The Climate in Emergency

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


The Field of Candidates on Climate Part 4

And my review the field of presidential candidates continues.

As in years past, I’m only writing 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 (note that this link goes to an online document that is being updated. If you read this post long after I write it, the link might go to something very different than the document I read).

The Democratic Field (In Part)

With so many Democrats running, I have to take the candidates in groups. Three weeks ago, I posted my first installment of the series, the first group, which included people at the current front of the pack, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Two weeks ago, I posted a second group, including the majority of the female hopefuls, plus Jay Inslee, the self-styled Climate Candidate. Last week, I posted a third installment that included the majority of non-white hopefuls.

Now, it’s time for the next-to-the-last installment, a group of candidates I, frankly, had not heard of before I researched this post. Their polling numbers are low. Their chances of winning the nomination are poor–but not zero. Any of them has the potential to shape the conversation and influence the public positions of the other candidates. We can expect at least some in this group to use their presidential bid as the basis for further political ambitions in the future.

Marian Williamson

Marian Williamson is a self-help guru and a best-selling author. She has no prior experience in public office, but did run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014. It’s not clear whether she is even serious about wanting to be president, but her candidacy has enough support to qualify her for the debates–and remember, Donald Trump was an inexperienced outsider with no chance off success once upon a time. In terms of policy proposals, Ms. Williamson is best-known for calling for reparations for black people, though her proposed figure is an order of magnitude smaller than scholars think it should be.

Because Ms. Williamson has no prior leadership experience, we have only her campaign promises to go on–but these are fairly solid. Her website outlines an ambitious, well-rounded climate plan that looks generally similar to what the best of other candidates have to offer. Whether she can implement her plan if elected is anybody’s guess, but her intentions seem to be in the right place and she understands the issue.

John Delany

John Delany (or Delaney, I’ve seen it spelled both ways) is a Maryland Congressman who entered the race two years ago. He is a successful businessman and a staunch capitalist. Politically, he is a centrist who cares a great deal about national unity. His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is a respectable 94% over a legislative career that goes back to 2013. He has released an ambitious and somewhat unusual climate plan that relies heavily on both on carbon capture (that is, sucking carbon dioxide out of the air by technological means still in the very early stages of development) and a form of carbon pricing that is popular with fossil fuel companies and therefore questioned by environmentalists. He could find his proposal attacked from the right and the left.

Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan is an experienced Congressman intent on competing for the voters who currently make up President Trump’s base–rural America. His focus is on reinvigorating the United States as a manufacturing power. His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 92% in a legislative career that goes back to 2003. But as a presidential candidate, he has expressed concern that Democrats seem “hostile to business” and he wants to see climate change dealt with by the private sector, and he supports fracking.

John Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper is a former governor of Colorado, where is presided over an economic boom attributed largely to fossil fuel extraction (fracking, in this case). He is a political centrist and rather proud of his ability to get opposing sides to the negotiating table. Since he does not have a legislative voting record, he does not have a League of Conservation Voters score, but that organization has released a statement on his climate plan–they don’t like it, saying it has some good points but overall “falls short.”

Mr. Hickenlooper himself acknowledges the differences between his plan and the Green New Deal, but claims that the GND contains “distractions” that have little to do with fighting climate change and could trigger a political backlash. We could be looking here at a difference in strategy, not a difference in ultimate goals.

Some Thoughts

Because Democrats more or less have to talk about climate change now, climate-focused voters need to figure out who is most serious and whose plan is most likely to work–it’s no good having an ideologically excellent climate hawk who can’t get the job done. Unfortunately, that choice depends on judgments that most of us simply aren’t informed enough to make. In fact, since we’re engaged in a fight no one has had to wage before, we don’t know for sure what kinds of tactics might win.