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Only Climate-Action Tea Party Can Reform Dems

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Eric Zuesse's recent OpEdNews article on Liz Warren's maiden climate change action ( ) was understandably very popular. After all, Warren, a superstar populist voice against Wall Street, had long been sitting on the fence over climate change, humanity's foremost issue. So, it's understandable that progressives, breathlessly hoping to support her as their most potent antidote to a regressive Hillary Clinton, were enraptured to see her at last stand firm on a question even graver than economic justice.

DONT FEED ON ME--Dems Need to Face a Climate Tea Party
DONT FEED ON ME--Dems Need to Face a Climate Tea Party
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But the frame Zuesse supplied for his article deeply disturbed me. Given how bad Democrats have been on the climate issue, no one should be ready to trust any Democrat to champion climate action, especially based on a single letter signing, albeit important, that was largely off the public radar and therefore required that much less courage. Based on my own analysis, Democrats have been panderers to a public that wants the comforting appearance of climate action without the possibly painful reality, and Obama, speaking climate responsibility (and only rarely, at that) while pursuing "drill, baby, drill" policy, has been the perfect exemplar of climate irresponsibility, Democrat style. If rank-and-file Democrats were as responsibly progressive on climate as Zuesse makes out (largely in the comments to his articles), I don't see how the window for climate action could have become so desperately small. Nor do I see how they could tolerate Obama's climate policies. Nor, above all, do I see how they could have condoned the criminally dishonest Obama-Romney debates, where neither candidate dared breathe a word about humanity's gravest crisis.

In an answer to one of my comments, Zuesse said that Warren's first climate action was more important than Bernie Sanders' long-established willingness to talk publicly about the issue. This assertion strikes me as highly dubious. Pandering cowardice, unwillingness to engage the American public on the climate issue, has long been Democrats' climate stock-in-trade, as much as global warming denial has been Republicans'. My point is that to save the climate--and possibly human survival beyond this century--what we need above all is politicians willing to talk publicly about the issue, and talk in the same stark terms as climate scientists. The public will always like pandering; it will always play well politically. But our only salvation lies in ever larger numbers of politicians not willing to pander, but instead to exercise climate leadership. In other words, to proclaim from their bully pulpits that we must immediately start replacing renewables with fossil fuels--and that all other policies must adjust themselves to that one. Otherwise, there is zero chance of saving the climate.

Since Warren is member of a party whose unstated official policy is climate pandering, and since she's said nothing publicly on the issue (which is precisely why Zuesse's article on her first climate action was news), it's far too early to go proclaiming her some climate change Joan of Arc. To me, the only rational response is to regard her first act of climate righteousness as a hopeful sign, and--since she is potentially progressives' best antidote to a presidential run by Hillary the Horrible--to implore her to follow up her commendable start and become more of a climate champion. That Zuesse's article went so far beyond that cautious, rational stance, even in the very headline of his article, makes me think he cares about the fortunes of progressive Democrats far more than the climate. And his nastiness and name-calling toward those of us who hold a different order of priorities, as evidenced in his comments below his article, strongly suggest to me that he knows his agenda is without rational basis, so he instead must unfairly misrepresent opposing positions and generally bully and bluster. And while my main purpose here isn't to write about Zuesse, I find it essential to caution against the hidden agenda he seemed to be peddling--unnecessarily--alongside a genuinely important bit of news. The danger is that readers will absorb the peddled agenda--electing progressive Democrats no matter what--as part of the news about Warren. Drawing a line in the sand about climate sanity--when the next few years are possibly our last chance to save human civilization--strikes me as a more rational priority.

Now, I'd be a fool to deny that there's a connection between electing progressive Democrats and fighting for climate action. After all, most Republicans are utterly hopeless on climate change, generally denying the science, and Democrats as deep in the pockets of Wall Street and fossil fuel interests as Obama and Hillary Clinton are bad enough on climate action that they might as well deny the science. But Democrats as a party have been horribly irresponsible, letting "fossil fools" such as Obama dictate the actual policy. Or, applying the most rational test of climate irresponsibility, they have been utterly unwilling to do what climate science demands: to launch on an aggressive program of replacing fossil fuels by renewable energies. Only this policy can save the planet, so failing to pursue it strikes me as the very definition of irresponsible. Yet how many Democrats piously blather that we must exploit the blessing of our domestic fossil fuels to guarantee America's energy independence--a policy utterly incompatible with saving a humanly livable climate. We must tolerate such talk from Democrats no longer.

It's clear to me that electing "progressive" Democrats won't help at all--unless their progressiveness includes by definition a commitment to aggressive climate action. And the Democratic Party, unforced, is highly unlikely to produce aggressive climate champions. And most Democrat voters--the very people to whom they pander--are unlikely to pressure Dems to take aggressive climate action, having more pressing concerns and generally being addicted to the lifestyle enabled by fossil fuels. So I see climate activists' only hope--and it's admittedly a slim one--in a passionate minority willing to play political hardball--exactly the sort represented by the Tea Party. But in this case, for the service, not the detriment, of the common good.

Like Tea Partiers, climate activists must become hard-core desperadoes, willing even to wreck Democrats' electoral chances if their climate action demands aren't met. Democrat flacks will inevitably whine that this will turn control of policy over to Republican climate change deniers, but they fail to realize that the policies pursued by Democrats like Obama (or Hillary Clinton), will destroy the climate every bit as surely, only under the cover of more soothing rhetoric. The point is not to throw elections to Republicans, but to impress forcefully on Democrats that we take the climate issue seriously enough that we're willing to run even that risk; all they have to do to appease us is to behave responsibly for once--when irresponsibility likely means destroying human civilization. In my book, only such hardball has the prospect of reforming Democrats; with Democrats urgently needing reform on climate, I have heard no realistic plan for doing so from the likes of Eric Zuesse. Only premature wishful thinking that Elizabeth Warren, unpressured, will buck her party mainstream and become a climate champion. Sure, she has bucked her party against Wall Street, but here she had popular opinion on her side. Where the public likes Democrats' current climate pandering, we can't leave the hopes of lonely, courageous climate championship to wishful thinking.

The meaning and strategy of a climate action Tea Party is a big topic, which I can't comfortably cover in one article. But for now, if you understand the need for political pressure as I do, I'd recommend joining the Green Party--the only visible party whose policies coincide with climate science. I'd also write to key progressive Democrats like Warren announcing that you've become a Green from disgust over Democrats' climate inaction, and if Democrats ever hope to get your vote again, they had better start becoming champions of the climate.


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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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