Jay Inslee: Climate Change Is a Winning Campaign Issue — and President Trump Knows It

I’ve heard it my whole career, from pundits, special interests and even political consultants: Just shut up about climate change if you want to be elected. They set up a false dichotomy between the economy and the environment, saying you can’t fight for good jobs and for clean air.

That was bad advice then, and it’s even worse advice now. There is a change happening: Americans really feel climate change in their daily lives — and they are demanding leadership from their politicians like never before.

In my campaign, I’ve seen how climate change — and the coal, oil and gas industries fueling it — have become personal problems for many families.

I met Marsha Maus, who showed me the pile of melted aluminum that once was her mobile home in Agoura Hills, Calif. — before a wildfire tore through town. I spoke with Regina Haddock, whose life work of helping domestic violence victims was swept away in a flood in Davenport, Iowa. And I heard from Shamar Pitts, who shared his worries about raising his newborn daughter near the pollution of an oil refinery in Philadelphia.

The science is clear: We must take major action to reduce carbon pollution in the next decade, or our communities and our children’s lives will suffer dramatic and irreparable harm. The next president will choose whether America leads the world in building a clean energy economy, or we leave our communities facing turmoil and destruction. Climate change cost the United States economy at least $240 billion per year during the past decade, and that figure is projected to rise to $360 billion per year in the coming 10 years. We cannot afford the costs of inaction.

So it is time for Democrats to ignore the standard inside-the-Beltway thinking that talking about the environment risks electoral defeat. The politics of climate change have changed. And the clearest proof point comes from an unlikely source: President Donald Trump himself.

Earlier this month, in a bizarre news conference, Mr. Trump claimed that one of his priorities has been to ensure that America has the cleanest air and water in the world — ignoring his record of environmental damage. He has effectively handed the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency over to the fossil fuel industry, eliminated vital environmental protections and opened our coasts and public lands to drilling at the exact moment we need to stop burning fossil fuels and urgently transition to clean energy.

So, why would the president give a big speech lying about his record on the environment? Because he is scared.

He knows that climate change is his weak spot. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, only 29 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Trump’s position on climate change, while 62 percent disapprove — a wider gulf than on any other issue polled. And Mr. Trump’s own internal polling says his terrible record pillaging the environment is a huge obstacle to his re-election.

Americans see climate change in the floodwater in their homes, the choking smoke from wildfires that envelop their skies and the devastating storms that hit their communities each year. They want us to act.

They also know we can transform our energy systems and create millions of good, family-wage and union jobs by building a clean-energy economy. They know that our nation can rise to this challenge — that we’re still the America capable of accomplishing big things, just as we did when we defeated fascism, put a man on the moon and created the internet age.

The days of Democratic fear should end now: We’re not going to win on climate by running the same duck-and-cover campaigns of the past, nor by offering “middle-ground” approaches that fail to confront this challenge. More than ever, Americans want bold solutions to the climate crisis. Democrats can beat Donald Trump if we elect a nominee who will challenge him on this issue.

My candidacy is unique: No other presidential candidate has said that defeating climate change must be our nation’s top priority. My plan will launch a national mobilization to move America to 100 percent clean energy, create eight million jobs, end our addiction to fossil fuels, ensure a just economic transition for fossil fuel workers, assist the communities who are being hit worst by this crisis, and commit to a more ambitious Paris climate agreement.

Putting climate first is critical: History shows us that if an issue is not the top priority of an administration, it’s not likely to get done. I love being governor of Washington. But on my last day on earth, I want to be able to look my grandchildren in their eyes and say I did everything I could to solve the climate crisis.

We will defeat Donald Trump by attacking his failures on climate change, not by running from the issue.

Jay Inslee is governor of Washington and a Democratic candidate for president.

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