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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Democratic National Convention

Air Date: Week of

In his nomination acceptance speech on August 20, 2020, Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden named climate change as one of the four major crises facing America at this time. (Photo: screenshot of 2020 Democratic National Convention)

The 2020 Democratic National Convention featured voices from all across the country, some of whom highlighted climate change as a key concern for this election. But among the hours devoted to the convention’s main events, climate change on the whole appeared to take a backseat to other issues facing the country. Environmental Health News Editor Peter Dykstra joins Host Bobby Bascomb to discuss how climate change factored into the 2020 Democratic National Convention and the final party platform.


BASCOMB: From PRX and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb, in for Steve Curwood.

The Republican and Democratic national conventions every four years are typically a spectacle of political speeches, balloon drops, and delegates decked out in red white and blue from head to toe.
But this year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the conventions have moved from the stage to our screens with virtual side events and socially distanced political speeches that and aired in a 2 hour prime time address each night.

In one such speech, Vermont Senator and former Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders shared words of praise for Joe Biden’s clean energy plan and urged his progressive supporters to vote for the more moderate Democratic nominee.

SANDERS: Joe will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and fight the threat of climate change by transitioning us to 100% clean electricity over the next 15 years. These initiatives will create millions of good paying jobs all across our country.

The control room of the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, the backbone of the coast-to-coast production of the week's proceedings. (Photo: Alex Hanel/DNCC)

BASCOMB: Washington State Governor Jay Inslee was also in the early running for the Democratic nomination.
The focus of his campaign was climate change and his plan to address it was arguably the most ambitious of any of the candidates.
In an untelevised virtual side event Governor Inslee shared his support for Mr. Biden’s climate action plan.

INSLEE: The scale of their plan of $2 trillion, is both enormous and adequate. And the fact that they're thinking in these terms with the scale of this is just thrilling to me, and I'll tell you why these are going to be good union paying jobs. Right? These are not just physicists and rocket scientists. These are electricians and carpenters and steel workers and sheet metal workers, and iron workers.

BASCOMB: At a virtual meeting of the Native American caucus, New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland spoke her support for Mr. Biden and disdain for President Trump’s gutting protections for land sacred to native peoples.

Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, condemned President Trump’s move to shrink Bears Ears National Monument and said that she believes a President Biden would give Native Americans a seat at the table in decisions that affect lands sacred to them. (Photo: screenshot of 2020 Democratic National Convention)

HAALAND: This administration, you know, cutting out big swaths of Bears Ears and grand staircase Escalante, this administration, blasting tribal, sacred burial ground so they can build the wall on the southern border. these are these are things where tribal leaders must have a say in where we are moving forward. And that's those are two very good reasons why I am going to do everything I can to get Joe Biden elected because I know he absolutely would never, never appoint a coal lobbyist or a gas in our lobbyists to any of these positions.

BASCOMB: On the last day of the convention Joe Biden officially accepted his party’s nomination and spoke about the coronavirus, racial injustice and tackling climate change.

BIDEN: One most powerful voices we hear in the country today is from our young people. They're speaking to the inequity and injustice that has grown up in America. economic injustice, racial injustice, environmental injustice. I hear their voices if you listen, you can hear them too. And whether there's existential, existential threat posed by climate change, the daily fear of being gunned down in school, or the inability to get started, your first job, will be the work of the next president to restore the promise of America to everyone.

BASCOMB: In advance of this year’s Democratic National Convention the moderate and progressive wings of the party worked together to create several unity task forces aimed at finding common ground for the party platform.
One of those task forces was focused on the environment and climate change.
For more on the convention and the official Democratic party platform I’m joined now by Peter Dykstra.
Peter is an editor with Environmental Health News that’s ehn.org and dailyclimate.org. Hey Peter!
So, what were your take homes from the convention?

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who had also sought the Democratic nomination for President, shared words of praise for Joe Biden’s clean energy plan and urged his progressive supporters to help elect the former Vice President. (Photo: screenshot of 2020 Democratic National Convention)

DYKSTRA: Well, in order to do a diligent job here at living on Earth. I watched four nights worth of convention coverage. One of the things I didn't hear a whole lot on is climate change. Vice President Biden identified it as one of the four crises that a new president or Donald Trump would face. The other three, of course, are race relations coronavirus, and the economic plunge caused by coronavirus. They all get talked about a lot in primetime climate change really didn't.

BASCOMB: Yeah, I watched a lot of it as well and it seemed every time climate change was mentioned, it was always sort of in a laundry list of other problems and never really seemed to get the attention that an existential threat of this magnitude would deserve, one would think.

DYKSTRA: There were a couple near exceptions in some of the more minor speeches. California Governor Gavin Newsom did a live shot from a wildfire in his state which of course is head disastrous problems with wildfire. He linked them to climate change, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham talked for several minutes about clean energy in five minutes segment that featured a lot of activists, like a 15 year old named Alexandria Villaseñor from New York City, who's kind of being positioned as the American answer to the young climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden wave to Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff following Joe Biden’s Democratic Presidential Nomination acceptance speech. (Photo: screenshot of 2020 Democratic National Convention)

BASCOMB: Yeah, but noticeable from its absence was, um, Al Gore. Where was he in all this?

DYKSTRA: Well, here you go. You had three former presidents, ex vice presidents, John Kerry, who was Secretary of State pushed through the United States involvement in the Paris Climate accord. You had all sorts of prominent members of Congress, entertainment figures, and the one who was missing in all of this is the guy who has been pushing on climate change for 40 years Al Gore. He won a portion of the Nobel Peace Prize. He won an Oscar for his climate slideshow an Inconvenient Truth but somehow the biggest opportunity to vindicate him to give him credit for an I told you so and to lay out a path toward action on climate change in my opinion the Democrats blew it. They should have had Al Gore front and center to talk about climate change on a par with those other issues that are deemed existential crises.

BASCOMB: So very little was said about climate change in primetime. But there are all of these virtual side events and caucuses and of course, the party platform. What did you see there?

DYKSTRA: Well, there's side events. So what it means is much of America didn't see them. They didn't get a message that they're really important. Almost every speaker, as you suggested, made a passing mention of climate change things that get passing mentions in primetime the suggestion is they're not going to be an immediate focus for the Democrats should they win the White House or control of the Senate, any of the things that may be up for grabs in the selection, it left me with a feeling that climate change will kind of be pushed to the back, particularly if the economy is still hurting in future years, as the experts tell us it will be.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham addressed viewers of the 2020 Democratic National Convention from a solar energy facility in the state. (Photo: screenshot of 2020 Democratic National Convention)

BASCOMB: So I read the party platform, and they have a very ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. And they lay out, you know, creating green jobs and doing that, you know, solar installation and the like, which all is exactly what the Green New Deal was advocating for, a way to lift people out of poverty and also really address the climate emergency. But they never actually said the phrase Green New Deal in all of the environmental information in the party platform. Why is that do you think?

DYKSTRA: Well, I think because they're terrified of the Republicans using the phrase Green New Deal and holding up its most visible advocate Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez as negatives as a threat to the American way of life. The Democrats embrace a lot of the Green New Deal I don't think they're ever going to say it per se, even with a President Biden, or the Democrats in the majority in the Senate if that happens because the Republicans are relentless, and not always principled in the way they attack. And the Green New Deal, could be a new version of the Red Scare as we get down to the last 11 weeks of the campaign.

Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden and Jill Biden walk through a hallway of state flags after his nomination acceptance speech. (Photo: screenshot of 2020 Democratic National Convention)

BASCOMB: Well, another thing on the party platform, they state their continued support to ban oil and gas drilling on public lands, but there was no mention of removing tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies. That was on the party platform in 2016. And really not controversial. It's something that Mr. Biden and Senator Harris both campaigned on. yet. It's not there on the 2020 platform. But Stef Feldman, who's a policy director for the campaign recently said that Joe Biden is still committed to ending fossil fuel subsidies. So what gives Peter?

DYKSTRA: Well, I'd say one thing, and that's, that's why journalism is so important to look at the fine print that's gone away in a party platform, even though party platform is not nearly as important as what the Democrats commit themselves to in primetime when so much more of America is watching, paying attention, and presumably holding both parties accountable to what they say, and how their lips move when they're speaking in front of the entire nation.

BASCOMB: All right, Peter. Well, thanks for following this for us. And we'll talk to you again next week when the Republicans take the stage or the virtual stage as it is.

DYKSTRA: Well, I'm looking forward to watching more hours and hours and hours of TV on the Republican convention. But I'm sure we'll both have plenty to talk about next week. I'll see you then.

BASCOMB: Okay, sounds good. Thanks a lot, Peter, Peter Dykstra is an editor with Environmental Health News that's ehn.org and dailyclimate.org. You can find more on the Democratic National Convention in the environment on the living on earth website, loe.org.



Watch the 2020 Democratic National Convention

The DNC Council on Environment and Climate Crisis held a 2-hour virtual event as part of the 2020 Democratic National Convention

InsideClimate News | “After Two Nights of Speeches, Activists Ask: Hey, What About Climate Change?”

HEATED newsletter | “The Democrats’ climate betrayal”


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