For more than a generation, Democrats have valiantly advocated policies to combat the existential problem of climate change. For this they deserve great moral credit. But, sadly, they have often done so with political naiveté and seeming indifference to the complex energy and climate views of most American voters. The result has frequently been political calamity.
While many in the Party still refuse to admit it, the mishandling of energy and climate issues has played a major role in devastating national election losses for Democrats – particularly in 1994, 2010, and 2016. These losses have relegated Democrats to minority status in the House of Representatives for 16 of the past 20 years, but the wounds are even deeper. After the 2016 election, Democrats have fewer elected officials in office at the combined national, state, and local level than at any time since 1920.1 Of course, many issues have contributed. But energy and climate change together have become essential bellwethers of political identity – touching both cultural and economic concerns directly, in much the same way that the immigration and lost manufacturing jobs issues do.
Legitimately concerned about climate change, many top Democrats have simply lost a realistic perspective on domestic energy politics, and especially the major economic and environmental value of the shale oil and gas boom.