Biden signs IRA

U.S. President Joe Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 into law during a ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on August 16, 2022.

(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Why Biden Should Run on Climate

It’s a strong triple threat to say: Trump will take away your rights. He will take away your democracy. And he will take away the planet you’ve known.

It seems entirely possible that the upcoming presidential election will be decided mostly on feelings, or what we now call vibes. In a poll released this week, for instance, almost exactly half of voters said American unemployment was at a 50-year high, which is odd since it’s actually near a 50-year low.

Given data like that, I imagine it’s hard for U.S. President Joe Biden’s team to figure out how to make the case for a second term. So far they’ve focused on abortion rights and on protecting democracy, both of which are not just right but savvy: They focus on places where former President Donald Trump has weaknesses that most people recognize. (Most people—somehow a fifth of voters blame Biden for the repeal of Roe). If it were up to me, I’d open a third of these fronts: climate change.

Memories of Dobbs and of January 6 may be slowly fading, but right now in America people are sweating.

There’s three reasons for that.

One, it’s popular. Something—some combination of fire, flood, and movement-building—has persuaded Americans that climate change is real, and that the government should take action to slow it down. Across surveys the polling is clear. And voters perceive Democrats as much better on climate: Indeed, some new polling indicates it may have played a crucial role in the last election.

Two, it gets way more popular when you explain it. A new survey of young voters from Data for Progress showed that “approval for Biden’s handling of climate change and the environment improves by 17 percentage points among young voters after respondents hear more about his climate action. Approval of Biden’s handling of climate change and the environment reaches 69% among 18- to 34-year-old voters after respondents read a series of questions about his climate achievements.” Biden put enormous political capital into winning passage of the IRA; he might as well get political gain from all of that.

And three, people hate Trump’s positions on the issue. The highest profile climate action he took in term one was withdrawing America from the Paris accords, and less than a third of voters approved. And this time around he’s doing everything he can to cement his reputation as the corrupt candidate of fossil fuel. Yesterday, amid the ruins of the city’s greatest windstorm, he held a fundraising lunch with leading frackers in downtown Houston. As Emily Atkin reminds us in a typically piquant column, the hydrocarbon cartel is already supporting Trump over Biden by a 40-1 margin. He wants more, of course, which is why he held his billion-dollar extortion dinner in D.C. earlier this month. And what do you know—when they were told about his efforts to shake down fossil fuel executives, two-thirds of likely voters didn’t like it. The oil companies, as a new report from Oil Change International makes clear, continue to lie about climate change, and their efforts to “combat” it. At some visceral level, Americans know that (though it would be good to remind them with a DOJ investigation of those lies, as Rep. Jamie Raskin (R-Md.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) recommended yesterday.)

So I think it’s a strong triple threat to say: Trump will take away your rights. He will take away your democracy. And he will take away the planet you’ve known.

And I think it’s especially strong because the next few months seem likely to underline the threat with some of the hottest weather anyone has ever seen. Memories of Dobbs and of January 6 may be slowly fading, but right now in America people are sweating. The first big heat dome of the season has settled over the southland, with Key West and Miami setting almost unbelievable records for muggy weather—the heat index down there topped 115°F last week. (That political savant Ron DeSantis chose the occasion to outlaw talking about climate within the state’s government). A new study out today shows that heatwaves have tripled since the 1960s in this country, and that deaths from those hot spells are up 800%. Even more ominously, the water offshore in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico is preposterously hot, which is why forecasters are predicting a record hurricane season. (Bring back memories of Trump trying to divert storms with his Sharpie.)

So here’s what Biden can legitimately say:

He has done more than any other president—by far—to support the buildout of clean energy.

And he has, with his pause on liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permits in January, done more than any other president to cramp Big Oil’s style.

That second point is a low bar (presidents always prefer carrots over sticks)—but it’s a real one. In fact, as the Timesreported this week, it’s the thing that collapsed an “uneasy truce” between the fossil fuel industry and the White House.

To the industry, Mr. Biden’s pause on new gas export permits “was a wake-up call,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, which supports the fossil fuel industry. “He could be potentially icing billions of dollars in long-term LNG contracts. That’s real. That’s tangible.”

If I were running the campaign, I’d have Biden out there in the heat, out there in the wreckage after the hurricanes, out there when it floods and burns. And my message would be relentless and simple: “To get out of this cycle of destruction, we need clean energy. I’ve supported it. My opponent has opposed it, and on laughable grounds—that windmills cause cancer, for instance. So let’s go forward, not backward.”

Voters want candidates in touch with reality, even if they don’t always have a firm grasp of reality themselves. But everyone can tell the temperature, and over the five months to the election it’s going to be hot.

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