Senate Democrats joined the summer of climate plans on Tuesday. For policy nerds, it’s a time of great rejoicing. But just as important as the documents and their contents is the process behind them—and in this process, Democrats seem to finally be willing to go it alone, crafting a plan and executing it by any means necessary if they win control of both chambers of Congress and the White House. It is the single most consequential sign they’re actually ready to do something about the biggest crisis facing the globe today.
As late as last year, Congressional Democrats appeared ready to keep waiting for Republicans to finally see the light. Nancy Pelosi revived the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, but it was a weakened version of what climate activists wanted. The bipartisan committee held hearings that were sometimes a train wreck, with Republican members spouting climate denial and tired talking points about a “war on coal” that doesn’t really exist.
Fast-forward to this year, though, and the committee released a report that includes some fairly aggressive ideas in line with science. The committee’s Democrats appear to have forged ahead with the report on their own: Its Republican members didn’t sign on to it, nor have they released their own document. Senate Democrats didn’t even bother with consulting the Republicans, forming their own select committee. Their report also has some high points, though it’s by no means a perfect document. Parts of it align with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s expanded plan as well as sections of the Democratic National Committee platform.
None of these documents are the be all, end all (far from it in some cases), and they can certainly go further in their ambition, but recent moves from Democrats are light-years beyond the 2009 bill that died in the Senate. That bill called for creating a carbon market where companies could trade pollution credits and emissions. It’s a quintessentially conservative solution to climate change (let the market do its thing!), but not a single Senate Republican would support it, and, lacking a filibuster-proof majority, Democrats gave up the ghost.
In an interview with Vox announcing the new Senate plan, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the head of the select committee, made it clear the approach would be different this time. He said this was about “getting to a coalition that can win. I don’t want to overstate the case, because we still have to win the Senate and the White House, but as a caucus, we feel united and ready to roll.” That coalition includes activist groups like the Sunrise Movement who have pushed the party to be more bold.
House Democrats seem on the same page. Biden might be getting there, too, signaling last month that he was open to getting rid of the filibuster. Schatz did mentioning he was having “constructive conversations” with climate-curious Republicans (though none by name), but importantly, he said that getting Republicans on board was “not the foundation of my strategy.”
I’m glad Schatz has seen the writing on the wall: Wasting time trying to pull teeth to get a veneer of bipartisanship on a climate bill is a death sentence for millions. Look at the U.S. over the past month alone: California is on fire, the Gulf Coast is about to get ravaged by a hurricane, the West has faced a relentless heat wave, and Iowa was mauled by a derecho. This is all in a world that has warmed roughly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) on average since pre-industrial times.
Amid the growing chaos, Sen. Joni Ernst brazenly lying that Biden supports a Green New Deal that would “essentially ban animal agriculture” has been one of the only mentions of climate policy at this week’s Republican National Convention. We simply do not have the time to wait for a party led by a climate denier, growing more radical by the day and disconnected from reality, to suddenly come to its damn senses. Every ton of carbon matters, and the U.S. has a moral imperative to lead in cutting emissions as the biggest carbon polluter in history.
Democrats signaling they finally get that is a welcome relief. There’s still work to do to win over moderate members of the party and strengthen certain parts of their plans. But knowing that Democrats are finally willing to put in the work, leaving behind those unwilling or unable to join them, is almost enough to give me hope for the future.