The 2020 Climate Election, Jay Inslee & Me

By Felix Kramer

By Felix Kramer

Wow! We’re having a climate election!

A 10-minute tale: how we got here & how far we could go…

Read & comment at Medium (link gives free access)

UPDATE: On August 21, Jay Inslee ended his campaign. Beyond completing our discussion of his policy proposals, we’re updating this posting only minimally. And our experiences with the candidate and his advisors led us to launch two projects: Briefing Presidential Advisors Can Add Hope to the Climate Debate and Climate Restoration Report Card for 2020 Candidates.

It’s now a sure bet that 2020 will be the first time American citizens can vote on our climate crisis. (See the end of this post for how we got there, inspired by Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and so many new organizations.)

One would-be President is helping us get there. Many candidates are now responding to the Green New Deal. But Washington Governor Jay Inslee is the sole “climate candidate”. He has a lot to say about many issues but that’s why he’s in the race. He leads in making our climate crisis “the number one priority” for his campaign and the country. He can guarantee climate will be front and center in debates. UPDATE: His leadership to guarantee climate will be front and center in a single debate and in all events is already rallying other candidates, party officials, and grassroots groups!

This post tells how I and many colleagues saw signs he might raise his ambitions to a goal beyond what most climate-aware activists and voters think is possible: to actually restore our climate. I tell how we made that case to him — including a back story when Inslee talks about vision. That will resonate especially with anyone whose mood improves when they see or drive an electric car.

The Inslee Campaign story

In December, Inslee showed where he might head, telling Rolling Stone, “It’s about talking about the level of our ambition, and the level of our commitment to our kids, and the level of our sense of optimism. We have to have a vision of the future rather than just a concern about the future. We’ve got to have a positive statement of a way forward rather than just a warning sign.”

March 1, he launched his campaign. People in all 50 states donated immediately. Though he focused mainly on getting off fossil fuels ASAP, which won’t give us that positive “vision of the future”, I hoped he’d be open to more ambitious goals. They include removing massive amounts of the CO2 that have already accumulated in our atmosphere, whose negative effects we’re only beginning to experience.

As an advisor to the Healthy Climate Alliance and the Foundation for Climate Restoration, with people from three other groups, we began to connect to his climate policy team. We suggested he add to his climate messages about urgency and emergency some more hopeful and energizing goals. We shared info on our first Congressional Briefing on Climate Restoration April 24. In the middle of all that, I talked and met with him: story below. And it looked like our messages were starting to get through!

April 22, his message, My Fellow Democratic Candidates for President: Let’s Debate Climate Change, kicked off the campaign for a climate-only debate, which gained support from grassroots groups and most candidates, meeting resistance fromthe Democratic National Committee.

May 3, the campaign released 100% Clean Energy for America. This Part One of his Climate Mission plan is a 10-year mobilization until 2030. It gets very specific on clean electricity, vehicles, and buildings. The always-insightful David Roberts has an comprehensive analysis at Vox: Jay Inslee promised serious climate policy and he is delivering. A week later Inslee issued a much-needed call for ways millions of Americans could participate in a Climate Conservation Corps.

May 16, the campaign released its Part 2: An Evergreen Economy for America. It was a quantum leap forward, almost awe-inspiring in its scope. You can’t spend a better hour than reading this long single page online — or download the 35-page fully-footnoted PDF. This was followed by plans for 3. Global Climate Mobilization on June 5; 4. Freedom from Fossil Fuels on June 24; 5. Community Climate Justice on July 29, and 6. Growing Rural Prosperity: Governor Inslee’s Plan for Regenerative Agriculture and Thriving Rural Economies, on August 21 as he ended his campaign. At every point, fellow candidates and most commentators called his programs the broadest and most complete climate roadmap for a new administration.

The Evergreen Economy’s impact

Now Jay Inslee is positioned to have a monumental impact on the 2020 campaign. He and his team, with their decades of experience and accomplishments in Congress and state government, paint pictures full of specifics. They’re jump-starting the climate conversations we need to have: What’s possible? And what public and private institutions and resources do we have or can create? How can it spark a true economic recovery that addresses inequality and increases prosperity broadly?

Inslee told The Guardian, “You think of the Green New Deal as saying, ‘We should go to the moon’ – but in my plan is how to build the rocket ship. They both have their value.” The comprehensive evaluation by David Roberts describes how Jay Inslee is writing the climate plan the next president should adopt. Other candidates will have to respond. As the Green New Deal evolves from a non-binding Congressional Resolution, it can build on this. That was confirmed when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that his  “climate plan is the most serious + comprehensive one to address our crisis in the 2020 field: Itmeets key marks: Big enough, Fast Enough, Economically stimulating for working people, Acknowledges injustice + w/an eye to make communities whole.”

Yay! Evergreen looks beyond “fossil-free”

Though Evergreen focuses on reducing current emissions, it contains glimpses of climate restoration goals. Language about “cleaning the atmosphere” opens the question: how much that’s up there needs to be cleaned? In proposing an ARPA-Ag(riculture) equivalent to ARPA-E(nergy), it hints at storing carbon in soil via regenerative agriculture. It proposes that federal programs factor in energy- and carbon-intensity in building materials.

We hit the jackpot in Section 4’s Advanced Industrial Climate. Excerpts:

the federal government has a role to play exploring opportunities for industrial-sector carbon capture technologies. [It] also has a role to play in the pursuit of atmospheric carbon removal technologies, and the demonstration and deployment of carbon-based building materials.” And a call for “Launching a new federal initiative focusing specifically on carbon removal technologies to pull climate pollution from the atmosphere and strive toward climate restoration and healthy and sustainable global levels.

That gratifyingly echoes the Foundation for Climate Restoration’s goals for a “safe and healthy climate.” The campaign is hearing us!

My “Jay Inslee & Me” story

The book Rep. Jay Inslee co-authored in 2007 featured the CalCars campaign for plug-in hybrids

I’m including this long personal narrative to show how visions of what’s possible fuels ambitious goals, and with the hope that people who’ve been inspired by electric vehicles, and the millions now driving plug-in them, will be fueled to help Jay Inslee be their champion on the national stage.

2005-2007: I met then-Representative Inslee as he was researching “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.” I’d founded the California Cars Initiative to promote the idea of plug-in hybrids. At Google Books you can read how we embarrassed automakers into mass-producing PHEVs in the first five pages of Chapter 2, “Reinventing the car”. (In 2009, when GM said the Chevy Volt was coming, declared preliminary victory, and I switched my attention to climate.)

2012: Inslee connected over the years, in DC and California. He graciously inscribed my copy of Apollo’s Fire: “Felix – You’ve inspired the world. You plugged us in.”

Jay Inslee’s inscriptions from 2012 and 2019 on Felix’s copy of Apollo’s Fire

March 31: One Saturday, Jay Inslee called me to ask for my financial support and endorsement. I thanked him for his well-timed and courageous campaign. Then I briefed him on how I and allies were talking with his team about opportunities beyond switching to renewables. I described how we can actually restore our climate — not just heroically try to stay under a 1.5°C target that will give billions an almost unlivable world. He said he looked forward to hearing more.

May 2: My follow-up came at his San Francisco fundraiser. Before his speech, we reminisced about our initial EV successes. (Not wanting too much credit, I emphasized how my CalCars engineering partner Ron Gremban and so many people and organizations had made this happen.) He added a second inscription to my copy of Apollo’s Fire: “Felix, Your vision has come to pass.” Maybe that prompted him to think ahead further.

Still, I was floored when he began his talk to a hundred enthusiasts with my story and gracious praise. (Seeing that the event was being recorded, I did so as well.)

Jay Inslee talks about inspiration and visions

This is an inspirational group and I have been inspired by some of the people in this room already. I want to tell you a little story. In 2007, I thought that the nation needed a vision statement of how to defeat climate change and build a clean energy economy. So I decided with a friend named Bracken Hendricks to write a book about how we create a vision for clean energy job expansion while we defeat climate change. The reason I co-authored this book is I wanted you people to have confidence in our ability to do this. I did not want the Donald Trumps of the world who want to make us fearful and pessimistic to win this battle. Because the people in this room understand we’re a can-do people in America, we need a can-do President who says we can defeat climate change, and I intend to be that president. So I decided we need a vision statement. I had to make that come to pass.

So I started going around America, looking at the entrepreneurs and great people that could get that job done. And I came across a fellow who was really entrepreneurial and figured that we could build electric cars and displace the internal combustion engine. He was wanting to sort of shame the big three automakers into building electric cars. So he went to Detroit and talked to the leadership of the big three and said, “Why don’t you guys build electric cars?” And they said “can’t be done, too challenging, not enough battery technology.” So he went home, he says, “No, I’m going to build an electric car myself with my buddies, then I’m going to drive it to Detroit, and shame them into building electric cars. Which he did.

So in 2007 I wrote about him and his buddies, I called them the CalCars guys and they effectively in some sense shamed the big three auto makers to start at least thinking about making electric cars. That was 2007 and I wrote about him and his buddies in the book.

Now jump to 2019. I’m running for President of the United States. We have 50,000 electric cars on the roads in the State of Washington in part because we built electric charging stations. And we’ve given people an incentive to buy electric cars. And tomorrow, I will announce the first plan in the United States that will phase out the sale of internal combustion engines using gasoline in 2030. (Applause.)

Now that happened in part because I was inspired by a California fellow who really had a vision statement that inspired me. And he is here tonight. Please give Felix Kramer a standing ovation. (Applause.)

You are inspiring me tonight. When you think about social progress, when you think about revolutions, revolutions usually start with a small group of people, a small group. This is a small group of people. But it is a group of leaders who are capable of sparking a movement to elect a president of the United States who will say unequivocally that defeating climate change has to be the number one job of the United States and I firmly and boldly have been saying this day one.

And here’s why I believe this. Look, this just can’t be something that’s on your to do list, on your to do list on your refrigerator, right? You just can’t put number three or four as a President defeating climate change. It has to be number one because if it is not number one it won’t get done. And we know that climate change is not a single issue, it is all of the issues.

The Q & A and what happened next

In a public question, I asked, now that all candidates agree we need to go zero-carbon, if he’d consider raising his ambitions beyond trying to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. And might his next plan talk about reversing global warming and restoring our climate?

He said he’d think about it. He suggested that could be the subject of his second book. My reaction was that before then, in the 2020 campaign, we can present a vision for a safe and healthy climate. (At subsequent SFBA fundraisers on June 14 and August 4, he repeated shorter versions of how CalCars had inspired him, and told Bay Area environmental entrepreneurs, “I’m going to tell your stories on the rest of the campaign trail.”

We relayed this story to his climate team. Two weeks later, were thrilled to find some of our themes in the Part 2 Evergreen Economy  plan, we describe above in Yay! Evergreen looks beyond “fossil-free”. (We didn’t find more in his Part 3 on Global Climate Mobilization on June 5, his Part 4 on Freedom from Fossil Fuels on June 24, or his Part 5 on Community Climate Justice on July 9.) Our high hopes that restoration-scale carbon removal (and rebuilding Arctic ice) would show up in future installments of the campaign’s Climate Mission. We welcomed his final Part 6, Growing Rural Prosperity, with multiple solutions to pay “carbon farmers” for removing, treating sequestered carbno as profitable crop, promoting strategies to double or triple carbon in top soil, and expand forest “deep decarbonization”.

Between now and November 2020, advocates of climate restoration are advancing the idea that we can allow ourselves to make restoring our climate our goal. We’re working backward from that with steps to get there. That’s led us to our new project, Briefing Presidential Advisors Can Add Hope to the Climate Debate. We hope more people will have the experience to wake up one morning, as I did last July, to say, “Maybe we’re not doomed!”

No one is better positioned to introduce these ideas than Jay Inslee. He made clear in exit interviews with David Roberts at Vox and Lisa Friedman at the New York Times that he intends to make sure climate solutions are front and center; we’re continuing to talk with him and his advisors about climate restoration.

Background & bonus links: How did we get here?

How much the world has changed in a year! Last fall’s “countdown reports” about climate urgency have awakened millions. Greta Thunberg inspires the young and old everywhere. In the U.S. the Green New Deal continues to gain attention and support. (If you missed it, join the over five million who’ve watched Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez narrate the artistic, beautiful, moving and fun 7-minute video A Message from the Future. (We hope her Decade of The Green New Deal will morph into The Decade of Climate Restoration.)

The Sunrise Movement plans to show up at every Presidential debate and at Congressional Town Halls and campaign events. Youth groups and others are coalescing around plans for a Democratic candidate debate entirely on climate. (Inslee was the first candidate to endorse it; he was then joined by many others.)  Grassroots efforts including student strikes, and Climate Emergency declarations organized by the Climate Mobilization and Extinction Rebellion, all add momentum. Our climate crisis can no longer be ignored. The late-April CNN poll showed climate as the top issue for registered Democrats. Bill McKibben wrote in Politico Climate Change Suddenly Matters in the 2020 Race. Are the Candidates Ready?.

Several handy presidential climate candidate trackers are up and running: Scorecard from 350 Action, Change the Climate 2020 from the League of Conservation Voters, Climate2020 Scorecard from Greenpeace, and Democratic Candidates Climate Race from Climate Advisors. At A Climate Restoration Report Card for 2020 Candidates, we’re now working on one that looks beyond these sccorecards’ focus on fossil-free to climate restoration.

While we’re on that topic, in 2016, a team and I developed, a nonpartisan wiki (crowdsourced encyclopedia) tracking what candidates and incumbents say and do about climate for 34 Senate and 68 House races. Bill McKibben, Michael Brune, and Bill Maher complimented us, and 350 Bay Area helped out. We proved out the concept but we didn’t gain the resources needed to expand it in 2018. Now it’s a promising platform awaiting an organization interested in reviving and expanding it for 2020 races at every level; please contact me to talk about picking up that tool for elections at every level.

Felix Kramer is a writer and an ex-entrepreneur who’s been able to volunteer on cleantech and climate change awareness and solutions for a long time. He led the successful crowd-created campaign to get automakers to mass produce plug-in hybrids, declaring victory when the Chevy Volt arrived. He’s a strategic advisor to the Healthy Climate Alliance and the Foundation for Climate Restoration. He edits to bring you resources and connections to help you get your hopes up about our future. And stories about how people are making reversing global warming and restoring our climate their ambitious goals.

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