At a recent CNN event Anderson Cooper accused Biden of "trying to have it both ways" on fracking (check out my minicast on nuclear fracking, btw) by refusing to condemn the practice but also promising to be the anti-climate change / pro-environment president. Biden's position, which he clarified, proved Cooper correct: he doesn't want to ban fracking, but he wants to stop issuing new fracking permits. That's supposed to make everyone happy, but of course in reality it just gives everyone something to point at and be dissatisfied.
I'm not criticizing Biden; I point this out because I think fracking is the ideal example of a trap issue for Democrats. Forget all the "culture wars" stuff. Fracking, and environmental issues in general, do a superior job of positioning them between a rock and a hard place. Pun intended.
On the one hand, you have environmental voters and younger people who are convinced that the climate crisis is real and imminent. They want bold, immediate action to address it. On the other hand, you have the working class and organized labor constituencies who see the reality that oil & gas industry work is some of the last well-paid blue collar work left in this country. If you don't believe me, take a trip through North Dakota and look at how $60+ per hour (dirty, dangerous) fracking jobs have transformed that state's economy and population.
What do you really expect a candidate to do in these economically depressed midwestern and plains states, not to mention out west: walk into town and say "Hey I see you finally got something going here, got some money coming in, got some steady work. Well, I promise to shut it all down!" At the same time, "Let's just ignore this climate change stuff" is…well, it may not be a politically suicidal message but it's actually suicidal. In the non-metaphorical sense. Older people mostly don't care, but it's increasingly being recognized as a life-and-death problem. A crisis, even.
The only way to play it, in theory, would be to promise to transition people from economically positive but environmentally destructive work like fracking to economically positive, environmentally positive industries. Promise them high-paying jobs in different lines of work, and deliver. The problem is the Democrats have played this card before – hell, Bill Clinton campaigned on "Your job will go away but we'll get you an even better job" in 1992. People have long memories and they simply don't believe it anymore. For this to work, there will have to be something tangible to show voters. Democrats, when in power, will actually have to do it. Then and only then they can plausibly go to voters and say, look at this. This is the deal. We will do this for you like we did it for X, Y, and Z.
That will mean an end to derisively referring to plans to make the economy work in favor of the environment as "the green dream or whatever." And most of all it will require that thing the modern Democratic Party seems to dread the most – long-term thinking. They'll have to admit that they can't please everyone in the short-term and work toward presenting voters with an everyone-pleasing option in the near future. Because right now this is a trap and there's no good way out of it. The solution is to work to avoid being in the same trap in the future.