The DNC’s “troubling” platform process
The DNC's new independent climate council is worried about the Democrats' yet-to-be-drafted party platform.
Happy Tuesday everyone! Some newsletter-related news before today’s main item.
Over the holiday weekend, The New York Times published an article about new media platforms like Substack, and devoted a few paragraphs to HEATED. The web version came out Sunday and the print version came out yesterday.
The print version is particularly aggressive on the “look at Emily” front.
If you’re interested in the future of journalism and the paid newsletter model, I encourage you to read the piece, written by media columnist Ben Smith.
Either way, here are my thoughts:
I’m grateful we’re part of the conversation about journalism’s future, both at the Times and elsewhere. (The New Republic’s Alex Shepherd published a similar article about e-mail newsletters on Monday, and shouted out HEATED as a “hugely successful” example.)
It’s also great that the Times chose to highlight the success of this particular newsletter—a climate change newsletter—in the business section. The passion economy is real, and it turns out lots of people are passionate about not dying in a wildfire.
I’ve low-key always wanted to be featured in the Times, but this isn’t how I pictured it happening. I always pictured my work being featured for its substance, rather its ability to pay my rent.
There is something a bit icky-feeling about being lauded as a niche “celebrity,” without a meaningful discussion of that “niche” being the greatest existential threat to mankind. The future of the journalism industry is threatened—but so is the future of human prosperity on the planet. I’m passionate about the former, but I started HEATED to address the latter, and I wish that were reflected more clearly.
I also wish Ben had mentioned my growth plan for HEATED. We may be “niche” now, I don’t intend for us to stay that way. Accountability-focused climate journalism will become mainstream, because it must. There is no other option if we want to stop this crisis.
Fellow Substack journalist Judd Legum wrote a Twitter thread on the piece which is worth reading in its entirety.
TLDR: I’m glad this newsletter is invigorating journalists who want to save their dying industry. But it’s also invigorating citizens who want to save their dying planet—and I think that is just as, if not more worthy of a feature in the Times.
One day the Times will cover us, not just me. Until then, thanks for being part of this community of invigorated, informed citizens. You are the reason this happened, and your continued support will be the reason climate journalism continues to grow here, no matter what happens to the industry as a whole.
Now onto the news.
The DNC’s “troubling” platform process
Protesters call for a Democratic presidential climate debate in front of the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
Remember when, last year, the Democratic Party decided not to hold a climate change debate for presidential candidates, despite widespread support for the idea among voters, activists, and the candidates themselves?
That decision had consequences for Democratic leadership. Facing sustained pressure from climate activists, the Democratic National Committee launched an internal council in February to help push the party to become stronger on climate—and hopefully quiet some of the noise.
Led by former Bernie Sanders surrogate Michelle Deatrick, the DNC Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis was created specifically to help push for a strong Democratic climate policy platform. The platform document defines the Democratic Party’s policy priorities for four years, and is voted on at the Democratic National Convention, currently scheduled for August.
But now, with the convention fast-approaching, the climate council is worried that it hasn’t heard anything about the process for drafting the platform.
“It is nearly June, and the Democratic Party has yet to lay out the platform process,” Deatrick said in a Medium post published Tuesday morning. “That is a troubling sign of what is to come.”
“We need an open and inclusive and public process”
Deatrick’s first concern: Who is going to be on the powerful, 15-person Platform Drafting Subcommittee? What will happen if it’s filled with people who don’t prioritize progressive climate policy?
This almost happened in 2016—until Sanders protested the DNC’s platform subcommittee rules. After a lot of noise, Sanders was eventually allowed to appoint five members to the committee, one of whom was environmental activist Bill McKibben.
By this time last year, the public debate over the subcommittee members had already been hashed out and settled. This year, there has been no discussion of platform subcommittee members at all. That’s probably due at least in part to the coronavirus crisis—and the fact that the convention was postponed for a month.
But the platform process should still be a priority for the DNC, Deatrick argued—because having more transparency is not just good for the climate, but good for energizing Democratic voters.
“This cycle’s Democratic primary process has too often been messy, dispiriting, and lacking in transparency,” she wrote. “These failures have sapped the party of potential support—and also of enthusiasm, small dollar donors, and volunteers.”
“While no one can dismiss the logistical challenges coronavirus poses to both the convention and the platform drafting process,” she added, “Democrats can not and must not make that an excuse to retreat behind closed doors or hand the drafting of the platform to a few party elites.”
“We didn’t have a climate debate, but we can have a climate hearing.”
To meet the logistical challenges of the coronavirus era, the DNC environment council is also recommending holding virtual public hearings for Democrats across the country to debate, discuss, and draft the Democratic Party platform.
In the 2016 process, there were only four public hearings on the platform, Deatrick said. And those hearings also “weren’t super accessible,” she argued. “I do not believe that with four hearings in a country this big and diverse that you’re possibly getting the kind of input you need.”
Thus, “There should be many hearings—not just four,” Deatrick’s post reads. “And they should be themed: We didn’t get a climate debate, but we can have a climate hearing.”
No more “net zero” goals
As for specific policy recommendations for the Democratic policy platform, Deatrick said the DNC environment council has been working on them for the last two months, and expects to release them in the coming weeks.
She did, however, share a few of the council’s recommendations with HEATED in advance of their publication. They include:
Committing to a goal of “near-zero” carbon emissions, instead of “net zero” carbon emissions. Specifically, Democratic climate plans should aim to achieve 100 percent clean renewable electricity generation by 2030; a 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035; and near-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
Committing to a climate plan where at least 40 percent of investments are targeted to frontline and vulnerable communities.
Requiring the federal procurement system, which spends over $500 billion annually, to take into account the total life cycle environmental impact of building and other materials, and to promote the sourcing of green American materials.
Immediate executive climate actions like ending crude oil exports, banning fracking on public lands, and declaring a state of climate emergency.
An ongoing conversation
It’s entirely possible the DNC is preparing a transparent, coronavirus-friendly platform drafting process as we speak. I’ll update you if I hear anything about it. In the meantime, the DNC platform will be an ongoing subject of discussion in the newsletter. I encourage you to send me your thoughts, or tips: email@example.com.
The comments are a good place to talk about it, too.
In other news…
—YOUTUBE TEMPORARILY TOOK DOWN “PLANET OF THE HUMANS.” The myriad misinformation in Michael Moore’s climate documentary doesn’t bother YouTube much. But allegations of copyright violation? That’ll get ya pulled off the platform, stat.
According to The Guardian, a photographer who didn’t like the movie saw a clip of his work in it, and filed a copyright claim. “I went directly to YouTube rather than approaching the filmmakers because I wasn’t interested in negotiation,” said British environmental photographer Toby Smith. “I don’t support the documentary, I don’t agree with its message and I don’t like the misleading use of facts in its narrative.”
Meanwhile, a rep for Moore told Variety that the whole thing is a probably conspiracy from the big environmental groups he criticized to censor him. A conspiratorial claim without evidence? Shocking!
What I’m reading about
—PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING CLIMATE JOURNALISM. Earlier this month, a reader pointed out that I forgot to highlight the Washington Post’s series on climate change from 2019, “2C: Beyond the Limit,” which recently won a Pulitzer Prize for best explanatory journalism. So I’m doing it today—sorry I kept forgetting!!
Also want to give a belated congrats to Chris Mooney and Trish Wilson, and all the other writers who worked on the series. It’s an incredibly exciting accomplishment, and the award is well-deserved.
What I’m laughing at
—A CLIMATE MEME FOR EMO KIDS. Apologies in advance to HEATED’s non-Millennial readers who may not understand this. But our editorial memeist, @climemechange, posted a meme on Instagram last week that spoke deeply to my early 2000s emo kid soul, and I need to share it with you.
I also apologize for the lack of memes in the newsletter lately. The coronavirus era is not very funny, so I haven’t been prioritizing it. If you want to see more climate memes, though, let me know. I’m happy to re-up the effort now that my brain has gotten used to this new normal.
But what is normal, really, am I right?
OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED!
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I would be interested in hearing more about why the platform matters. Each elected official votes based upon their own view of the matter. So is this just a messaging document? And if so, why should we care about it. What did the last platform on climate change say, and did it have any impact on actual policy at any level of government? As someone without a real understanding of the internal workings of the National Democratic Party (which, so far as I understand, is actually fairly powerless), it seems to me that only real "panel" that will matter at this point is the one set up by the Biden campaign.
A couple of things. First, in answer to questions here about "near-zero" vs. "net-zero", although it is hard to know what the DNC committee has in mind, here is one perspective. Net-zero is a cop-out unless it is merely a point we quickly pass through on the way to absolute-zero or near-zero, at which point real drawdown of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere begins. Net-zero is a cop-out because as commonly used it relies on either NETs (negative emissions technologies such as CCS or BECCS) or offsets, or both, neither of which are capable of solving the climate problem. Regarding NETs, the problems are well described in Anderson and Peters (2016) "The Trouble with Negative Emissions" (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6309/182). In short the problems are the scale that would be required if emissions aren't essentially eliminated (and soon), and timing.
So, absolute-zero or near-zero? Is is functionally feasible to eliminate all uses of fossil fuels? For example, what about long-distance diplomatic flights? And there are sure to be other small-scale uses of fossil fuels that are very difficult to eliminate. Of course in allowing near- instead of absolute-zero emissions there is a camel's nose under the tent and the difficulty of making definition and law that won't be corrupted. Environmental regulation has been fraught with this kind of problem since the '70s (CWA, CAA, etc.).
Last August colleague Stan Cox and I had an article in Resilience, "Cap and Adapt: A Failsafe Approach to the Climate Emergency" (https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-08-28/cap-and-adapt-a-failsafe-approach-to-the-climate-emergency/). It addresses the fossil fuel part of the climate dilemma, and uses the term near-nil. Meaning the slimmest of slivers of current emissions, and more importantly the slimmest of slivers of the biosphere's capability for CO2 drawdown, so as to not hinder heading below 350 ppm.
Second, Stan has a new book, out last month, covering that and more: "Beyond the Green New Deal: Ending the climate emergency while we still can." Highly recommended. I hope Emily will do a review.