The WIRED Guide to Climate ChangeThat said, any candidate could choose to emphasize climate. Handle any question the moderators throw with a climate answer. Foreign policy? Dealing with China is going to involve their use of coal and their manufacture of solar panels. Defense? The current administration has censored its own intelligence and diplomatic assessments when they warned that climate effects would exacerbate conflicts between allies and in places where the US has interests. Inslee might try this; so might Beto O’Rourke, who has talked about climate on the campaign trail. But these policy issues are complicated. “That requires a really coherent, concise message that is challenging to deliver,” says Kristina Costa, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund who advised both the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s campaign on climate issues, and worked on Clinton’s debate prep team. “Especially if you have 30 seconds and you’re fighting over nine other people.”One of the best reasons to talk about climate change and its effects in an all-Democrat debate might well be to reach Republicans—younger ones, at least. The moderate wing of that party is starting to see climate change as an imminent policy issue and a political vulnerability, especially in places like Miami, site of the debates and deeply vulnerable to hurricanes and rising sea levels. “Younger Republicans are much more open to the Democratic message about this,” Leiserowitz says. “They’re like, how come nobody in our party is talking about it, and when they do, they’re saying it’s a hoax?”On the other hand, Democrats will worry about treading carefully so as to not blow up their electoral map. Republicans have been able to couch their lack of action and obstruction on climate laws as economic caution. They’ll say that limitations on greenhouse gases and changes in energy use threaten jobs and economies in parts of the country already in trouble. That’s the excuse Oregon Republicans used to cast themselves as heroic defenders of the working class when they fled the state rather than be part of a quorum in the senate that could vote on an ambitious cap-and-trade carbon reduction bill. (Investigative work by Rob Davis of The Oregonian eviscerated the Republicans who fled the state: Among the companies who donated the most to those senators are Koch Industries, owned by the climate change denying Koch brothers, and Oregon timber companies.)That’s the trickiest needle to thread. Democratic activists want to hear their candidates agreeing that climate change is an existential threat, that the carbon economy has to be reinvented and Green New Dealers should be in charge. But that exact enthusiasm could alienate other voters—a Kobayashi Maru trap where winning a climate debate means losing an election. “In the industrial Midwest, in these blue-collar places, in farming communities, people get that it’s happening, but they are living paycheck to paycheck in a way that makes them fearful of change,” Costa says. “We lost the electoral college by a few tens of thousands in the Midwest, so if you want to deal with climate change, if you want to elect an administration that’s going to do it, you need to take seriously people’s fears about their jobs and livelihoods.”So yeah, the Democrats will have their climate debates. They just might not want to win.
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