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The Democrats’ Climate Death Drive

The Republicans are a climate-denying suicide cult — everybody knows this. But in their own desperation to avoid debate on the climate crisis, the Democratic National Committee isn't far behind.

The Miami skyline on March 28, 2019, the day the Democratic National Committee announced it has selected Miami to host the party’s first presidential debates for the 2020 election. Joe Raedle / Getty

On Sunday Democratic Party chair Tom Perez brushed off the idea of a debate focused on the climate crisis as “just not practical,” showing just how beholden the party is to the suicide-cult factions of both labor and capital.

The Youth Climate Strike and other environmental groups — along with Washington State governor and Democratic presidential primary contender Jay Inslee — have been pushing for a climate debate, and numerous Democratic candidates have agreed to participate. But last week the Democratic National Committee not only refused to organize one, but in an extraordinary bit of authoritarianism, decreed that any candidates who participated in one would be barred from the official DNC debates.

Contra Perez, what’s wildly impractical is ignoring a problem that could determine whether hundreds of millions of people and our civilizations live or die. Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf has called the Democrats “soft climate denialists,” distinguishing them from the Republicans, who deny the science, while the Democrats acknowledge the science but deny the need to solve the problem. Wolf’s is a useful formulation. But perhaps he doesn’t go far enough. While the Republicans might be more like Jonestown — a 1970s cult, 909 of whose members committed suicide in a single day — the establishment Democrats more closely resemble Heaven’s Gate, a 1990s suicide cult whose members are believed to have perished in three groups over the course of three days.

If the DNC / Heaven’s Gate is trying to sell out to the climate’s worst enemies among the polluters, the polluters haven’t been buying. Fossil fuel companies would rather give to Republicans and get their money’s worth. Only 12 percent of mining PAC money went to Democrats in the 2018 cycle, and 14 percent oil and gas, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Still, the DNC has resisted calls to reject fossil fuel money, a pledge some candidates have taken.

Disturbingly, union money and influence are a factor in both decisions. In March, the heads of the AFL-CIO’s energy committee, the presidents of the United Mine Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, blasted the Green New Deal as “not achievable or realistic.” Rep. Ed Markey, co-author of the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said they would “work with” the AFL-CIO — and clearly union members have a lot of internal organizing to do on this issue. Given that less than 10 percent of mine workers are even union members, it’s extraordinary on so many levels that the UMW should be such a dominant voice in these debates. The AFL-CIO is going to have to realize sooner or later that of any group in America, the working class is going to be hit hardest by the climate crisis. In fact, it already is, as people from New Orleans to the Rockaways know very well. These dinosaurs who represent fossil fuel industries can’t be allowed to determine the climate politics of the labor movement as a whole.

Democratic voters are the ones driving the surge in public concern on climate change, making it particularly dumb for their party to ignore them. Two-thirds of Democrats say they care a great deal about the issue, according to Gallup, compared to 18 percent of Republicans. It’s the largest percentage Gallup has found since 2000, and a nine percentage point jump even from last year.

The candidates have espoused radically different climate plans. Unlike 2016, when even Bernie Sanders didn’t talk all that much about the issue, even dopey Beto has been laying out plans and joining the call for a climate debate. Such a forum would be a great opportunity for Bernie to explain why we can’t solve this problem with markets and capitalism as usual, and why addressing the climate crisis requires New Deal, World War II-scale transformative thinking. It’s also a chance to hear from other Democrats, whose climate plans vary: as you might imagine, there is some serious, though not always sufficiently radical, thinking by Jay Inslee and Elizabeth Warren, while Joe Biden plagiarized a few ideas from the fossil fuel industry (yes, really).

The young activists calling for a climate debate represent the future, and it’s absurd for Tom Perez to characterize the survival of the human species as a “pet issue,” as he did on Sunday. The DNC is once again a threat to democracy and progress. The candidates should join in refusing to be bullied — and voters should heckle Tom Perez with die-ins everywhere he goes.