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The CNN Town Hall on the Climate Crisis was a marathon session — seven hours of nearly uninterrupted climate conversation. With so many candidates and so much ground to cover, and many similarities among the candidates, it may in retrospect be a bit of a blur for the viewer. CNN’s four moderators tried to level the discussion by asking each candidate a version of the question “what would you do on day 1”? But from there, the candidate interviews varied greatly. Here is what stood out to us from each of the first five candidates.
Castro: Two things were memorable. First was his emphasis on environmental justice, about which he that his first trip as a candidate was to Puerto Rico to “tell the people there who were impacted by Hurricane Maria that we would help them.” He then went on to speak passionately how too often it is people who are poor and communities of color, who take the brunt of storms. He said that he would work to pass legislation on environmental justice that restore “a private right of action” so individuals can to file suit against polluters — and that would equip Americans with the tools to fight back against corporate polluters. Second, he highlighted his “PAW” plan — which stands for “protecting animals and wildlife.” He was again passionate this time about the need to “connect the dots and protect land for wildlife.” His emphasis on executive experience and government programs on flooding were also a highlight.
Yang: Yang emphasized that he is an outsider who can fix the government by taking influence out of the equation, with frequent references to the “almighty dollar” driving policy decisions. He was very effective with lines like this: “This is not a YOU problem this is an US problem.” And this one: “We have to take back our government” and the “brutal truth is that there are people on one side and money on another…. And a lot of the money is from fossil fuel companies.” It was funny and also telling when he said electric cars are “awesome” and “we are all going to love driving our electric cars. And I did not just say that because Elon Muske endorsed me a few weeks ago.”
Harris: Harris was specific than some of the other candidates — she spent much of her time talking about suing the polluters and holding them accountable. She started off oddly by deflecting a question about the climate crisis, saying that on day 1 she would declare a drinking water crisis. She also talked about looking people’s children and grandchildren in the eye and how hard that would be if we did not take action. She said that the “private sector is pretty good in our country – when we set a standard they meet it. This is a false choice about choosing the environment or jobs. We can have both.” And another memorable line she repeated often was that “leaders have to lead” in emphasizing that who is President matters greatly on this issue.
Klobuchar: Klobuchar stuck firmly to her midwestern roots, and tried to appeal to the moderates in the party by talking about the need to persuade all Americans that tackling climate change is a “mission for our country just like the greatest generation in WWII and the civil rights movement. This is our generation’s challenge.” She seemed to work hard to be realistic and not overpromise, defending her plan’s funding level of $2-3 trillion saying, “I want to be honest about what I think we can bring – you have to be honest with people about where you are going to get the money and what you are going to spend it on.” She emphasized realism again when she said we need to solve this together but recognize that “we cannot phase out fossil fuels in 2 or 3 or 4 years so we need to be deliberate.” But she also spoke passionately about agriculture and how to change farming practices, as well as controlling methane gas emissions.
Biden: Biden was the night’s standout on foreign policy. He quickly pivoted from his domestic plan — saying plans are plans, but this is an existential threat so what matters is who can get things done — to foreign policy. He noted that even if the US did everything it could that would only impact 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and thus it is really important to focus on the other 85% emitted by the rest of the world. He said he had would immediately call together the world’s leaders at the White House to get the Paris Agreement back on track. And he and contrasted his stance with that of the current President saying that climate change “would be THE topic of the G7. There would be jo empty chair,” a reference to the fact that Trump skipped the meeting on climate change at the recent G7 meeting in France.
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