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Davis, California

Monday, May 27, 2024

For the sake of the environment alone, moderates AND progressives must unify behind the Democratic nominee.

No matter who it is. No matter what.

Like many American progressives, I believe our country is in desperate need of many fundamental changes. And I agree with the progressive principles that inform the policies that have been proposed as potential solutions to the many problems we face, especially pollution and environmental degradation.

It remains to be seen whether Democratic voters will nominate a moderate or a progressive to face President Donald Trump. Unfortunately, there is a sentiment among the optimistic and idealistic young progressives that it would reflect badly upon them to vote for the Democratic nominee if it isn’t the “wokest,” “least problematic” and most progressive candidate who would institute the most sweeping changes to American society. In other words, that centrism and incremental change isn’t worth it when radical change is needed. Uh… isn’t this where we got into trouble last time?

Idealism is good, but the Trump administration’s destructive environmental policies alone would make it silly for disillusioned progressives to sit out another presidential election just to spite the centrists. Even though some of the Democratic candidates might be “worse” on the environment than others, they are all astronomically better than Trump, and they will halt or reverse the worst environmental actions Trump has taken. They all actually take environmental issues seriously, unlike Trump and his ilk. They would not weaponize environmental policies for retaliatory purposes against their critics, claim that windmills cause cancer, mock people like Greta Thunberg (twice) or accuse energy-efficient light bulbs of spontaneously giving them orange clown face.

So, for the sake of the environment, we are obligated to make the pragmatic choice and vote for the Democratic candidate. No matter who it is. No matter what. Pragmatism does not imply abandoning idealism — they are not mutually exclusive. But we are at a point where maintaining our lofty idealism necessitates being more pragmatic in the short term.

Some might argue that the only pragmatic thing we can do to save the planet is to implement massive policies like the Green New Deal or only elect leaders who won’t ever extract more fossil fuels. In the long term, that’s probably true. But rhetoric like this in the short term oversimplifies aspects of pollution and climate change and makes us forget about the million and one less sexy environmental problems Trump has created or exacerbated. These are problems that an incoming Democratic president could meaningfully address. 

Over the last year, the New York Times has compiled a list of 85 rules (and counting) that Trump has, or is planning to weaken or undo. Trump has slashed the EPA budget and staff and marginalized scientists within the department. Trump revoked California’s right under the Clean Air Act to make more fuel-efficient cars. Trump reversed a ban on plastic water bottles in national parks, even though evidence proved the effort reduces litter. Trump stopped funding efforts to reduce carbon emissions in poorer countries. Trump delayed a rule that limits toxic discharges from power plants into public waterways. Groundwater protections at uranium mines are going away. Coal companies can now dump mining debris into local streams. Trump rejected a ban on chlorpyrifos, “a pesticide linked to developmental disabilities in children.” Lead ammunition and tackle can be used on federal lands again. It is now harder to take climate change into account when protecting endangered species

Trump loosened safety regulations enacted after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The 2017 tax bill opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a pristine wilderness, for oil drilling. Trump proposed drilling in most of the nation’s coastal waters as well. There are no longer water pollution rules for fracking on federal or Indian lands. And mines don’t have to prove that they can pay to clean up future pollution. The radioactive waste “problem” was “solved” by downgrading its danger. The EPA wants levels of rocket fuel in our drinking water that are 10 to 50 times above safe levels. Trump revived Pebble Mine in Alaska, which President Barack Obama’s EPA already determined would devastate the prolific salmon fisheries of Bristol Bay. An EPA “math trick” allows power plants to “reduce air pollution” (on paper). Trump rolled back Obama’s Clean Water Rule, which protected streams that provide drinking water; the administration sneakily manipulated the cost-benefit analysis so that all potential economic benefits of the rule were simply ignored. Hilarious.

There is a difference between eliminating a few redundant regulations and swinging a wrecking ball. Many Trump supporters are for deregulation, but I don’t remember them chanting for more poison in their water at Trump’s MAGA rallies. These actions just make it easier and cheaper for corporations to vandalize natural habitats and poison animals and humans.

All this just to “own the Libs” and “satisfy” some dirty industry CEOs? 

Oh, and Trump’s pointless trade war has likely helped drive the massive fires in the Amazon, as farmers and ranchers clear more land to satiate China’s demand for soybeans, which they previously sourced from the U.S. 

This is why the 2020 election must be a referendum on Trump’s pernicious environmental policies. It can’t just be about whether the Democratic candidate is “inspiring” or “woke” enough.

For the progressives who see my suggestions as settling for less, well, it isn’t. Bill Maher explained it best on his show, recently saying, “You say you want a revolution? Well, you know… You gotta get elected first. We’ll get to the revolution, but remember, put on YOUR oxygen mask before assisting your child.”

Written by: Benjamin Porter— bbporter@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


  1. You focus a lot on the dogmatic-left rejecting the pragmatism of the sensible-left and getting the worst possible outcome because of it. Which is a totally sensible criticism of the dogmatic-left.

    But I think there is a lack of attention on how the sensible-left is *terrified* of the dogmatic-left’s frankly insane policies. You call the Green New Deal “massive,” but that’s missing the bigger issue: it is a bundle of inane, unworkable, fantasy-land policies supported by nonsensical, paper-thin analysis that any person with a modicum of commitment to reality has forcefully rejected. It was mocked so thoroughly by all people to the right of Chairman Mao that they took down the original draft and tried to pretend like it never happened. And even the updated draft is still a train wreck.

    The dogmatism and the zeal of those who might reject a moderate Democrat due to a childish and egocentric aversion to compromise is a problem, sure. Purity is always its own downfall. The bigger problem is that the far-left have created their own bubble, firmly isolated from the uncomfortable complexities and compromises and facts that are required to actually be effectual. An aversion to lunacy is only reasonable; it is not reasonable to expect or ask the sensible-left to support the preposterous policies of the far-left just because the right is even more insane. And unfortunately, the Democrats seem intent on choosing weak and crazy candidates like Elizabeth Warren over someone sensible like Pete Buttgieg.


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