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The Climate Election: Mark Hertsgaard on Why 2024 Must Focus More on Climate Crisis

StoryFebruary 13, 2024
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We speak with The Nation's environment correspondent Mark Hertsgaard, executive director of Covering Climate Now, about how journalists under attack by climate deniers must not let fear of retaliation stop them from covering the subject, especially during an election year. “It's not our job as journalists to censor ourselves because one party or one candidate decides that they’re going to deny climate science. We owe it to the public to report that to the public without fear or favor,” he says. Hertsgaard also discusses the role of climate policy in the 2024 election and the fifth anniversary of progressive lawmakers’ first attempt to pass a Green New Deal.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring into this conversation Mark Hertsgaard, executive director of Covering Climate Now and the environment correspondent for The Nation, where his new piece is headlined “It’s the 2024 Election Season. Where’s the Climate Story?”

Welcome back, Mark, to Democracy Now! Lay out what you’re calling for in this election year, 2024.


And I have to say that the comments that Michael Mann is making right now about how the climate denialism has intimidated scientists into not speaking about their findings, that has happened exactly the same way within our profession of the news media. For too many years, many of our colleagues in the media have been intimidated by these right-wing attacks and have come to think that, “Well, I don’t really understand climate science. I guess I better not talk about it.”

And you see that now in the election, 2024 election, which is that there’s a lot of coverage, obviously, about the campaigns, especially here in the United States, at the presidential level, but very little connection of the fact that these elections are essentially going to shape humanity’s climate future, and not just in the United States. About half of the world’s population is entitled to vote in various elections around the world. We just heard Allan Nairn’s report from Indonesia, very important election there. India is coming up, European Union, U.S., South Africa, Mexico. These elections are going to decide which governments are in power, or not in power, over this next critical five-year period, when we absolutely have got to bend the climate pollution trajectory down, if we’re going to preserve a livable planet on this future. So these elections could not be more important, from a climate perspective. And yet a lot of the media is still not making that connection.

And I can tell you that part of the reason is a fear on their part — I just had this conversation the other day with a very prominent journalist — fear that we will look partisan if we point out, for example, that here in the United States one of the major political parties is still, essentially, denying climate change. That’s the Republicans, of course, and Donald Trump, who has pledged to “drill, baby, drill” from the first day back if he were to be returned to the White House. It’s not our job as journalists to censor ourselves because one party or one candidate decides that they’re going to deny climate science. We owe it to the public to report that to the public without fear or favor.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, Mark, in terms of how the Democratic Party has been handling the issue of climate change during this election season, because there couldn’t be a more stark difference between the two candidates in terms of climate science, at least in terms of their acknowledgment of the crisis that we’re facing.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But is the Democratic Party really pushing forth as strongly as it could on this issue?

MARK HERTSGAARD: You know, Juan, I think it’s hard to know, because so much of what we in the public hear about from the Democratic Party or from the White House is filtered, again, through the prism of the news media. And, for example, the Inflation Reduction Act, certainly the biggest climate legislation ever passed, probably in the world, certainly here in the United States, and passed, by the way, by a Democratic president, through a Congress that still has a lot of Republican control in it — the White House has been very frustrated that the general public does not know about that, and the White House has tried and tried, it says, to put Biden on the road to talk about this. And it’s not getting the kind of press coverage that at least I would have expected.

So, I think that you’re certainly right that there is a huge contrast between a Democratic and a Republican approach to this. Is Biden’s climate record perfect? Far from it. The U.S. is still now the biggest oil and gas producer in the world. You know, he greenlighted the Willow project, oil project, up in Alaska. But he just put a pause on liquid natural gas export facilities across the Gulf Coast. So, as voters, I think it’s very important for people who are out there as citizens to remember that, to quote my colleague Rebecca Solnit, “When you’re thinking about your vote, your vote is not a Valentine” — with all due respect to Valentine’s tomorrow. “Your vote is not a Valentine. It’s a chess move.” You don’t have to approve of everything a certain candidate does, in order to say, “I’m still going to vote.” If you care about climate, vote. If you care about fairness, vote. If you care about peace, vote.

AMY GOODMAN: This week, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez marked the five-year anniversary of the introduction of the Green New Deal.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: We are going to go, and we have to go to every single frontline community and ensure that they are not left behind. We’re going to create millions of unionized jobs across the United States of America. We are going to revamp our transmission lines, install solar, commit to geothermal. And we are going to transition this country to clean and renewable energy, and create a sustainable working class in the process of doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hertsgaard, we just have 30 seconds. But again, that’s AOC celebrating now five years since Green New Deal was introduced.

MARK HERTSGAARD: And that Green New Deal is what gave us the Inflation Reduction Act, somewhat trimmed down from the original vision of the Green New Deal, but that’s where, again, elections are important. AOC ran, took on a moderate Democrat who everybody said was unbeatable. She beat him and injected all of this new energy and great ideas into the American political discourse, like the Green New Deal. And I think that’s exactly why we in the press have to be paying much more attention to the climate issue here in 2024.

AMY GOODMAN: As the Northeast is shut down by what is expected to be a monster storm, it just recently started snowing here in the city. The schools are closed from here to Boston. Mark Hertsgaard, executive director of Covering Climate Now, we’ll link to your new article in The Nation, “It’s the 2024 Election Season. Where’s the Climate Story?” And thanks so much to Michael Mann, professor of Earth and environmental science at University of Pennsylvania, just awarded $1 million in a defamation lawsuit.

Happy birthday to Brendan Allen! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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