Climate change got unprecedented airtime at the Democratic National Convention this week, sending the party onto the campaign trail this fall with a historically ambitious environmental agenda.
The convention — which went off without any major problems this week, despite its unusual, almost entirely virtual format — kicks off the final stretch of the presidential campaign season, with former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democrats’ official candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris his vice presidential running mate. The Republican convention is next week, and will also be mostly virtual.
In contrast to the massive, arena-sized gatherings of past presidential election years — with thousands of people, lobbyists, media and more — the Democrats’ convention more closely resembled a produced television event.
Participants gave speeches around the country, interspersed with pre-made videos and musical performances. It was a visible reminder of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing efforts to reduce transmission.
And while the virtual nature of the convention was its most unusual aspect, the content was also novel, with climate change and the environment playing a starring role as an area of stark contrast between Biden and President Trump. Below are some of the major takeaways.
Climate takes center stage
Climate change and other environment and energy policy issues were front and center in a way never seen before.
The issues had top billing, popping up in most major speeches throughout the convention, as well as getting a segment of their own.
"We can, and we will, deal with climate change," Biden said in his speech formally accepting the party’s nomination. "It’s not only a crisis, it’s an enormous opportunity: an opportunity for America to lead the world in clean energy and create millions of new, good-paying jobs in the process."
The segment dedicated to climate change on Wednesday featured figures like New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and youth activist Alexandria Villaseñor.
Singer Billie Eilish urged young people to vote for Biden, declaring, "Donald Trump is destroying our country and everything we care about," including the climate.
Climate got far less play in the Democrats’ 2016 convention, and Hillary Clinton, the party’s candidate that year, gave the issue only a brief mention in her main speech.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
In a time of economic crisis, the Democratic climate and environmental message was focused heavily on creating jobs and rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Build back better" was a slogan repeated throughout the week, a reference to Biden’s plan for jobs and the economy.
"Together we can, and we will, rebuild our economy, and when we do, we’ll not only build it back, we’ll build it back better," Biden said last night.
"With modern roads, bridges, highways, broadband, ports and airports as a new foundation for economic growth. With pipes that transport clean water to every community."
On climate change, especially, it’s an easy selling point for Democrats looking to deter Republican attacks that they’re running on a "socialist" agenda.
To that end, unions had a heavy influence on the convention. Biden pledged last night that his presidency would see "newly empowered unions," and a video segment about his climate plan Wednesday evening was narrated by an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers member from Pennsylvania.
In an additional unprecedented move, Trump and the GOP worked intently to counterprogram the Democratic convention.
Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others made numerous swing-state visits throughout the week, culminating in a speech yesterday by the president miles from Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa.
Trump used the appearances to paint Biden as a puppet of far-left progressives who want to end all fossil fuels, including hydraulic fracturing — a potential lightning rod in Pennsylvania, despite Biden’s statements that he doesn’t want a nationwide fracking ban.
"You’re not going to be allowed to frack anymore," Trump said in Old Forge, Pa. "You’re not going to be allowed. No oil, no nothing. No oil, no gas, no nothing. Just think of that. What would happen is, well, first of all, many of you, I guess 600,000, 670,000 lose their jobs."
In an appearance earlier in the week in Minnesota, an additional potential swing state, Trump said Biden wants to "take our energy away. If you can you believe it. No fossil fuels."
Trump spokesman Tim Murtaugh wrapped up the counter-convention argument thusly: "By accepting his party’s nomination tonight, Joe Biden has formally become a pawn of the radical leftists. His name is on the campaign logo, but the ideas come from the socialist extremists."
Murtaugh said in a statement after Biden’s speech: "He would kill 10 million energy jobs with the Green New Deal."
Clash over platform
Progressives were generally pleased by the attention Democrats paid to climate change this week, but a flap over the platform highlighted ongoing tensions with the party’s establishment.
When DNC officials met to tweak their draft party platform late last month, they approved a laundry list of additions, including a pledge to "support eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels."
But that language was nixed from the final platform, which the DNC said came after officials representing Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — his progressive rival in the primary — agreed that it had been added by mistake (E&E Daily, Aug. 19).
First reported by HuffPost earlier this week, the move enraged progressive activists who have long pushed to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Indeed, a similar passage was included in the 2016 platform.
And contrary to the DNC’s statement, John Laesch, who sponsored the language in the drafting process, said on Twitter that officials had "deleted the amendment without my consent."
It exposed an ongoing rift after climate activists had spent much of the last year fighting with the DNC to hold a climate-focused primary debate and accusing the party of caving to corporate interests.
Still, both Biden and Harris support tossing out federal subsidies for fossil fuels, a point the campaign reiterated this week.