The Democratic National Convention this week played against the backdrop of compound crises: Covid-19 and climate change, economic instability and racial injustice. Our country is dying, literally, for change, and the current president cannot deliver. So it’s up to the Democratic Party and its nominees, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to tackle this mess—and they’re off to a good start.
Biden’s climate plan is the strongest of any presidential nominee in history. And polls show that 70 percent of the electorate favors strong federal climate action. So, as a climate activist, I can’t help but wonder: Why on earth is the Democratic National Committee fighting its own nominee’s climate policies?
Climate change received a number of mentions during the Democratic convention; an entire segment Wednesday night was dedicated to the importance of climate action, and Biden also listed the crisis in his acceptance speech as one of the most urgent issues facing us. This is a testament to the energy and force of the climate movement. Yet, earlier in the week, the Democratic National Committee quietly removed some of the most foundational climate language from the party’s 2020 platform: a commitment to eliminate subsidies to fossil fuels.
When confronted by a HuffPost reporter about the removal, a DNC spokesperson said that including the language in the first place had been a procedural “error.” But John Laesch, a member of the DNC platform committee, responded that the DNC’s claim was “100 percent false,” adding that he gave “no consent” to scrap the language in question, which, he said, had already been approved.
To its credit, the Biden campaign quickly reaffirmed its commitment to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. Yet the DNC has remained silent. This is unacceptable. The DNC platform is a statement of the party’s vision for the next four years. It must be in alignment with the stronger vision that Biden and Harris have campaigned on, including an end to fossil fuel subsidies.
Now, to be sure, Biden doesn’t yet have a clear plan to phase out fossil fuels. Ending subsidies was itself a significant addition, in that it signaled a willingness to listen to and work with communities on the ground—but it’s just a first step. Next needs to come a plan to phase out fossil fuels.
In the lead-up to the convention, we saw many thoughtful proposals aimed at reshaping the Democratic Party’s approach to the climate crisis. The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, established to craft a common approach on climate (and other issues), led Biden’s campaign to unveil a Clean Energy Plan. Among other things, that plan charts a path to net-zero emissions in the country’s electricity sector by 2035, while earmarking 40 percent of federal climate spending for communities of color and others that have long suffered disproportionately from fossil fuel production and climate impacts. The plan also pledged to end subsidies for fossil fuel production, an obvious and necessary step in the shift to a fossil-free economy. After all, why should tax dollars be used to destroy our climate even further?
But the Democratic Party platform outlines a different, significantly weaker vision of climate action. In particular, it includes no tangible commitment to phasing out fossil fuel production—a policy that is essential to any credible approach to curbing the worst impacts of climate change while also addressing environmental injustice. By evading the need to stop fossil fuel subsidies and phase out fossil fuel extraction, the DNC leadership is avoiding the root causes of climate change and environmental injustice.
The entire business model of fossil fuel corporations relies on extraction, pollution, and exploitation, while ignoring the impact this has on human health and safety. It concentrates harm in many vulnerable communities and wealth within a small number of corporations. The worst of those companies invest their dirty profits in disinformation campaigns to cover their tracks, and seed partisan fighting about the awful truth of climate change. Leadership in the Democratic Party must focus on repairing the damage to communities caused by fossil fuel extraction, storage, and transportation, rather than obscuring the reality.
There are ambitious measures included in proposals from Biden’s campaign, the Unity Task Force, and the DNC’s own climate and environment committee. But the DNC adopted next to none of these proposals in its final platform, and now, adding insult to injury, it has deleted one of the strong provisions it did adopt.
It’s time for the Democratic Party to unite around the reality that we must fully transform our energy system to protect people and the planet. Biden’s climate plan leaves a lot to be desired, and come January, we’ll need to push him on it. Right now, the Democratic Party should have two goals when it comes to climate policy: winning the election, and then governing to solve the crisis. That crisis cannot be solved without phasing out the extraction of fossil fuels, and the essential first step is to stop subsidizing that extraction. Both Biden and Harris have campaigned on that promise, and we will hold them to it. The Democratic National Committee needs to get on the same page, now.