Democratic Debate Finally Elevates Climate Change to Top Tier Issue

Photo: Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times

Tim Alberta, Politico’s Chief Political correspondent, broke the climate barrier — in the first hour, he asked a series of climate change questions on relocating Americans who homes and businesses are in harm’s way because of climate change, about the transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and about whether nuclear energy is needed to get to carbon neutrality.  Hallelujah!  Unfortunately, all 7 candidates were not given a chance to answer all three questions — but we will summarize their answers below. Interestingly, none of the candidates — not even Bernie Sanders — said the words Green New Deal.  

Why This Matters:  It would have been debate malpractice for PBS and Politico to ignore climate change in California, where its impacts have hit the state hard.  All the candidates recognized that climate is an existential crisis, they were optimistic about the ability of the U.S. to innovate its way out of the crisis, and all of them emphasized the job-growth potential of transitioning away from carbon.  All claim it is a top tier priority.  But some Democrats are willing to run on the issue not just have a plan for it — Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Yang, and Joe Biden are running ads that focus on the climate emergency.  That is telling too.

The Candidates’ Climate Answers and Ads

Vice President Biden:  Biden was asked directly about whether the US should sacrifice the growth of oil and gas production in order to transition away from fossil fuels but also said that displaced workers would need to have assistance transitioning into new jobs as well.  He said unequivocally yes, that we must.  He emphasized that we must turn this crisis into an opportunity and he specifically mentioned growing renewable energy — wind and solar — and growing the battery industry and putting charging stations on all new highways.

  • Biden also has several climate change ads running right now.  To watch one on rejoining the Paris Agreement, click here.  To watch one on California’s fires, click here.

Mayor Buttigieg: Buttigieg emphasized his personal experience living in and leading a river city that has flooded repeatedly.  He pledged to pass a carbon tax AND dividend and to use the dividend to invest in research on climate solutions and said that he would make sure that auto workers in places like South Bend would be part of the solutions.

Senator Klobuchar:  Klobuchar promised to re-enter the Paris Agreement, to put the clean power plan and the clean car rule back in place, and to put a price on carbon.  Her only other new policy proposal was to revolutionize new buildings.  She also mentioned that climate change is hurting midwesterners and she understands their plight.

Senator Sanders: Sanders made the generational argument — that this is about saving the planet for our kids and grandkids, and that just putting the old policies back in place is not nearly enough.  He also emphasized that he would spend trillions on fighting climate change rather than fighting wars, and would work to get China to work with us to defeat climate because it is our common enemy.  Sanders also raised environmental justice when asked a question about racial discrimination.

Tom Steyer: Steyer said climate change is his number one priority and that he would declare it an emergency — he repeated it several times, including during his closing statement.  He emphasized that it is a crisis, but also our greatest opportunity to create millions of good-paying, union jobs, and he cited his experience in fighting the fossil fuel companies and reforming government.  He also twice mentioned environmental justice — cleaning the air and water so that minority communities do not bear the brunt of pollution.  And he talked about pushing China on climate change.

  • Steyer has a climate change ad, and to see it click here.

Senator Warren:  Warren was asked about nuclear power and said we would have to keep it in the mix but build no new plants.  She also tied solving the climate crisis to ending the power of special interests and lobbyists.  She also talked about the importance of innovation and science.

  • Warren has a climate ad on, and to see it click here.

Andrew Yang: Yang touted his climate plan that addresses the question of moving people to higher ground and out of harm’s way from climate change.  He also talked about keeping all energy options on the table including new nuclear power.

  • Yang has a climate change ad running in Iowa, and to see it click here.

Mayor Bloomberg: Bloomberg was not on the debate stage but he has a climate change ad running now, and to see it click here.

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