In 30 seconds, Yang offered a mix of ill-informed defeatism about our ability to thwart the worst effects of a changing climate and an ill-conceived adaptation plan that would require individuals to do the heavy lifting that only a government can. Add in his climate plan explicitly calls for geoengineering, and it’s clear Andrew Yang isn’t just bad at climate politics. He has the most dangerous ideas about climate in the entire Democratic field.
CNN brought Yang into the mix to talk about climate change after Washington Governor Jay Inslee and former Vice President Joe Biden sparred over their respective plans to address the climate crisis. Though neither had mentioned Yang, anchor Dana Bash kicked it to him. Yang’s response started off mostly fine, as he talked about how the planet has been exceedingly hot and that the heat waves we’ve seen this summer are part of the trend of more extreme weather. He also correctly noted the U.S. is responsible for only a portion of global emissions—that even if we stopped emitting carbon pollution today, the climate would still continue to change for centuries in response to past emissions.
All this is based on good, sound science. And the takeaway to me is the U.S. needs to assume the mantle of global climate leadership and embark on a moonshot or World War II-style (or whatever historical analog you prefer) mobilization of technology, research, and human capital to avert catastrophic climate change. Instead, we get this conclusion from Yang:
“This is going to be a tough truth, but we are too late. We are 10 years too late.”
“We are 10 years too late” is the absolute shittiest climate messaging I could imagine a presidential candidate using. Yes, it’s even worse than Donald Trump’s braindead climate denial, which is transparently stupid as opposed to Yang’s veneer of science-backed wisdom.
But the real issue is, it’s also breathtakingly, dangerously wrong. If humanity had started reducing emissions 10 years ago, the lift to get to net-zero emissions by mid-century required to avert 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming would’ve been easier. Instead, global emissions have increased over the past decade, and now the lift becomes harder, but it doesn’t mean we’re too late.
“Yes, we should have rapidly reduced emissions a while ago,” Costa Samaras, a climate adaptation expert at Carnegie Mellon, told Earther. “But humanity gets a vote on how bad climate impacts will be. Global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius isn’t great, but it’s better than 2 degrees, which is much better than 3 degrees. The magnitude and scale of future impacts depends on what we do now.”
Every megaton of carbon dioxide emitted (or not) matters. The world has a finite amount of carbon it can emit before we set the worst impacts of climate change in motion, and we haven’t blown through it yet. And because of the aforementioned centuries-long response of the climate, the choices we make for dealing with carbon emissions today will echo far into the future. Pretending otherwise is indulging in dangerous defeatism, and millions of Americans—many of whom want to hear more about the climate crisis and solutions—got to indulge in it with Yang.
Spreading this mentality now is the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time—a time when we need to be pushing for extremely bold actions. Even if Yang loses the nomination, which appears highly likely, pushing defeatism on a national stage only serves to help the idea spread just when we, the voters, must put increasing pressure on government officials to take the possibility of global climate catastrophe seriously and do something about it before it really is too late.
Plans for bold action are something we’ve seen from a number of other major Democratic presidential candidates, including Governor Inslee and Senator Elizabeth Warren who have comprehensive climate plans. Even Joe Biden has a plan—it isn’t on the same level as Inslee’s or Warren’s, but it’s still solid. The point is nobody is engaging in defeatism and saying we’re too late, and Yang’s sentiment otherwise is dangerously misguided.
“We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground.”