The debate on the left about what lessons to take from the 2020 US election has the same contours as the main debate within climate change activism, with one side arguing that the success of the right demonstrates that Democrats have compromised too much with Republicans while a strongly progressive candidate and platform would have done better with voters while the other argues that since most of the available votes are to the right of progressives the Democrats’ promotion of policies which appeal to their most fervent base turns off centrist voters while energizing the conservative base.
This is a lot like the debate between climate justice advocates who favour a broadly intersectional progressive agenda including economic redistribution and the endorsement of a broad range of social justice causes and climate-energy or CO2-energy advocates who think the most plausible path to success is to remain focused narrowly on climate in ways calculated to not offend or challenge those with more conservative political views.
Since both arguments rely on counterfactuals (if only we had done this or that) the debate is hard to resolve. Either can be reconciled with the political outcomes we have observed, though each has contradictory implications for what the best approach moving forward is.
On climate specifically, I think one crucial element is the ability of decarbonization policies to endure between changes of government and party. If decarbonization is integrated into a progressive left agenda there is both the risk that the elements with more immediate political benefits will be given priority over the more painful changes needed to deal with climate change and the danger that the next right-wing government will dismantle the whole assembly.
To function, democracies need a consensus that the decisions of past governments were legitimate and that society as a whole needs predictability in what laws and regulations will be in force so that they can make appropriate long-term decisions. The historical pattern so far in climate change policies has been to see comparatively ambitious but still dreadfully inadequate proposals from left-wing governments and then their dismantling and contradiction by succeeding right-wing governments. Breaking out of that pattern somehow seems like our only path to the durable consensus on decarbonization which will need to hold for decades if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change.