Democratic nominees vs. climate change. Who won?

September 13, 2019

It is becoming more and more apparent that we are in a climate emergency. People of all ages across the world are standing up and urging others to join them in making the difference to save our planet. Whether it is Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old who skipped school to stand against climate change and started a movement of students across the world walking out on climate strike, or more recently in the CNN Democratic Presidential Town Hall: The Climate Crisis.

It was here that 10 democratic presidential nominees came together in New York City to speak about the climate crisis and what the nominees would do to address this crisis if they get elected to office. After a long seven hours of discussion, the town hall finally closed. 

Even though I personally was not able to listen in because who has seven hours of free time in college, I was very curious to see what the candidates had to say about the climate crisis in the U.S. and the whole and what they were planning to do about it. With climate change becoming a bigger and bigger issue every year, the time to start acting is now. 

The best statistic I can give about how f*cked we are for climate change is looking at Earth  Overshoot Day. This is the day when the people of the world use up all the resources that it takes Mother Earth one year to produce. This year, Earth Overshoot Day was July 29. In 1999, the year I was born, it was Sept. 29. 

Here, I will breakdown the main takeaways from each of the candidates’ 40-minute sessions and give my own two cents on their aspirations. All of the information said by the candidates during the town hall are from CNN’s coverage of their event. 

Julian Castro: 

As the former Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Barack Obama, Castro has a pretty good sense of how climate change is affecting communities, especially ones on lower ground in the U.S. 

His biggest course of action, of course, is to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which President Trump decided to leave in June 2018. He continued in his discussion to explain his plan to get the U.S. to net zero carbon emissions by 2045. Castro plans to do this through “incentiviz[ing] wind energy production, solar energy production, invest[ing] in renewables challenging the rest of the world to get to net zero by 2050.” 

Like many candidates later on in the night, Castro presented his views on fracking. Even though he wants to end fossil fuel exploration on public lands, which includes fracking, he doesn’t want a federal ban. “We need to undo the damage that this administration has done and then expand the lands that we’re protecting in our country,” he said during the town hall. 

Sabrina: 

I think Castro has some extremely strong proposals on how to combat climate change in the U.S. and to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord as soon as possible. However, some of his plans seem extremely far fetched and not fast enough. While it would be amazing if we were at net zero carbon emission by 2045, recent data has shown that we need to hit net zero by 2030, 15 years before Castro’s proposed deadline. 

Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang is the only candidate left in the running who has had no prior political experience. Similar to Trump, Yang is by trade a businessman. His major priority is to also move people from low lying areas to higher grounds. If elected, he plans to make federal funds available to pay for it and end fossil fuel subsidies. “There are already climate refugees in the United States of America, people that we relocated from an island that was essentially becoming uninhabitable in Louisiana, and we moved those people,” he said during his talk. 

Yang also plans to increase the carbon tax and update the current Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calculations to include environmental factors. He also plans on investing in various unproven technological advancements, including cloud seeding. This practice is essentially spraying chemicals into the atmosphere that help to induce rain or snow, which can help during periods of extreme drought. 

Another common theme of the night that Yang starts with is the autonomy of citizens in the U.S. to eat whatever they choose. 

Sabrina: 

Similar to when Trump was running and we as a nation never thought that a businessman with no prior experience in politics could run the country, I was initially hesitant of Yang. However, he does pose potential solutions that may not do so well in the long run, but will definitely be beneficial in the short run. I applaud him for thinking of communities that are already seeing the effects of climate change, even in the U.S. 

Kamala Harris

If she is elected, Kamala Harris is planning on abolishing the filibuster if Republicans stand in the way of her legislation to combat climate change. 

She is also directing the Department of Justice to go after major oil and gas companies that contributed to the climate crisis and sue them. Beyond this, Harris is planning on increasing penalties for companies that violate the federal pollution laws.

Harris also hopes to ban plastic straws but did acknowledge the difficulty of drinking with paper straws. She also seeks to ban fracking and offshore drilling, like many other candidates. 

“Ultimately it’s about empowering communities that are often ignored. No community should be dumped on, and no community should be less than” pointing specifically at “black and brown and indigenous people,” she said in her discussion.

Sabrina: 

Harris definitely has her job cut out for her if she gets elected. She is trying to do a lot in a very short period of time. I really do commend her for everything she is trying to do, though, and utilizing her executive power as president to challenge Congress to ensure that action is taken on climate change.

Amy Klobuchar

In her speech, Amy Klobuchar outlined her first week as president. 

Day 1: Reenter the Paris Climate Accord

Day 2: Bring back clean power rules that Obama had pushed before Trump rolled back the legislation

Day 3: Bring back the gas mileage standard for U.S. car companies

Day 4: Focus on “sweeping legislation” to tackle climate change

She continued to speak about the “tragedy” of the current Amazon Forest wildfires and move back on the Trump administration’s move on methane emissions. “I see natural gas as a transitional fuel; it is better than oil, but it’s not nearly as good as wind and solar,” she said in her discussion.

Klobuchar also plans to review all the fracking permits in the U.S. in the first 100 days of her presidency. She is also pushing to go completely carbon neutral by 2050 but pushing for a faster transition. 

Sabrina: 

Finally, another candidate will immediately bring us back into the Paris Climate Accord! I realize that all the candidates will most likely try to get the U.S. back in the Paris Climate Accord, but I really appreciate how she specifically states it. Overall, an extremely solid plan for the U.S. 

Joe Biden 

Former Vice President of the U.S. Joe Biden brought the entire world into the conversation when speaking about the climate crisis. “There would be no empty chair” in leading climate talks amongst the world’s most powerful nations, said Biden during his discussion.

He is another candidate that would not support a nationwide ban on fracking but does support “oil drilling or gas drilling on federal lands.” 

Biden’s biggest goal is to push for mass transit and rail systems across the world to decrease the number of vehicles on the road. “It would literally take millions of vehicles off the road,” he said. 

Sabrina: 

Even though I appreciate how Biden did introduce the rest of the world into the conversation when speaking about climate change and what actions to take, there was so much more potential that he lacked in his discussion. And in the lines of his mass transit and rail system plan, while it would be great, it is extremely unrealistic. We do not have the technology or capacity to build such a rail system. 

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is bringing women’s rights into climate change. According to many studies, the best way to reduce one’s environmental impact is to have one less child. When asked if he would curb the population growth through birth control, he responded that “women in the United States of America, by the way, have a right to control their own bodies and make reproductive decisions.”

His top priorities if elected are health care, student debt cancellation and the Green New Deal. When asked which one was his top priority, he did not prioritize any of them specifically. 

Sabrina: 

Sanders really has an interesting approach to climate change: women’s rights. That’s all I have to say.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s biggest opposition in the current forms of energy is nuclear energy. She hopes to phase out nuclear power by 2035. She highlighted that the “conversations around regulating light bulbs, banning plastic straws and cutting down on red meat are exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants people focused on as a way to distract from their impact on climate change.”

She also set plans for carbon free infrastructure. By 2028, mandating carbon free buildings. By 2030, carbon free cars and light-duty truck production. By 2035, carbon free electricity generation.

Sabrina: 

Warren is completely right about how the fossil fuel industry is trying to distract us from the major issues with climate change. I also really enjoyed her different goals for carbon-free infrastructure in the U.S. Overall, I approve. 

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg says that combating climate change is more challenging than winning World War II and says that Trump will be remembered most as president for his “failure to act on climate.” 

However, Buttigieg defended his stance on flying on private planes for his presidential campaign, even though planes cause an extremely high amount of pollution in the atmosphere. He said that “this is a very big country, and I’m running to be president of the whole country.”

Sabrina: 

Midwest coast, best coast. Just wanted to give a shout-out to Buttigieg for representing the Midwest. I do not agree with any of his claims though, especially justifying the use of a private plane for campaigning.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke opposed the carbon tax, unlike some candidates, and instead hopes for a carbon cap-and-trade program with a shrinking number of allowances sold to polluters each year. He hopes to show these polluters that there is a price on carbon with a legally enforceable limit. 

He also brought up thoughts about making Puerto Rico an official state in the U.S.

When asked about food in the country, he rejects “any notion that we have to radically or fundamentally change how we eat or what we eat.”

O’Rourke also brought up plans to help people in flood-prone zones move to higher ground to avoid more serious disasters. 

Sabrina: 

O’Rourke’s policies are definitely solid. The carbon tax is something that could definitely be changed, and I’m open to different options. 

But bringing Puerto Rico as a state in the U.S., really?

Cory Booker

Cory Booker is a vegan but won’t tell other people in the U.S. to stop eating meat. “Freedom is one of the most sacred values—whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it,” he said. He also tried to warm the audience up to the idea of nuclear power after reading various studies. 

Sabrina:

Booker was one of the biggest losers in my book during this climate crisis town hall. Decreasing the amount of meat consumption in the country is definitely something that is possible and while we should allow people to eat whatever they want, it’s something that is very realistic. 

Jay Inslee:

I know, Inslee is no longer in the race for the democratic nominee. However, I do give all the credit to the former Washington Governor for fighting to bring climate change to the forefront of his campaign. Inslee’s main platform focused on combating the effects of climate change. And because of his actions, the town hall was created to address these issues, and I applaud him for that.

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