On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton accepts the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Much has been said already about the speeches, the Bernie Sanders supporters walking out, the musical acts. But not much has been said about climate change — one of the many issues in the 51-page party platform. Some say it is the number one priority for the next president of the United States.
Earlier this month at a Democratic Delegates committee meeting in Orlando, Florida, a proposed amendment to the party platform called Global Climate Leadership was read aloud.
A portion of it: “Just as America’s greatest generation led the effort to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II, so must our generation now lead a World War II-type national mobilization to save civilization from catastrophic consequences.”
If that language sounds familiar, you might have heard Bernie Sanders say something similar, back in March on MSNBC.
“In World War II, for example,” Sanders told host Chuck Todd, “the United States had to fight a war on two fronts in a very short period of time. And within three years, actually, we had essentially won the war.”
Sanders said he looks at climate change “in almost military terms. I look at the fact that if we do not significantly reduce carbon emissions, there’s going to be massive damage done to our country and to this planet.”
Sanders started using this military language over the past year, on advice from climate activists like Russell Greene, who is also the delegate from California who proposed the platform language on climate change.
The final platform was tweaked by the campaigns since the Orlando meeting, but Greene says the important parts remain intact, including phrases like “World War II-type national mobilization.”
Greene says the words elevate the topic of climate change, making it an emergency issue, not just one issue among others.
“Our intention was to look through the entire platform and find places for the World War II mobilization to be articulated,” Greene says. “As well [as] connect it to things that are already in the program, like the jobs program, a classic Democratic idea.”
There’s no better way to create employment, Greene says, “than address the climate emergency and the infrastructure change that’s required.”
If Pearl Harbor was the defining moment for the United States in 1941, it’s not clear what that moment could be for climate change. Maybe food shortages, or a war over water.
Margaret Klein Salamon, founder of The Climate Mobilization, a project that makes the case for a World War II-scale mobilization to address global warming, also provided the Sanders campaign with information. Salamon says this style of approach — an idea that’s been around for decades — is slowly becoming a movement.
“I think we’re going to have to rely on more persuasion, more community education, more social movements to accomplish the kind of collective awakening that Pearl Harbor accomplished,” Salamon says.
In the Democratic Party platform, the language about a “War on Climate Change” could easily be ignored. There’s nothing binding about it. But David Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, says that isn’t happening. Hillary Clinton is using the platform to her advantage, and for her, it’s not that big a deal.
“Here’s the place where [Clinton] can take steps to satisfy Sanders and the Sanders supporters in the party, and try to make them as committed and enthusiastic as possible to working on behalf of [her] in the fall election,” Hopkins says.
It’s a win-win. Bernie Sanders told his supporters earlier this week they should be proud. Because of them, this is “the most progressive party platform ever written in the history of the Democratic Party.”
But nine years ago, Hillary Clinton also spoke about climate change in this way, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during her first run for president.
“For this generation of Americans, climate change is our Space Race,” Clinton told the crowd. “It is our home-front mobilization during World War II and it is our response to the Great Depression.”
The delegates will find out, as will the rest of us, Thursday night, if Hillary Clinton takes climate change to this same height during her acceptance speech on stage in Philadelphia.