Despite offering the most progressive environmental platform in major party history, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee faces disapproval from some progressive groups.
When former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed former V.P. Joe Biden for president on Monday, the former Vice President announced that he would form special policy groups with Sanders—among them a special committee on climate. On the livestream, Biden pledged that the United States would “take a backseat to no one” when it comes to climate action—but many climate activists, most of whom supported Sen. Sanders in the primaries, share doubt about the former V.P.’s commitment to the issue.
While the campaign’s outreach strategy of policy groups and promises may offer respite to some progressives, a tranche of left-wing activists are holding out. For one, there’s no talk yet of who will staff the committees, according to Axios, other than the fact that they will represent the “diverse viewpoints” within the Democratic Party and reflect the Vice President’s “progressive vision for America.”
For some, the ambiguity reflects Biden’s overall lack of definition on the issue. Despite calling climate change an existential threat, Biden has repeatedly refused to endorse banning fracking, a policy long lauded by left-wing groups but dreaded by fracking-dependent economies like Pennsylvania. And for some groups, Biden’s truism that we simply need to stop using fossil fuels isn’t enough, especially after a primary season that saw intricate plans from candidates Warren, Inslee, and Sanders.
According to the New York Times, leadership in The Climate Mobilization—a group that backed Sanders and worked closely with the campaign on policy matters—is pressing Biden to offer more a more comprehensive plan before the general election. Former staffers for Gov. Jay Inslee’s short-lived presidential bid have consolidated to promote the campaign’s commended climate policies to Biden and other down-ballot Democrats through an initiative called Evergreen. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the foremost progressives in Congress, told the New York Times that although she hadn’t yet spoken to Biden, she believes that the campaign must bolster its approach to climate in order to secure the progressive vote in November. Groups like U.S. Youth Climate Strike and the Sunrise Movement have even explicitly refused to endorse the former V.P., as announced via Twitter.
Even in the face of harsh criticism, Biden is offering what many see as the most progressive climate change platform in history, going as far on his website to acknowledge that the Green New Deal is a “crucial framework” for mitigating the climate crisis. Just last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) dismissed the Green New Deal as the “green dream or whatever”. Now, the phrase is at the center of a core policy of the party’s presumptive nominee, demonstrating the stark change in political will surrounding the issue.
Although the platform is markedly more progressive than Clinton’s in 2016—and drastically more so than Obama’s in 2008 or 2012—it falls short of Inslee’s, Sanders’s, and Warren’s. For one, Biden loosely advocates complete decarbonization of the economy by 2050, while Sanders’s plan set a benchmark of placing the electricity and transportation sectors on entirely renewable energy by 2030. (The Biden plan argues for some sort of benchmark in 2025 to “ensure we get to the finish line”, although it’s not clear what the target includes.) And while Biden advocates “aggressive” caps on methane emissions, any mention of fracking—one of the most notorious methane emitters—is conspicuously absent. The Clean Energy Revolution, as Biden calls his climate plan, costs just a tenth of what Sanders’s did, reflecting the plan’s dampened ambition. Groups like 350 Action have pushed Biden to adopt at least a $10 trillion investment.
Climate change was one of the most prominent issues on Democrats’ minds throughout the primary season, ranking just below health care in contests like Iowa and Nevada. To win in November, Biden will need to pull some Republicans into his camp, too—and while older conservatives are more likely to show skepticism towards climate action, research from Yale argues that younger Republicans are concerned about the issue. Millennial Republicans don’t just believe that climate change is real, according to the survey, but they also want to see something done about it—something that Trump hasn’t offered. So while climate remains the top issue for self-described liberal Democrats, it could be more of a bipartisan appeal than many in either party realize. What has been a mainstay of progressive politics over the past decade may finally be suffusing into moderate—and even conservative—territory.