Naomi Klein: Why the Democratic National Committee Must Change the Rules and Hold a Climate Debate

A girl holds a sign that reads 'pull the emergency brake' as she attends a ceremony in the area which once was the Okjokull glacier, in Iceland, Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. With poetry, moments of silence and political speeches about the urgent need to fight climate change, Icelandic officials, activists and others bade goodbye to the first Icelandic glacier to disappear. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
A girl holds a sign that reads “pull the emergency brake” at a ceremony to commemorate the Okjökull glacier in Iceland, on Aug. 18, 2019. Photo: Felipe Dana/AP

DEAR MEMBERS OF THE DNC:

Your meeting in San Francisco this weekend takes place against a backdrop that is literally on fire. You are gathering one month after the hottest month ever recorded in human history. You are meeting on the same week that smoke from a record number of wildfires in the Amazon rainforest turned day into night in the Brazilian megapolis of São Paulo. And you are meeting just days after Iceland’s prime minister led her country in its first funeral service for a major glacier lost to climate change.

This is the terrifying context in which you will vote on a series of resolutions to determine whether the presidential primaries will include a dedicated debate about the climate emergency. Not the already scheduled climate “forum” or climate “town hall,” which will surely be fascinating for those who seek them out — but a formal televised debate among the top candidates vying to lead your party and the country.

I am writing to add my voice to the hundreds of thousands of others who have called on you to use your power to turn that debate into a reality.

Many of you are already on board, including the chairs of several state parties, but you are up against some powerful opponents. Let’s take on their two main counterarguments in turn.

First, you will hear that the rules on debates are already set. And, as DNC Chair Tom Perez has declared, the party “will not be holding entire debates on a single issue area.” But here’s the thing: Having a habitable Earth is not a “single issue”; it is the single precondition for every other issue’s existence. Humbling as it may be, our shared climate is the frame inside which all of our lives, causes, and struggles unfold.

More immediately, climate breakdown is already pouring fuel on every evil that humans are capable of conjuring, from deadly wars to femicide to unmasked white supremacy and colonialism. Indeed, President Donald Trump is currently throwing a tantrumbecause he is being denied what he perceives as the United States’s manifest destiny to purchase the Indigenous-governed territory of Greenland, which has become increasingly valuable because of the wealth made accessible by melting ice. In short, there is nothing singular about planetary breakdown — it encompasses, quite literally, everything.

Other members of the DNC will argue that the climate debate must be shut down because if you give in to this wave of pressure, spearheaded by the Sunrise Movement, it will open up the floodgates for every progressive constituency demanding a dedicated debate of their own.

DNC HEADQUARTERS IN NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2019/08/13: Members of the Sunrise Movement hubs from all across New York state gathered for a raucous rally on August 13, 2019 outside of the DNC headquarters on 420 Lexington Avenue in New York City to pressure the NY members of the DNC to vote for a climate debate when the DNC gathers in San Francisco on August 22-24. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Members of the Sunrise Movement hubs from across New York gathered for a rally on Aug. 13, 2019, outside the DNC headquarters in New York City to pressure the state members to vote for a climate debate. Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
In truth, that will probably happen. And in retrospect, it probably would have served the country better to have a series of issue-based debates, rather than the incoherent free-for-alls we’ve been treated to so far. But the political and bureaucratic hassles you will face should you greenlight a climate debate need to be weighed against something far more important: the fact that, by breaking your own rules, you have a critical chance to model what it means to treat climate breakdown like a true emergency, which is precisely what the next administration needs to do if our species is going to have a fighting chance. And when you think about it (and I hope you do), that is a pretty fearsome responsibility. MORE

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