How Do the Democratic Candidates Stack Up on the Climate Crisis?

By Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

The first of the Democratic debates will take place this week. The Democratic Party refuses to hold a debate focused on climate change, and the candidates are likely to get only one question – if that – on this important topic. The New York Times asked all the candidates this week if they think we can beat climate change – and you can see their answers here. But the real question is how do they plan to do it if elected President?

We looked at their web sites, public remarks, and various interviews and compiled a “cheat sheet” of their positions on a series of climate change issues organized by debate night – you can see them below. We broke it down for you so that the candidates who have put together a serious plan on addressing the climate crisis stand out.  The charts are easy to read — if there is a check mark in a box they have stated a position that is supportive of climate action — if it is empty it means they have not that we could find or they oppose.  It is as simple as that.

In the top tier of candidates who have seriously considered what to do about the climate crisis are Governor Inslee, who is running primarily on the issue of climate change, Vice President Biden, who put together a very comprehensive plan, Beto O’Rourke and Senator Warren who have fairly comprehensive if more issue-specific plans, and little known candidates John Delaney and Senator Bennet, who have more “moderate” but detailed plans. There are many candidates who have not said much beyond expressing support for the Green New Deal, but who have significant records in Congress to run on. In this category, we would put Senators Sanders and Booker, Representative Gabbard, Governor Hickenlooper, and Mayors De Blasio and Buttigieg. For the rest of the field, it is hard to know how much of a priority the climate crisis is, and what they would actually do if elected.

Considering all the issues under the climate crisis umbrella, general support for the Green New Deal framework and rejoining the Paris Agreement are two topics on which most of the candidates have taken a position – and thus do not provide much differentiation between them. In our view, the “Top 5” issues to consider when assessing the seriousness of the candidates are:

  1. Does the candidate put a date on when they want the U.S. to be carbon neutral, and does he/she say how much they are willing to spend to get there? And how aggressive is each of those things?
  2. Does the candidate look beyond clean energy — is he/she willing to put in place policies that will make needed changes across many sectors of the economy and society?
  3. Does the candidate have a climate security plan beyond rejoining the Paris Agreement?
  4. Does the candidate have a proposal on environmental justice, reigning in pollution generally, and conserving our parks and natural resources, as well as protecting frontline and vulnerable communities?
  5. Does the candidate believe that displaced workers in fossil fuel industries deserve public support, and will he/she take the “no fossil fuel contributions” pledge?

In our view, any candidate who now or in the future takes a pro-conservation/pro-climate action position on all five of these issues deserves an “A” on addressing the climate crisis. But without a debate or town hall type forum, we may never know the answer for many of the candidates. On questions that are this important to both the electorate and our country’s future, that is a real shame. In the meantime, here is our cheat sheet. We will continue to fill it in as the candidates take positions on these topics so that it will be a resource for all the voters who care about them. And if we missed something in these charts, please let us know and we will fix it.

To Go Deeper: Here are links to the plans of the candidates who have them: Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Michael Bennet, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Elizabeth Warren.

*The Biden Campaign asked Monica for advice before they rolled out his plan and she gave it. We thought you should know.

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