which Nyles (Andy Samberg) finds himself in the new movie “Palm Springs,” trapped in a “Groundhog Day”-esque time loop at a desert wedding. I adore the work of Samberg and his creative partners — “S.N.L.” digital shorts, the perfectly titled “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” — and while this film is less outlandishly absurd than that work, it’s pleasant and funny in the best ways.

For more recommendations (suggested by a vastly better writer than me), subscribe to The Times’s Watching newsletter. Our critic Margaret Lyons watches more TV than anyone I know — and it’s all so she can find the best stuff to tell us about three times a week.

Alex Trebek swears a lot. He has survived a car crash, two heart attacks and brain surgery. He was almost expelled from boarding school. And his favorite drink is low-fat milk (or chardonnay, depending on the mood).

The “Jeopardy!” host’s memoir comes out next week, a day before his birthday. In a new profile, Trebek reflects on his decades-long career, his struggle with cancer and the “comfort that comes from knowing a fact.”

Brian Eisch — an Army sergeant and single father — returned from Afghanistan in 2010 with a serious leg injury. Over the next 10 years, two Times reporters, Catrin Einhorn and Leslye Davis, followed Eisch’s struggles and joy, and the result is a documentary now available on Netflix.

The goal, Leslye says, is to remind Americans of the consequences of a war that’s nearing its 20th anniversary. Catrin adds: “Lots of video clips have gone viral of service members reuniting with their children. We wanted to understand the before and after.”


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