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Impact Of Climate Policy On 2020 Presidential Election


On the most recent Pew Research survey of top issues for voters this year, climate change didn't even make the top 10 - but not for Varshini Prakash. She's executive director of the environmental justice group Sunrise Movement. She helped edit a book called "Winning the Green New Deal," and her organization gave Joe Biden's initial climate platform an F-rating. But as Biden became the likely Democratic nominee for president, Prakash joined his climate change task force to make sure aggressive climate policy had a place on the ballot this year. When we spoke earlier today, I asked her about how she's seen his climate policy shift while she's been helping shape it.

VARSHINI PRAKASH: We have seen his climate plan improve considerably over the last three months. Now he's championing policies to decarbonize our power sector by 2035. We've seen him increase the level of investment from a $1.7 trillion green jobs and infrastructure plan to a $2 trillion plan over the next four years. On the whole, our core goal was to go in and increase Joe Biden's ambition and the timeline upon which these benchmarks are happening to decarbonize the economy and ensure that environmental justice and climate justice is at the core and at the heart of his agenda.

PFEIFFER: Climate seems to have fallen out of the headlines lately. That's even with record-breaking heat, fires, hurricanes. Instead, the news is dominated by pandemic and economic collapse and racial justice. What's your level of concern that climate change may not be getting sufficient political attention? And how do you get that attention?

PRAKASH: I think the key here is to understand that the climate crisis is essentially connected to every single one of these crises that are emerging, whether it is the uprisings against white supremacy or whether it is the tens of millions of jobs that have been lost in this economic downturn. In large part, I believe the climate crisis is even a thing because we have racial and economic inequality in this country.

For example, I believe that after Hurricane Katrina, we would have had a Green New Deal passed 15 years ago. And yet here we are 15 years later, and we've got a double-header storm and communities in the Gulf South that are still suffering. We would have had a Green New Deal following Hurricane Maria when thousands more of Puerto Ricans perished. But because we do not value Black lives and brown lives and Indigenous lives and poor lives as much as others, we have not taken the drastic and necessary measures to prevent suffering.

PFEIFFER: Do you think climate plays out in local political races as well? Or do voters think of it mostly as something that has to be addressed on a national issue?

PRAKASH: No, I think it absolutely plays out at the local level. The climate crisis takes so many different forms in different communities. In Iowa, we're seeing the role that corporate agriculture and factory farming plays as being really detrimental to communities - or Detroit, the level of fossil fuel infrastructure contributing to asthma and disease for the majority-Black community. Earlier, we have seen the election of Jamaal Bowman over Eliot Engel in New York, which - Jamaal Bowman actively ran and championed a Green New Deal when his opponent refused to do so. The climate crisis is affecting people at the local and state level not just, you know, in national politics.

PFEIFFER: So have you thought ahead to if President Trump is reelected? What will your approach be to try to advance your climate goals with a presidential administration that may be less receptive than Joe Biden would have been?

PRAKASH: We're still figuring some of that out. What I'll say is, everything that has happened with the Green New Deal at the federal level and many of the substantive state legislative battles that have been won have been under the shadow of the Trump administration. And so I do believe that there is absolutely still space to fight and contest and win. But it will be far, far easier if we have a Biden presidency.

PFEIFFER: Varshini Prakash is executive director of the Sunrise Movement, and her new book is called "Winning the Green New Deal."

Varshini, thanks for coming on the program.

PRAKASH: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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