Shanahan, Kennedy and Climate Change: Unanswered Questions

It’s clear that RFK Jr.’s running mate has good intentions and an interest in climate issues. But not much is clear beyond that.

In a flare-up between former allies last week, Rep. Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat, asked Nicole Shanahan to think twice about continuing as RFK Jr.’s running mate.  His argument was that the campaign could ultimately send Donald Trump back to the White House, risking the destruction of U.S. climate efforts.

The resulting public exchange is revealing about what motivates independent candidates like Shanahan. It also points to a conundrum for the Kennedy-Shanahan ticket: how to address concerns about the climate implications of another Trump Administration.

Khanna’s point was simple:  Shanahan cares about climate change, but the RFK candidacy might help elect Trump, who would have a devastating effect on climate policy.  That’s an understandable concern in an election that is still too close to call. As Khanna pointed out, at this point it appears from polling that Kennedy and Shanahan could pull enough votes from Biden to give Trump the edge in swing states. It may or may not turn out that way, but it’s not a crazy idea. At least some Trump allies seem to favor the idea, and one Kennedy campaign official has been pitching Republicans to support him to help Trump beat Biden. From that perspective, whether or not the conclusion is correct, it’s understandable that the Economist, a British news journal, says  that Kennedy “doesn’t care if he condemns America to Trump.”

Shanahan passed up the opportunity to address this concern by ignoring Khanna’s point rather than providing an answer. Her response was that everyone has the right to run for office and that it was anti-democratic to ask her to stand down as a candidate.  Clearly, the thought that she might help elect Trump didn’t faze her.

From one perspective, this could be seen as part of the longstanding conflict between pragmatists and idealists across the political spectrum. The attitude of “damn the consequences” isn’t unique to the Kennedy-Shanahan ticket. On the Right, its home is the Freedom Caucus, which has insisted on the purity of its positions even when the result is to force the GOP Speaker into the arms of the Democrats. We can also see it in the unhappiness some progressives feel toward AOC because she has been willing to compromise to get things done.

Although that’s one possible explanation, it’s not clear whether the issue here is really idealism. After all, Shanahan has joined a campaign that hasn’t made climate change a priority issue and hasn’t announced a climate plan. In recent years, the leader of the ticket has been far more engaged with a campaign against vaccines than with environmental causes of any kind.

We do know Shanahan has strong feelings about climate issues, as Khanna himself referenced in his appeal. But as far as I can tell, she’s never said what, beyond regenerative agriculture, she thinks we should do about climate change.

Admittedly, Shanahan hasn’t shown much interest in articulating policy positions in other areas either. For instance, she was asked to comment about abortion after the Arizona supreme court resurrected the country’s most restrictive abortion ban. Rather than saying what abortion policy she would support, she responded that she didn’t “like the feeling of anyone having control over my body” but that she also would “not feel right terminating a viable life living inside of me, especially if I am both healthy and that baby is healthy.”  That doesn’t provide much guidance about what abortion policy she would actually favor.

Kennedy chose a top spokesman who traffics in conspiracy theories about the climate crisis and science in general. To hear Kennedy tell it, Shanahan is just as distrustful as he is of scientists and of the federal government’s approach to environmental regulation.

In a recent interview with KCBS, Kennedy said he picked a VP candidate who shared his concern about government overreach. At a recent rally in Oakland, he said that Shanahan understands that “the EPA is in cahoots with the polluters,” and that “the scientists can be mercenaries.” She didn’t say that herself, so perhaps he was overestimating the extent of their agreement.

Shanahan was a virtual unknown until she was picked as a Vice Presidential candidate, so it would be a mistake to make firm judgments now.  Maybe her views will come into sharper focus. Still, her seeming lack of interest in practical impacts and specific policies does create grounds for concern. Voters who care about climate and the environment deserve better answers than they’ve gotten so far.

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Reader Comments

7 Replies to “Shanahan, Kennedy and Climate Change: Unanswered Questions”

  1. There are no unanswered questions for them to respond to. the premise of your statement is that votes cast for RFK/Shanahan will somehow cause Trump to be elected.
    A century of polling and political science studies show the overwhelming majority of uncommitted voters at this stage of a presidential election will not support the the incumbent. The question is where will they go?. Normally, they could stay home or vote for Trump. The RFK/Shanahan ticket gives them a third option and essentially acts a relief valve.

    it is so sad to see how a former respected professor like you has descended into a political hack. I no longer assign your book to my students because of you have allowed your political views to taint yor scholoarship.

    1. I think you may have read too hastily. If you take another look, you’ll see that I didn’t say that this concern was valid. I only said that it was plausible enough to deserve a response. In addition, I also pointed out that, if climate change is an important issue for these candidates, they should provide some information about how they plan to address it. Sorry if those comments seem too politically slanted to you.

  2. “Voters who care about climate and the environment deserve better answers than they’ve gotten so far.”:

    Interesting how much space you spend on pointing fingers at others when it is academics who are the worst communicators by refusing to inform, educate and motivate the public and failing to meet the challenges of change that threaten our civilization today.

  3. Dan, FYI, the Best thing Berkeley did for me was to provide the opportunity for me to meet my classmate who gave me 60 years of the BEST LIFE anyone could ever want before she passed away. Two of the most wonderful things she made possible are our two granddaughters, and I make all my comments on your blog because my Greatest Goal today is to PROTECT THEIR FUTURE.

    PLEASE motivate UC to make the right things happen before time runs out.

    1. No comment Dan?

      I guess this proves what I have been gravely concerned about for years due to your “Impure Public” belief:

      NORC is the Berkeley (and your Legal Planet) motto, money is more important than the future for our newest generations.

      God help our newest generations.

  4. I think Kennedy has an axe to grind with the DNC over his perceived or imagined “entitlement.” In the face of recent revelations, we now hear he is “building a movement” rather than actually trying to get elected, instead of settling as a caucus or “wing” within the Democratic Party. I don’t Nicole knows the full extent to which she is being used but her money is one reason.

  5. First, you make it sound like the Kennedy campaign is obliged to respond to the Dem/Biden political narrative which is merely a biased opinion and not worth a response. A significant part of the populace sees Biden as the spoiler who brought the country to its reduced state. Khanna, pulled an underhanded media tactic which got this story traction and which you are spinning back to this worthless spoiler argument once again. If you’d been following the Kennedy/Shanahan campaign closely you’d have seen that their environmental record and forward strategy far outweighs any of Biden’s profiteering gimmicks. The biased British Economist quote is your spin, what’s understandable is Biden condemns America. Your comment on “conspiracy theories” shows just how out of touch you are passing around this tired propaganda.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more