BOSTON (CN) — Climate change is a winning issue for Democrats, as long as it’s presented in terms of creating high-paying jobs and racial equality. That was the message of a two-hour presentation Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention by the party’s Environment and Climate Crisis Council.
The council, created in May 2019, focuses on how to present environmental issues in a way that appeals to voters.
Most Americans support former Vice President Joe Biden’s plan to transition the economy to clean energy when it’s described as creating “millions of new jobs,” according to polling reported by Danielle Deiseroth of the activist group Data for Progress.
Voters back a clean-energy electricity grid by 2035 and planting 16 billion trees by 2050, Deiseroth said. And voters in swing states support Biden’s plan to spend $2 trillion over four years on green infrastructure investments with 40% going to minority communities.
Although Biden’s website warns that an increase in global temperatures of one and a half degrees Celsius would be an “existential threat to life,” there was virtually no discussion of scaring voters with a possible end to civilization. Rather, Democrats should emphasize that climate spending results in “millions of new good-paying jobs for American workers,” Deiseroth stressed.
“Good union jobs is something that everyone can get unified behind,” said Costa Constantinides, a New York City Council member.
Ilona Duverge, an activist who was introduced as a former undocumented immigrant, said that “the Green New Deal specifically extends beyond just the climate aspect of it; it includes union jobs.”
“Good-paying union jobs” were also emphasized by Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Michigan Congressman Andy Levin. And former presidential candidate Tom Steyer went so far as to claim that Biden’s climate plan is actually “a jobs plan that’s also an environmental justice plan.”
The other theme of the meeting was that climate change cannot be separated from racial issues.
“We cannot fight climate change without also fighting racism,” said council chair Michelle Deatrick. “Environmental justice and systemic racism go hand in hand.”
According to Duverge, “running on a bold climate platform is a winning strategy, but it’s not a winning strategy if we ignore the oppression of black and brown people. The Green New Deal is not just about climate; it’s about racist and classist policies.”
Steyer said that “communities of color suffer disproportionately from climate change.” And activist Peggy Shepard called for “climate equity” and claimed that “71% of black people live with air pollution.”
Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said that “if we’re going to solve climate change, we have to solve land justice” for Native Americans.
As long as we don’t address clean energy, “we are practicing systemic racism,” added Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.
Constantinides said that “we can’t decouple environmental justice and racial justice” and “here in Queens we’ve seen environmental racism firsthand,” noting that a power plant was built next to the country’s largest public housing project.
Constantinides also noted that the housing project experienced flooding during Hurricane Sandy, which he called “racist.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison blamed climate change for the growing number of mosquitoes in his state.
A slightly different approach came from Paulette Jordan, who is running for the U.S. Senate in the red state of Idaho. She argued that “clean energy is cost-efficient and cost-effective,” and that’s an argument that appeals to Republicans and independents.
Although Biden has not fully embraced the Green New Deal, he has called it “a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” Among other things, he supports achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, phasing out non-electric vehicles, making 6 million buildings more energy-efficient and imposing new limits on fracking.
Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez called the Environment and Climate Crisis Council “a group of serial activists.” The presentation featured nine politicians, three professional activists and a poet. Notably absent were any environmental scientists, but the purpose of the Council is not to perform original research but to craft political strategies.
The program was watched by about 5,000 people, according to Deatrick.