The climate crisis was a noteworthy topic in the first Democratic primary debate on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Climate is a prescient topic, particularly given that the debate took place in Miami, a city that is breaking heat records and vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather.
The stage for the discussion was set by activists including those from the Sunrise Movement who camped out in front of DNC headquarters demanding a debate focused solely on the climate emergency.
Despite the dissatisfaction of many environmental activists it should be pointed out that in the last presidential election cycle in 2016 only around 1 percent of moderator questions were on the subject of climate change. That changed dramatically last Wednesday when candidates were asked questions about everything from carbon taxes to climate resilience.
The approximately 8 minutes spent discussing climate change in the first democratic debate is more time devoted to the subject than in all previous presidential debates combined.
Elizabeth Warren offered insightful commentary related to the fossil fuel industry saying, the economy is, “doing great for giant oil companies that want to drill everywhere, just not for the rest of us who are watching climate change bear down upon us.”
Jay Inslee established himself as a climate hawk, he made an
astute comment about what must be done to see climate action in the US.
He indicated that one of his first actions as president would be to remove the
Senate filibuster to stymie Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism.
Whoever the candidate might be, Democrats are the only major party seriously discussing the issue.
At the outset debate moderator Savannah Guthrie made it clear that climate change was on the agenda. When Chuck Todd asked what is the biggest threat to the United States, four of the ten indicated that it was climate change (Booker, O’Rourke, Castro and Inslee) Inslee also said,
“The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump. And there’s no question about it.” and O’Rourke said, “Our existential threat is climate change. We have to confront it before it’s too late.”
Here are some other climate related excerpts from the first Democratic presidential debate:
INSLEE: “Look it, look it, we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last that can do something it. Our towns are burning. Our fields are flooding. Miami is inundated. And we have to understand, this is a climate crisis, an emergency…this is our last chance in the administration, next one, to do something about it. And we need to do what I’ve done in my state. We’ve passed a 100 percent clean electrical grid bill. We now have a vision statement. And my plan has been called the gold standard of putting people to work. But the most important thing on this, in the biggest decision for the American public is, who is going to make this the first priority? And I am the candidate and the only one who’s saying this has to be the top priority of the United States, the organizing principle to mobilize the United States, so that we can do what we’ve always done, lead the world and invent the future and put 8 million people to work. That’s what we’re going to do.”
INSLEE: “…grandchildren, we love them all. And when I was thinking about whether to run for president, I made a decision. I decided that on my last day on Earth, I wanted to look them in the eye and tell them I did everything humanly possible to protect them from the ravages of the climate crisis. And I know to a moral certainty, if we do not have the next president who commits to this as the top priority, it won’t get done. And I am the only candidate — frankly, I’m surprised. I’m the only candidate who’s made this commitment to make it the top priority. If you join me in that recognition of how important this is, we can have a unified national mission. We can save ourselves. We can save our children. We can save our grandchildren. And we can save literally the life on this planet. This is our moment.”
DELANEY: “I introduced the only bipartisan carbon tax bill…This is
really important. All the economists agree that a carbon pricing
mechanism works. You just have to do it right. You can’t put a price on
carbon, raise energy prices, and not give the money back to the American
people. My proposal, which is put a price on carbon, give a dividend
back to the American people. It goes out one pocket, back in the
other…I can get that passed my first year as president with a
coalition of every Democrat in the Congress and the Republicans who live
in coastal states…Because Republicans in Florida, they actually care
about this issue. This has got to be our way forward if we’re actually
serious about this When Todd asked what is the biggest threat to the
Booker, O’Rourke, Castro and Inslee all referred to climate change
although Inslee also said,
“The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald
Trump. And there’s no question about it.” O’Rourke said, “Our
existential threat is climate change. We have to confront it before it’s
O’ROURKE: “I think you’ve got to bring everybody in to the decisions and the solutions to the challenges that we face. That’s why we’re traveling everywhere, listening to everyone. We were in Pacific Junction, a town that had never meaningly flooded before, just up against the Missouri River in Iowa. And every home in that community had flooded. There were farms just outside of Pacific Junction that were effectively lakes, those farmers already underwater in debt, their markets closed to them by a trade war under this administration, and now they don’t know what to do. We in our administration are going fund resiliency in those communities, in Miami, in Houston, Texas, those places that are on the front lines of climate change today. We’re going to mobilize $5 trillion in this economy over the next 10 years. We’re going to free ourselves from a dependence on fossil fuels, and we’re going to put farmers and ranchers in the driver’s seat, renewable and sustainable agriculture, to make sure that we capture more carbon out of the air and keep more of it in the soil, paying farmers for the environmental services that they want to provide. If all of us does all that we can, then we’re going to be able to keep this planet from warming another 2 degrees Celsius, and ensure that we match what this country can do and live up to our promise and our potential.”
O’ROURKE: “If we’re going to be there for them, if we’re going to confront the challenges that we face, we can’t return to the same old approach. We’re going to need a new kind of politics, one directed by the urgency of the next generation, those climate activists, who are fighting not just for their future but for everyone’s, those students marching not just for their lives but for all of ours.”
CASTRO: “When I was mayor of San Antonio, we moved our local public utility, we began to shift it from coal-fired plants to solar and other renewables, and also created more than 800 jobs doing that. And when I was HUD secretary, we worked on the National Disaster Resilience Competition to invest in communities that were trying to rebuild from natural disasters in a sustainable way. That’s the way that we’re going to help make sure that we’re all safer in the years to come and that we combat climate change…And if I’m elected president, the first thing that I would do, like Senator Klobuchar also has said, is sign an executive order recommitting us to the Paris Climate Accord so that we lead again…”
RYAN: “Well, there is a variety of different ways to pay [for climate mitigation]. We talked about different ways of raising revenue. And I think we’ve got to build our way out of this and grow our way out of this. But let me just talk real quick to the previous question about real politics. We could talk about climate, we could talk about guns, we could talk about all of these issues that we all care about. We have a perception problem with the Democratic Party. We are not connecting to the working class people in the very states that I represent in Ohio, in the industrial Midwest. We’ve lost all connection. We have got to change the center of gravity of the Democratic Party from being coastal and elital — elitist and Ivy League, which is the perception, to somebody from the forgotten communities that have been left behind for the last 30 years, to get those workers back on our side so we can say we’re going to build electric vehicles, we’re going to build solar panels. But if you want to beat Mitch McConnell, this better be a working-class party. If you want to go into Kentucky and take his rear end out, and if you want to take Lindsey Graham out, you’ve got to have a blue collar party that can go into the textile communities in South Carolina. So all I’m saying here…All I’m saying is here, if we don’t address that fundamental problem with our connection to workers — white, black, brown, gay, straight — working-class people…”
TULSI GABBARD: “As president, I will take your hard-earned taxpayer dollars and instead invest those dollars into serving your needs, things like health care, a green economy, good-paying jobs, protecting our environment, and so much more.”
Participants in the debate: New Jersey Senator
Cory Booker. Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro. New York City Mayor
Bill De Blasio. Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney. Hawaii
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Minnesota
Senator Amy Klobuchar. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Ohio
Congressman Tim Ryan. And Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
However, only Inslee and Delaney
Next: References to Climate in the Second Democratic Presidential Debate