Democrats are falling into a climate trap
The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same.
Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn't mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it.
If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the Upper Midwest, his path will likely go through abortion and climate change, two issues on which the Democrats are most confident in their righteousness and willing to embrace radical policies that appeal to their own voters much more than anyone else.
Joe Biden, the relative moderate, is subject to these forces. He dumped his longtime support for the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding of abortion last week and released a climate plan that, even if more modest than the "Green New Deal" (a low bar), is clearly derived from it.
"Climate" is a watchword among the Democratic presidential candidates -- and an enormous downside risk. Once you are convinced that you are addressing a planet-threatening crisis that will soon become irreversible, prudence and incrementalism begin to look dispensable.
There's no doubt that climate is a top-tier issue for Democrats. In a CNN poll, 96 percent of Democrats say it's very important that candidates support "taking aggressive action to slow the effects of climate change." It's doubtful that mom, baseball and apple pie would poll any higher.
Among the broader public, according to a survey by climate change programs at Yale and George Mason universities, 70 percent believe that climate change is happening, and 57 percent believe that humans are causing it.
It's easy to overinterpret these numbers, though. An Associated Press/University of Chicago poll asked people how much they were actually willing to pay to fight climate change, and 57 percent said at least $1 a month, or not even the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
The political experience of other advanced democracies is a flashing red light. In Australia last month, the liberal opposition lost what was supposed to be "the climate change" election, against all expectations. Pre-election polling showed that about 60 percent of Australians thought the government should address climate change "even if this involves significant costs." It turned out that it was one thing to tell that to pollsters and another to vote to make it happen.
In France, gas and diesel hikes as part of a government plan to reduce carbon emissions by 75 percent sparked the yellow vest movement in car-dependent suburbs and towns, and had to be ignominiously reversed.