As a historic wave of wildfires burns across western U.S. states on the heels of Hurricane Laura hitting the Gulf Coast and a powerful wind storm tearing through the Midwest last month, the Associated Press on Friday highlighted how, despite these disasters, the climate crisis is "largely missing" from the 2020 presidential campaigns.
With a nod to the fires, hurricane, and derecho—and considering scientists' warnings about the connection between human-caused climate change and more devastating extreme weather events—the AP reported:
The streak of disasters has left millions of Americans reeling. But it's barely had an impact on the campaign for the White House, in part because of the vulnerabilities it highlights for President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.
The president is already facing multiple challenges, including the pandemic, joblessness, and social unrest, and can ill afford another one. When he talks about California, where fires have killed at least a dozen people and threatened thousands of homes, it's mostly to blast the state's Democratic leaders.
And for Biden, the spreading fires are a reminder to the party's progressive base that he doesn't embrace some of the most liberal elements of the Green New Deal, the grand plan for tackling climate change.
Biden's campaign website claims he "believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face," and some activists and advocacy groups welcomed the $2 trillion clean energy plan he unveiled in July as a "major step forward."
Julian Brave NoiseCat of the progressive think tank Data for Progress wrote in The Guardian that Biden's green energy and environmental justice plans "are a Green New Deal in all but name. If you set aside the most attention-grabbing left-wing programs included in New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's 2019 Green New Deal resolution, like Medicare for All and a federal job guarantee, Biden's plans broadly align with an approach advocated by the left-wing of the Democratic Party."
Trump, meanwhile, continues to garner criticism for his failures to address the climate emergency and various other crises during his first term—and instead embracing a deregulatory agenda favored by corporate polluters that has entailed rolling back dozens of policies designed to protect public health and the environment. On Thursday he came under fire for not publicly addressing the climate change-fueled blazes in western states "in any way, shape, or form" for almost three weeks.
Biden has recently acknowledged the deadly fires—tweeting Thursday about their climate connection and calling for removing Trump from the White House—but some climate activists say the current moment underscores the need for politicians in the nation's capital to more fully embrace the Green New Deal, according to the AP.
"It's no surprise that Trump isn't talking about the fact that America is literally in flames on his watch—but why isn't Biden?" Rebecca Katz, a political strategist who has worked with Democratic congressional candidates who support the measure, told the AP. "For Democrats to not connect what's happening on the West Coast to Trump's failure on climate change is just political malpractice."
Basav Sen, climate justice project director at the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote Thursday for In These Times that "grassroots movements have pushed the Biden campaign in particular to significantly increase the ambition of its commitments on climate. But the real test of even a 'better' platform is whether it keeps global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The answer is a matter of life and death for billions, particularly the world's most vulnerable people."
"To go from merely 'better than the Republicans' to 'sufficient to save the planet,' the party needs to shift its thinking in several areas," Sen added. "Key among these are ending fossil fuel production, taking responsibility for U.S. emissions internationally, and humanely welcoming refugees impacted by climate change."
Wrote this before the US West and the Amazon started going up in flames. We're in a crisis, and our ruling political party pours (fossil) fuel on the flames. Shouldn't our "opposition party" start acting like one?https://t.co/9GS58MrVrB
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— Basav Sen #StandwithKashmir (@BasavIPS) September 10, 2020
Biden's recent selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate prompted hope among some activists that their administration could be convinced to "lay the groundwork for a Green New Deal." The senator's home state of California is currently engulfed in flames, with residents fleeing for their lives and staring up at orange skies. Sabrina Singh, a spokesperson for Harris, told the AP that both Democratic candidates "have been closely monitoring the wildfires raging across the state and highlighting the urgent need to address the threat of climate change."
As Common Dreams reported Thursday, the catastrophic images emerging from the western U.S. have fueled fresh arguments about the necessity of Democratic politicians backing the Green New Deal, which was introduced in Congress last year by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Markey's defeat of primary challenger Rep. Joe Kennedy earlier this month has been credited in part to the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization that advocates for a Green New Deal. Sunrise creative director Alex O'Keefe discussed Markey's victory as well as the group's future plans on the podcast Deconstructed:
[Sunrise is] pivoting to the general election and using these really powerful champions that we've elected as our major protagonist in the story. Obviously, Joe Biden is not the protagonist that is going to mobilize young people to vote, and, unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have that much intent to mobilize our generation to vote. We believe it's very important to defeat Donald Trump, and we want to use the Squad as really powerful motivators for our generation to see what comes after November.
We have to build that vision, the first hundred days of Joe Biden's presidency, and build a vision of how we can shut down society and actually force him to take certain concessions from the left. We also have really powerful leaders like Ed Markey, who are now going to be on the inside negotiating with other senators who are now afraid of us, who also now want our support. So we are going into 2021, if Joe Biden is president, with a real position of power to make the political agenda for the Democratic Party.
Sunrise on Thursday announced its endorsements for the general election, including Markey and Ocasio-Cortez, her fellow Squad members Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and progressives who won major congressional primary races, such as Cori Bush in Missouri, Mondaire Jones and Jamaal Bowman in New York, Marie Newman in Illinois, and Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia.
Meet our 2020 #GreenNewDeal champions!
We are going to gain the political power we need to win a green new deal by electing progressive candidates & voting out corrupt politicians.
— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) September 10, 2020
"The West is going up in flames, and this hurricane season is on track to be the most active one on record," Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement Thursday. "People are dying and losing their homes and jobs."
"But politicians in D.C. are sitting on their hands, and the president of the United States is telling people that the solution is to clean up their yards," she added, referencing Trump's comments on the fires. "It's shameful, and it's pathetic. We need to elect a new generation of leaders to Congress who aren't too distracted by their corporate donors to give a damn about the people losing their homes and loved ones."