What good-faith climate arguing looks like
Your emails about Joe Biden sparked the kind of debate I only dream conservatives would engage in.
Welcome to HEATED, a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis.
Today’s issue is about you!
….and Joe Biden again SORRY.
My inbox is blowing up.
Ya’ll have MAD OPINIONS about Joe Biden. Since yesterday’s newsletter about him, I’ve received more emails than I care to count.
More striking than the volume, however, was the range of opinions—because the HEATED community is usually pretty in sync.
There are more than 12,000 of you now. And from what I’ve gathered, you’re a pretty diverse group. I regularly hear from non-profit executives and staffers; academic professors and undergraduate students; activists from Big Green and grassroots justice groups; lawmakers and staffers from every level of government; and just generally climate-concerned people.
You all clearly understand how important the next U.S. president will be toward determining whether we hit the 1.5 degree Celsius target. And yet, you all have wildly different views about whether the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination is the best person for the job.
This is a good thing! It means we still have an area where climate-concerned people can have a good-faith, “both sides” discussion about what’s needed to prevent climate chaos. If you read Monday’s issue about conservatives’ new baby-eating argument, you know that’s a rare phenomenon.
I want the HEATED community to understand each other, and be able to engage in good-faith disagreements. So here’s the basic gist of what my inbox looked like yesterday.
“Please, don’t make it Joe Biden”
“The reason climate voters favor Biden is likely the same reason most Democratic voters favor him,” reader Bill Kitchen wrote me. “They think he has the best chance of beating Trump, which is everyone’s main objective.”
Some climate voters are indeed prioritizing candidates’ electability over their climate policy plans. Reader A. Williams, for example, wrote: “Plans really mean nothing in the realm of presidential politics because they are only trying to buy your vote with a plan. What they will actually prioritize once in office is another thing. Now, I just want someone to beat Trump.”
Many readers told me they believe Biden is the candidate to beat Trump, and they base that belief on polls like this one. It shows Biden easily beating Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up, while other Democratic candidates struggle.
The threat Trump’s re-election poses to a livable climate is very real, and very scary. So I think we can all empathize with climate voters who want to prevent that outcome.
But Kitchen argues there are “good reasons to believe that Biden is not the most likely to beat Trump, which are similar to the reasons [Hillary Clinton] did not beat him [in the 2016 election].” He pointed me to a recent CSPAN clip of veteran climate journalist Naomi Klein making this case. (It’s around the 1:44:40 mark).
Klein argues that Clinton lost because she was too compromised on crucial issues like sexual misconduct, nepotism, and self-dealing—areas where Trump was weak. Now, Klein argues, Trump still is most vulnerable on those issues—particularly, “the ways in which his family has profited from the presidency.” Thus, the most electable candidate will be someone who can effectively convey the message that Trump is using taxpayers for personal financial gain.
“Now ask yourself,” Klein argues, “Is Joe Biden a trusted messenger for that message? Or are his hands tied behind his back in the way Hillary Clinton’s hands were tied behind her back?” She pointed to the controversy surrounding the former vice president’s son Hunter Biden—specifically, the part where Hunter received $50,000 per month to serve on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company in 2014. Hunter “had no apparent qualifications for the job except that his father was the vice president and involved in the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy,” according to Vox.
“Trump is a formidable foe… We need a candidate whose hands aren’t tied behind their back,” Klein said. “So please, don’t make it Joe Biden. I just would like to say that.”
“He is headed in the right direction.”
In addition to disagreements about Biden’s ability to beat Trump, HEATED readers also disagreed about whether Biden would actually be effective at solving the climate crisis if he became the president. I’ll be transparent: I share these concerns, mostly due to the Obama administration’s complicated climate record. I am not as convinced about Biden being a guaranteed climate disaster as others are, though.
Not all climate voters are convinced that Biden would be a climate disaster, either. Channing Dutton, from West Des Moines, Iowa, told me in an email that he used to be skeptical about Biden’s commitment to aggressive climate action. “He started slow in Iowa,” he wrote. “Sort of dragged his feet and mumbled about natural gas and other nonsense.”
In the last few months, though, Dutton said he’s noticed a change. “He started talking climate more frequently,” he wrote. “He did a ‘climate conversation’ with Iowa state senator Rob Hogg in Cedar Rapids. More than an hour of climate discussion and Q and A.”
Most importantly, Dutton said Biden was the only candidate who stopped for him during the candidate parade at the Iowa steak fry last month. Dutton was holding a large poster with a photo of his daughter and grandson—which said “POTUS Pledge Day 1, Climate Action for Them”—and waving a marker.
“When Biden walked by with his 1,000 supporters in [the] parade, he saw the sign, read it, asked me to show him the back (an even bigger version of the baby photo) and then signed it,” Dutton said. “He was the only one to sign it that day.” (Seventeen Democratic candidates were in attendance.)
Channing still isn’t a full-throated Biden supporter, and prefers other candidates. But now, when his friends talk badly about Biden’s climate record, he said he pushes back. “I am certainly reassured that he is headed in the right direction,” he wrote.
“His heart is in the right place … but he would be a disaster.”
The right direction still isn’t enough for some HEATED readers.
“I like Joe Biden,” wrote reader Kip Malinosky, a public school teacher in Arlington, Virginia. “He's charismatic, funny and his heart is in the right place.”
“But he would be a disaster as president on the climate crisis,” Malinosky continued.
His refusal to eliminate the filibuster would mean Mitch McConnell—or whoever would be the Republican Senate Minority leader (if we're so lucky to take the majority)—would have veto power over every piece of climate crisis legislation.
Nancy Pelosi's House passed a climate bill—albeit a weak one—in 2009, only to have it die at the hands of a McConnell filibuster.
We can't afford to make the same mistake again. We need a president committed to restoring majority rule in the Senate: Elizabeth Warren is that candidate.
Relatedly, a lot of you really like Elizabeth Warren.
I’ll do an issue on her very soon.
OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED!
If you liked it, please forward it to a friend. If you’ve been forwarded this, you can sign up for daily emails by clicking the button below:
Questions or comments about today’s issue? E-mail me: email@example.com
Suggestions for hot action? E-mail them to: firstname.lastname@example.org