Climate Change Takes Center Stage: This Week in the 2020 Race
We got a climate debate, sort of
The Democratic National Committee refused to hold the climate-focused presidential debate that Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and several other candidates wanted. So CNN stepped in with seven straight hours of climate-focused town hall events.
Mr. Inslee’s influence was on full display, despite the fact that he dropped out of the race last month. One after another, 10 candidates — the same ones who will participate in the next debate on Thursday — said addressing climate change would be one of their top priorities in office. Viewers who based their drinking game on the phrase “existential threat” might not have survived.
Perhaps more notable, the plans we heard about (more on those below) were more aggressive even than what candidates were proposing a few months ago.
When The Times surveyed the Democratic field on climate policy in April, only four of the candidates in Wednesday’s forum definitively supported carbon pricing. (Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. wasn’t in the race yet.) By this week, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the only one of the 10 who didn’t — and even so, he is calling for an expansive, $16 trillion program to combat climate change.
‘Environmental justice’ is a new focus
Almost without exception, the candidates in the CNN forum focused on the impact climate change is having on people of color and low-income communities. Often, they emphasized, the people hit hardest by extreme weather are those with the fewest resources to cope with it.
Five candidates specifically used the term “environmental justice,” which “embraces the principle that all communities and all people have a right to equal protection of our environmental laws,” said Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University.
It was one more example of a major shift within the Democratic Party, toward an acknowledgment that a lot of the biggest policy issues — from criminal justice to abortion to, yes, climate change — are inextricably tied to racism and inequality.
A flurry of climate plans
In preparation for the town hall events, several candidates released detailed climate change proposals this week.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey framed his proposal around environmental justice. He said he would invest more than $3 trillion by 2030 to achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2045, and, like other candidates, pledged to both send legislation to Congress and take executive action.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., called for an unspecified price on carbon that would increase over time. He also wants to quadruple spending on clean energy research and development to $25 billion per year. The Buttigieg campaign said total federal climate spending under his plan would range from $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion.
Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, said he would direct $10 trillion in federal, state, local and private investments over the next decade to create 10 million jobs, transition away from fossil fuels and build a carbon-neutral economy. He said he would also establish a National Climate Council and push for legislation to prevent environmental discrimination.
Senator Kamala Harris of California proposed a $10 trillion increase in climate spending over a decade. Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, said she would maximize the power of the legal system to punish corporate polluters and deliver “climate justice” to the poor communities that are suffering disproportionately.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota released a long list of climate actions, including restoring Obama-era emissions and fuel-economy standards, reviewing all of the Trump administration’s environmental permits and regulations, and pushing legislation to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. The plan includes $3 trillion in federal, state and local funding, and her campaign said the carbon pricing system she is proposing could raise trillions more.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts explicitly adopted ideas championed by Mr. Inslee, bringing his platform to the highest tier of the race. Among other things, she is calling for $3 trillion in spending over a decade to achieve 100 percent clean energy by decarbonizing electricity, vehicles and buildings.
One more thing you may have heard about
Asked by an audience member at the climate forum whether he would address population growth in his climate change policy, Mr. Sanders said he would.
He also criticized the Mexico City agreement, a federal policy that bars foreign aid to any organization that “performs or actively promotes abortion as a method of family planning.” Because many groups that provide birth control and other services also perform or offer referrals for abortions, the policy, sometimes called the global gag rule, reduces access to contraception.
“I think, especially in poor countries around the world where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies, and where they can have the opportunity through birth control to control the number of kids they have, it’s something I very, very strongly support,” Mr. Sanders said.
In response, anti-abortion groups falsely claimed that Mr. Sanders had endorsed eugenics.
While it was unusual to bring up the agreement in the context of population growth — normally, Democrats criticize it for restricting women’s rights — opposition to the Mexico City policy is standard for Democrats. Democratic presidents routinely rescind the policy, and Republicans routinely reinstate it.
And Mr. Sanders’s comments focused on the policy’s impact on birth control access — he did not call for more abortions. In fact, researchers have found that abortion rates in affected countries actually increase when the Mexico City policy is in place.
Policies for education, medical debt and rural America
Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, a former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, released his wide-ranging education agenda.
As part of his plan, which he titled “Equal Must Be Equal,” Mr. Bennet made a sweeping promise: “By 2028, every child born in this country, regardless of circumstance, will be at the center of a community that offers them a real chance to flourish personally and prosper financially.”
He said his administration would create 500 “Regional Opportunity Compacts” to “connect the dots between what is taught in schools, what skills local employers need, and how we support students so they can enter the work force.” He pledged to spend $10 billion annually for five years to create the compacts.
Mr. Bennet also called for universal preschool, higher teacher pay, support for districts that choose to extend the school year, free community college and steps to reduce student debt.
Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, previewed a plan to cancel all $81 billion in past-due medical debt and allow other existing and future medical debt to be discharged. He said he would ensure that no one’s credit score was negatively affected by unpaid medical bills.
And Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana released a rural policy plan titled “A Fair Shot for Rural America.” In it, he called for the establishment of an Office of Rural Affairs, a rural “opportunity zone” initiative, increased grants and more.
Howard Schultz won’t run, and Bill de Blasio may drop out
Howard Schultz (remember him?), the former chief executive of Starbucks, announced Friday that he would not run for president as an independent.
Mr. Schultz, 66, had floated the idea in January before starting a book tour, arguing that he could earn the support of moderate Republicans and Democrats who were “looking for a home.” But he immediately faced blowback, particularly from Democrats who worried that an independent bid would all but ensure President Trump’s re-election by splitting the anti-Trump vote.
In an open letter, Mr. Schultz acknowledged that he had arrived at a similar conclusion.
“Not enough people today are willing to consider backing an independent candidate because they fear doing so might lead to re-electing a uniquely dangerous incumbent president,” he wrote.
Separately, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said that he had set a rough deadline of Oct. 1 to decide whether to drop out of the race. That date is not coincidental: It is when candidates must meet the criteria set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for the debate later that month.
“I think the logical thing to say is I’m going to go and try and make the October debates, and if I can, that’s a good reason to keep going forward,” he said. “If I can’t, I think it’s really tough to conceive of continuing.”
Mr. de Blasio made the cut for the first two Democratic debates this summer, but failed to qualify for the September debate after the D.N.C. tightened the requirements.