For 2020, We Must Better Prepare To Fight Misleading Anti-Climate Rhetoric

Students participate in a global walkout for Climate Change in downtown Los Angeles, California on March 15, 2019. (Photo credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
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This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.

July was the hottest month ever recorded. Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on the East Coast for nearly two weeks. Fires are raging in the Amazon. The devastating impacts of climate change are not some distant threat — they are here today, and they are getting worse.

President Trump and his allies are fighting to gut limits on carbon pollution at power plants, roll back clean car standards, and undermine the science that Americans rely on to keep us safe and healthy.

Pro-environment candidates are pushing for action with aggressive plans to cut pollution and market-driven climate solutions. Members of Congress of both parties have introduced important legislation. But we need more than better policy to combat climate change; we need smarter politics. Pro-climate action candidates in both parties must be able to cut through the false debates and deliberate distractions in order to make the stakes clear to the American people.

We’ve already seen campaign ads make false climate attacks on candidates – inspiring fear and using dog whistles to target the most divisive and depressing corners of our politics. An ad even ran earlier this year targeting two new House members – both African Americans – for associating with a Latina member of Congress who has been outspoken on climate issues. Never mind that the freshman members had staked out moderate positions, the dark and ominous ad was an attack by association.

Trump and his allies will try to derail the climate conversation with misleading attacks about the sacrifices people must make and the level of government action needed to solve the climate crisis. They want to misdirect the climate debate from conversations about record heat waves and deadly floods to the number of hamburgers we can eat. They are ready and willing to paint common-sense policies as extreme.

Those attacks will continue until we render them ineffective with swift, clear, and forceful counter-attacks. Calling them out for what they are – lies – and letting Americans know their economy, their health, and their children’s future are on the line.

The candidates must show they have the political skills to turn the debate back to what really matters — this will not only serve their own electoral interests but help save us from the devastation of unchecked climate change.

Candidates in both parties must also have a strong and concise message underscoring that a transition to a 100% clean economy doesn’t require Americans to sacrifice their quality of life or give up the things they enjoy. That is just the trap that anti-climate actors are going to try to set in critical swing states across the country. Campaigns must make the case that American manufacturers should capitalize on the multi-trillion dollar global clean energy market.

These candidates must work hard to rally support in underserved areas and promote the environmental justice, as well as emphasize that taxpayers can’t afford to foot the bill for climate inaction.

The science is clear, we only have a short period of time to make meaningful change in order to save ourselves from the worst impacts of climate change. Elections have consequences, and we can’t afford to lose any more precious time. We need to elect leaders from both parties who understand what is at stake and are willing to work together to make meaningful, bipartisan climate progress.

Candidates must be prepared to answer tough questions about politics and the ambitious policies in their climate plans. If they can’t make the case that climate action should be at the top of their agenda, it will be consequential failure.

This post is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.


Joe Bonfiglio is the President of the Environmental Defense Action Fund and has advised numerous Democratic elected officials.

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  1. I’ve lived near the Mexican border in the Sonoran Desert for 50+ years and I can attest to change in our climate over that time. It is hotter and also drier in non monsoon times but the monsoon, where we get most of our rain (latter half of July and all of August), is much less predictable. It used to give us about 8 inches. This year it’s about 4. Last year it was about 10.
    Our average annual rainfall is about 10 inches. But that seems to be dropping. The small plot of grass I keep in our back yard used to sprout in mid April. Now it sprouts in late February.

  2. The changing climate is really at the point that it’s undeniable, which is why conservative rhetoric has really shifted to “humans aren’t the cause” and “nothing we can do about it”. The intent is to stop any and all changes to how we get energy, with a side effect of undercutting scientific understanding by the population (pretty much a requirement for any Republican policy to succeed nowadays, as they all seem to go against scientific recommendations). It’s a lost cause on their part, they are losing the younger generation who can see the changes, see the effects of the warmer climate, and realizes that things are only going to get worse during their lifetimes.

    Standing athwart the road to progress shouting NO! is very ineffective if there is a fire coming up the road towards you…eventually people are going to run you over and move forward, if only to save their lives or their children’s lives.

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