The Atlantic reports that Jay Inslee is planning a presidential campaign.
That’s the current Democratic governor of the state of Washington, just in case you’re drawing a blank. And he’s talking about running a campaign that is, if not completely focused on one issue, then heavily focused upon it:
Inslee says he has one priority: global warming. It’s not theoretical, or a cause just for tree huggers anymore. Putting off dealing with it for a year or two or kicking it to some new bipartisan commission won’t work, he says. He plans to focus on the threat that climate change poses to the environment and national security—the mega-storms and fires causing millions in damages, the weather changes that will cause mass migrations, the droughts that will devastate farmers in America and around the world.
Conservatives may scoff, but hey, good for Inslee. He and a chunk of the environmentalist movement have argued for quite some time that this is the most important issue facing the country and humanity as a whole, dwarfing even economic challenges or terrorism. Let Inslee and his biggest fans go out and make that case to the voting public and we’ll see how it goes.
There’s quite a bit of polling evidence that suggests most of the public is generally and vaguely concerned about climate change, but not particularly motivated to do anything about it. The issue barely appeared in Democrats’ ads in 2018 midterm elections. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication released a survey that found that 70 percent think global warming is happening, 62 percent think that it is affecting the weather, and 57 percent think that it is affected by human activities. But only 41 percent think that it will harm them personally. And a survey earlier in the year by the same organization found that global warming ranked 15th on voters’ list of priorities, although liberal Democrats ranked it fourth, behind healthcare, gun policies, and separate “environmental protection.”
In Inslee’s home state, voters rejected a proposal to charge oil companies and other significant polluters in the state $15 per ton of carbon released — a fee that would increase by $2 every year until 2035. The referendum wasn’t even that close, with 56 percent voting against it and 43 percent voting for it.
Interestingly, environmentalism itself is less popular than it used to be — in 2018, only 42 percent of Americans self-identified as an environmentalist, when 78 percent did in 1991.
And we saw the reaction in France when the “yellow vests” responded to higher gas taxes, which were put in place to fight climate change.
All of this, coupled with the crowded field, suggest that Inslee may have a tough time gaining traction in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. But stranger things have happened. And if Jay Inslee stumbles and never gets any traction, the environmental movement will have to grapple with the fact that despite all of their dire warnings about climate change, many Americans are comfortable prioritizing other issues and waiting for someone else to take action.