The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

The Democratic Field, Part 1

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It’s election season again, and as one of the few Americans not running for president this cycle, I figure it’s time I review the field.

As before, I’m only going to write about candidates as regards climate change. It’s not that no other issues are important (though I do consider climate a central issue), it’s that this blog remains neutral on all other issues, so far as is ethically possible. Therefore, support of a candidate for how he or she approaches climate should not be construed as any kind of comment on his or her other positions.

So, let’s start with Democrats. There are 23 of them running.

The Democratic Field (In Part)

I’m not going to write about all 23 people seeking the Democratic nomination in a single post. You and I both have other things we want to do today, right? Instead, I’m taking this in a few chunks. Here is Chunk Number One.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden is a former vice president of the United States, and the subject of a huge number of fond and funny internet memes featuring his friendship with President Barack Obama. He has run for president twice before, and could have been a favorite to win last cycle except for the tragic death of his son, Beau Biden, from brain cancer. Grieving, the elder Biden did not run. He is now trying one last time–at 76 years old he is among the oldest of the field, but also the best-recognized and most obviously experienced.

Joe Biden’s reputation on climate is definitely mixed. His candidacy this year has appeared timid with respect to climate–advocating only a return to some of President Obama’s policies, nothing new, and nothing really aggressive. He rarely tweets about the issue at all, though he does tweet fairly often about the economy, and may be trying not to alienate coal country. On the other hand, he has just released a climate plan that, while not as aggressive as it could be, does seem to be a real stab at the problem. He has pledged not to accept campaign donations from fossil fuel companies or donations. He was also the first senator to introduce climate-related legislation, way back in 1986, and tried repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to champion the issue in the Senate several times over his long career.

His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters (which reflects his legislative career but not his terms as Vice President) is 83%. That’s respectable but not impressive. His pro-environment votes outnumbered his anti-environment votes in every year, but in some years one vote in three was anti-environment, including some in the specific areas of climate change, clean energy, and dirty energy.

It appears as though Mr. Biden takes climate seriously, but it is not his highest priority. The good news is that he is willing to become more assertive on the subject when pushed by political pressure from the left.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator of Vermont, is once again running for President as a Democrat. He has a great deal of support, but is no longer alone in his stridency–in part due to his influence, a whole crop of energized, progressive Democrats have sprung up.

Bernie Sanders’ rating with the League of Conservation Voters is an impressive 92%, and it would have been 96% had it not been for 2016, when he inexplicably took 16 anti-environment votes to only one pro-environment vote. In all other years, the pros far outweigh the antis, and in 28 years, there were only ten in which he did not score 100%.

So what happened in 2016? I’m not sure. Personally, I wonder if I’m looking at a typo; maybe the LCV mistakenly coded missed votes (he’s not coded as having missed any votes, which is odd, given that he was campaigning that year) as anti votes?

In any case, Mr. Sanders describes climate change as an “existential threat” and supports the Green New Deal, according to his website. He has also pledged not to accept fossil fuel-industry money. An internet search returns multiple articles about different public events where he spoke on the issue as well, so climate does seem to be on his mind often.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is a politically progressive senator with a history of championing consumer financial protection, income inequality, and related financial issues, though she favors a fairer form of capitalism, not any form of socialism. She has been characterized as a “fighter,” and has a long history of vocal advocacy on her favored subjects dating back before her legislative career.

Her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is a remarkable 99%–she had one anti-environment vote back in 2014–though her legislative career has been much shorter (so far) than that of either Mr. Sanders or Mr. Biden. A quick internet search shows she has been talking climate often and for a long time. She has pledged not to accept fossil fuel-industry money. She supports the Green New Deal, but has recently released a climate change plan of her own.

Ms. Warren’s plan includes Federal money for technological research, as well as various initiatives designed to encourage a market shift towards renewables while creating good-paying jobs. Her plan is distinctive for its inclusion of a “Green Martial Plan” designed to give aid to countries hit hard by climate change–a focus in keeping with her long-term concern with economic fairness. It’s worth noting, too, that since climate change is becoming a major driver of refugee crises and political instability, something like the Green Martial Plan may be a necessary part of American national security going forward.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg stands out most obviously for several factors only marginally related to his potential as president: he’s very young (37!); married to a man; charmingly cool; and blessed with a memorably odd last name. More importantly, he is also a military veteran, mayor of South Bend, Indiana (political experience on a small scale is still political experience), and vocally Christian. He champions getting rid of the Electoral College, but has other issues, including climate change–which he sees as particularly important for people of his own generation and younger who will have to live with the consequences of their elders’ choices.

Since he has no legislative experience, Mr. Buttigieg has no voting record, and thus no score card with the League of Conservation Voters. But he does have a history of engaging with environmental issues.

As Mayor, Mr. Buttigieg has pushed back against President Trump’s anti-environment policies, including archiving a copy of the old EPA website (from before climate change was stripped from it) on his town’s website. He supports the Paris Agreement, joined other mayors and attorneys general in signing a declaration opposing the rollback of clean car rules, and has worked to make sure a local Superfund site in his area has been properly cleaned up. He has also pledged not to take fossil fuel industry money.

As far as I’ve been able to gather, Mr. Buttigieg has not yet released a fully fleshed-out plan to fight climate change, but has voiced support for several climate-related policies, including retrofitting homes for energy efficiency, government support of home solar generation, a carbon tax, and carbon capture and storage. He has received some criticism on the grounds that the last two are also supported by the fossil fuel industry itself, since these measures could allow the industry to continue business-as-usual (though it’s worth saying that last time I looked at the issue, the industry seemed not to like carbon fees, while environmentalists liked them. I’m not sure where this contradiction comes from).

Pete Buttigieg has his heart in the right place, and may be an excellent environmentalist mayor, but it is not yet clear whether he’s ready to operate on the national scale using the very different tools of the American Presidency.

Stay Tuned….

So, that’s four down–only 19 to go!

 

 

 

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Author: Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.

4 thoughts on “The Democratic Field, Part 1

  1. Pingback: The Democratic Field Part 2 | The Climate in Emergency

  2. Pingback: Domocratic Candidates on Climate, Part III | The Climate in Emergency

  3. Pingback: The Climate in Emergency

  4. Pingback: Candidates for President on Climate, Part IV | The Climate in Emergency

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