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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Conventional punditry

By Peter Dykstra in Environmental Health News

I don't like political pundits. I really, really don't like them. So it is with mixed feelings that I give you my punditry on the Democratic Convention.

Climate and environment arrived, and stuck around, at this convention like none before. Virtually every major figure in the party, from Hillary and Bill Clinton and Tim Kaine to the Obamas, Vice President Joe Biden, California Gov. Jerry Brown, runner-up Bernie Sanders and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker – at least tipped their hats to the issues we cover here. 

Conspicuously absent was Al Gore, who skipped his second consecutive convention, missing out on seeing so many of his peers validating his Inconvenient Truths.

By contrast, the GOP speaker roster barely touched on the issues – not even to complain about the climate "hoax" or to compare the EPA to the Third Reich.

The self-hating pundit within me thinks this suggests that the Dems will go long, and coast-to-coast, on climate and environment issues.

The Republicans, who are beginning to grasp that anti-science tactics and climate denial are a big liability, may only campaign on these issues where fierce local controversies exist: The fate of coal in Appalachia; public lands and endangered species in many Western states; oil and gas in oil and gas-producing states; water rights in California's Central Valley.

Elsewhere, they just might not talk about any of it a whole lot.

While many tipped their hat, only three Dem speakers focused solely on the environment, and none of them quite made the prime time, high-viewership part of the program. 

The Mayor of Flint Michigan, Karen Weaver, talked about the drinking water crisis in her city. The actress Sigourney Weaver introduced and narrated a compelling short film on climate change from director James Cameron. But the only scheduled speaker with specific environmental credentials was Gene Karpinski of the League of Conservation Voters. 

LCV has always described itself as a non-partisan group, but the partisan divide on the environment is so strong that not only have they endorsed Hillary Clinton, they did so eight months ago, before it was clear that either Clinton or Trump would be their party's nominees.

For her service in the Senate, LCV gave Clinton an 82 percent lifetime score, far lower than Sanders at 95 percent.

The Democratic platform calls for environmental constraints on trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership, but doesn't oppose such deals outright like both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Possibly thanks to Bernie, it backs away from the Obama Administration's "all of the above" energy policy with goals and targets to pretty much phase out fossil fuels, get 50 percent of our electricity from clean energy in a decade, and cutting out most greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. 

Bernie Sanders supporters pushed hard for a ban on fracking—that didn't happen—but the Dems issued their strongest call yet for limits to fracking. Probably no coincidence that anti-fracking filmmaker Josh Fox was on the platform committee. 

There's even a bit of common ground between the Democratic Party and ExxonMobil: They both want a carbon tax. 

Here are a few more intriguing new wrinkles from the Democrats: They want to decriminalize and regulate marijuana nationwide—that actually might have a big environmental impact given the huge energy and environment footprint that illegal pot farms leave.

In the wake of the wake of the Flint tragedy, the party uses strong language to condemn environmental racism in inner cities, Indian lands, farm communities and elsewhere. 

Environment touches the Democratic platform everywhere.

It is a component in goals on infrastructure, clean energy jobs, science and tech education, NASA, fixing the financial system AND the campaign finance system and corporate concentration, fair trade, racial gaps in income and opportunity, immigration, agriculture, native Americans, public health, keeping a lid on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and constraining illegal wildlife trafficking.

One of the few issues where both party platforms agreed was on rebuilding our electric grid.
Unfortunately, one other issue where the Dems and GOP are in sync is their mutual obsession with attacks on each other.

In Cleveland, Republican speakers seemed to spend far more time attacking Hillary Clinton than discussing the goals of their own guy.

The Democratic platform derails itself from discussing its own goals and values at a frantic pace. In 51 pages of platform text, Donald Trump is mentioned 32 times.

Finally, a word about convention media. I didn't watch every last minute of coverage – I couldn't possibly bear to – but away from the podium speeches,

I didn't hear more than a few words of mention of science, climate, or environment from any of the entourage of TV pundits. That's an inevitable outcome when the campaign analysis comes almost entirely from people whose careers are entirely invested in the political system, or, as I like to call it, the Bullshit-Industrial Complex (BIC).

CNN spent a great deal of time with 8 simultaneous panelists, flanking the network anchors on both sides as if it were a re-enactment of The Last Bullshit Supper. I half expected Anderson Cooper, arms outstretched, to say "Before the next commercial break, one of you will betray me." But even with a Category 8 pundit typhoon, there was no room for mention of these weighty and critical issues.

And about those ads: The American Petroleum Institute was a marquee sponsor for many convention broadcasts. It ought to raise the question of whether broadcasters should hold themselves to the same standard as the candidates they report on and disclose who's paying the bills for their political broadcasts. 

It ought to, but I'd be stunned if it did.

Peter Dykstra is the weekend editor of Environmental Health News and The Daily Climate, independent news sites that cover environmental health, climate change, and energy policy. . For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at