Debates Make Climate Change a Hot Topic

Climate change didn’t create many sparks during the two nights of the first Democratic presidential primary debate last week, but that was only because most of the candidates agreed on the basics.

Kamala Harris called the “climate crisis” an “existential threat to us as a species.” She talked about visiting the site of California wildfires “while the embers were still smoldering.” She talked with firefighters who were out in the field while their own homes were burning.

Pete Buttigieg reported dealing with Midwestern flooding that brought a 500-year storm and then a 1,000-year storm to his city within two years. 

Several candidates cited the Green New Deal as their plan. Joe Biden praised the work of President Barack Obama in brokering the Paris Agreement on climate. He and several other candidates promised to immediately reinstate and strengthen that accord if elected.

One interesting compilation of candidates’ tweets during the debate showed “climate change” as a dominant issue, second only to “health care.”

Jay Inslee, the Washington governor who has made climate the centerpiece of his insurgent campaign, couldn’t get much traction for his pitch at first, but Elizabeth Warren responded with her own detailed, aggressive plan.

Only former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper seemed to hit an off-key note. He talked about working with the oil and gas industry to make progress on methane control, without acknowledging that that same industry’s fracking and other activities are the source of the problem in the first place. (Hickenlooper stands out in the crowded field for his support of fossil fuels and controversial extraction processes.) When he challenged other candidates to defend their support of the Green New Deal, he was essentially ignored as a non-factor in the contest.

Of course, there’s plenty of remaining opportunity for candidates to challenge each other’s plans for climate action. In the words of League of Conservation Voters (LCV) senior vice president Tiernan Sittenfeld,“This issue is a higher priority for voters than ever before and we are encouraged by the detailed policy platforms a few candidates were able to present. But to be clear, this is just the beginning of what must be a deeper, more robust discussion of how the candidates will enact their bold, ambitious plans to fight the climate crisis starting on Day One of their Presidency.”

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