The Climate in Emergency

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


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Candidates for President on Climate, Part IV

Continuing my review the field of presidential candidates….

As a reminder, I’m only writing about candidates on 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. Four 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. Three weeks ago, I posted a second group, including the majority of the female hopefuls, plus Jay Inslee, the self-styled Climate Candidate. Two weeks ago, I posted a third installment that included the majority of non-white hopefuls. Last week I posted a piece about some of the remaining candidates, people with very little name recognition and few resources. Now, I’m finishing the series with a final group of long-shots.

As with last week’s group, we can be almost (but not entirely!) sure none of these long-shots will get the nomination, let alone the presidency, but that does not make them irrelevant. Some may use this year’s presidential run as a platform to do something else of note, including running for president again and maybe winning. Some may be tapped for cabinet positions or become the nominee’s running mate. And any of them has the potential to shape the conversation and influence the public positions of the other candidates.

Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio is the current Mayor of New York, and apparently a large majority of New Yorkers do not support his candidacy. He is perhaps best-known for launching a universal pre-Kindergarden program in his city, but he is claiming some serious climate-action chops.

New York City has its own Green New Deal–a group of recently-passed city laws called the Climate Mobilization Act (and branded, yes, as the Green New Deal, despite having no direct connection to Representative Ocasio-Cortez’ proposal) is aimed at keeping the city on track with the Paris Climate Agreement, largely by mandating a combination of greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy use by most of its larger buildings. It’s an ambitious and exciting step, not least because the city will now act as a logistical and political test case for serious climate action plans. Mr. de Blasio himself was initially skeptical, but has embraced the Act, possibly because it allows him to directly challenge President Trump, whose properties are among those the Act targets.

New York is also one of the places most obviously vulnerable to climate change, as Superstorm Sandy made tragically clear. It makes sense that the city’s mayor should have the issue on his radar, and Mr. de Blasio has proposed a way to “climate proof” Manhattan (also branded as part of the Green New Deal) by building up a raised berm around the edge of the island. The plan has been criticized for its vagueness and for the possibility that excluding water from Manhattan could make flooding worse in surrounding areas. Personally, I wonder where rainwater is going to go if the island becomes bowl-shaped. Has the city’s storm-water management system been designed for climate-change-related rainstorms?

Mr. de Blasio has also been criticized for ignoring opportunities for local clean power generation in favor of Canadian hydropower–and Canadian hydropower has a poor environmental record and a terrible environmental justice record.

It appears that Mr. de Blasio is both talking the talk and walking the walk on climate, but the questions raised about his various plans are worrying.

Michael Bennet

Michael Bennet is a centrist Senator whose primary interests include healthcare, which seems fitting as he had to delay his own campaign for health reasons earlier this year. His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 90%, disappointing in a Democrat these days, but his score for 2018 is 100%, a puzzling disparity. He has released a climate plan of his own, of which the League of Conservation Voters heartily approves, noting that he is taking the challenge of climate change seriously. That his climate plan was the first policy proposal of his presidential campaign is a good sign that the issue really is a priority for him.

On the other hand, he has a history of supporting natural gas development, voted for the Keystone Pipeline, and seems generally reluctant to antagonize the fossil fuel industry. It’s worth noting that he favors natural gas as a pragmatic bridge fuel, since its use is less carbon-intensive than coal–it’s possible he’s a genuine environmentalist whose disagreements with most climate hawks are a matter of strategy, rather than of differing goals.

Eric Swalwell

Eric Swalwell is a California Congressman interested in gun control. His lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 95%, not bad, but his 2018 score is 89%, putting him well behind the rest of the pack. He touts his own environmental record as a legislator (meaning he does care about environmental voters), but so far I have not found evidence of him offering real leadership on the topic.

Steve Bullock

Steve Bullock is Governor of Montana and is running for President on a campaign of ending unlimited campaign contributions and “dark” money in politics. He (quite correctly) points out that all other progressive and liberal issues will remain unsolvable until the playing fields gets closer to fair. He has not qualified for the first debate, but is notable for having won (by 20 points) a state Mr. Trump carried, and he has demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle, getting his Republican legislature to pass traditionally Democratic issues.

Unfortunately, his record on climate is terrible, since he fought against President Obama’s climate action policies in order to protect Montana’s coal industry. He wants the US to rejoin Paris, but it’s difficult to see how he expects to meet our obligations under the agreement without rapidly phasing out coal, something he does not want to do.

Mr. Bullock has recently brought Montana into the US Climate Alliance, a group organized with the aim of lowering emissions in accordance with Paris on a state-by-state basis. He appears to be actively courting climate voters, at least. Strictly speaking, that’s good–but he’s not the savvy climate hawk we need right now.

Seth Moulton

At just 40 years old, Seth Moulton is young for a presidential candidate. A military veteran, he told CNN that “I do think that it’s time for the generation that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to step in for the generation that sent us there.” He has also been very open about his struggles with PTSD (successful, thanks to therapy). He has not qualified for the debates.

His score with the League of Conservation Voters shows the same odd deterioration as Eric Swalwell’s: lifetime is an impressive 97%, but in 2018 he scored only 89%. His plan to address climate and college affordability involves a large-scale national service program similar to the old Civilian Conservation Corps, aimed at projects designed to either mitigate or respond to climate change (through disaster response, for example) and tied to some serious money for college or vocational training. Frankly, it’s an excellent idea, for any number of reasons. It can’t lower national emissions by itself, so if green service ends up being Mr. Moulton’s only response to climate that’s a big problem, but in and of itself it’s a great idea.

He lists climate change as a core issue for his candidacy and was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, though he has also criticized the proposal. He also supports nuclear energy, which many environmentalists very much don’t–but nuclear is a legitimate point for debate on environmental strategy. He might have a point.

Wayne Messam

Mr. Messam is a former football star, an entrepreneur, and, currently, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, a large and rapidly-growing suburb of Miami. He was initially elected as mayor by only four points, but he won re-election in a landslide, suggesting he’s doing a very good job. He boasts of his ability to put together teams to get things done, and lead the fight against construction of an oil well in the Everglades. He has asserted that climate change is an important issue and he was one of the mayors to openly criticize President Trump’s withdrawal from Paris.

Unfortunately for him, he’s having trouble attracting either political support or money for his presidential campaign. He did not qualify for the first debate and has lost important staff because his campaign cannot afford to pay them.

Mr. Messam has a number of interesting policy proposals on a variety of topics. Unfortunately, climate change is not one of those topics. He says nothing the other candidates do not say.

So, Here We Are

23 Democrats! Personally, I suspect the number is about to start shrinking, now that we’re past the first debates.

For our purposes, we can eliminate a few more names, people who are just not serious candidates on the question of climate. That the majority of Democratic hopefuls are serious about climate is good news, though it does make endorsement rather daunting. Rather than pick one favorite at this point, I’m dividing the field into three tiers: climate champions; qualified climate candidates; and unqualified on climate.

Unqualified on Climate

I highly recommend not voting for any of these in the primary, though should any of them win the nomination, they would all be better than the current president:

  • Beto O’Rourke
  • Andrew Yang
  • Tim Ryan
  • Steve Bullock
  • Seth Moulton (he’ll graduate to “qualified” if he releases a plan that can actually lower emissions)

Qualified Climate Candidates

These people are not as strong on climate as I’d like to see, but I’d be comfortable with any of them in the White House. President Obama would have been in this category, and he did quite well.

  • Joe Biden
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • Tulsi Gabbard
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Kamala Harris
  • Cory Booker
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Julián Castro
  • Marian Williamson
  • John Delany
  • John Hickenlooper
  • Bill de Blasio
  • Michael Bennet
  • Eric Swalwell
  • Wayne Messam

Climate Champions

These are the folks who make me happy. To be clear, climate hawkishness is not the only factor, here; a merely qualified person who is a skilled and effective politician would be far better than an ideologically pure limp-along. But these are the folks standing up to lead on climate.

  • Elizabeth Warren
  • Jay Inslee

 

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The Democratic Field Part 2

It’s election season again, and so I am continuing my 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. Last week, I presented Chunk Number One.  Here is Chunk Number Two.

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee, the current governor of Washington State, has carved out a niche for himself as the climate change candidate. He does care about other issues as well; he supports gun control, is very concerned about the anti-vaccination movement, and wants to expand immigration. However, climate change is his central, most-important cause, and many of his other stances bear on that one. For example, he wants to get rid of the filibuster as a move to make climate action bills easier to pass. Sadly, I have not heard much else about him. He doesn’t make the news very often.

Mr. Inslee has, surprisingly, received some criticism on environmental and environmental justice issues. Not that is record is particularly bad, but he has not been very effective in environmental leadership in his home state, and has been slow to oppose, or actually supportive of, a few industrial projects that environmentalists oppose. He has been slow to the table on environmental justice particularly. He does tend to come around, and appears to be learning from his mistakes, but the fact that he’s following, not leading, is puzzling.

His climate plan, though, does have a few interesting features. For example, the plan devotes a lot of attention to immigration and to foreign policy, on the understanding that climate change will increase the flow of refugees and put more countries at risk for destabilization. And the climate plan has a sister-plan focused on economics that includes a “green G.I. Bill” aimed at helping fossil-fuel industry workers transition to other industries. Mr. Inslee is using climate as an organizing principle to approach foreign policy, economic policy, and economic justice (and, I’m guessing, other issues). It’s a smart, deeply reality-based approach–whatever his shortcomings, Mr. Inslee is paying attention. His interest in climate is no mere political window-dressing, but the real deal.

Significantly, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Mr. Inslee’s plan among all those as yet proposed by presidential hopefuls.

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard is a current House of Representatives member from Hawaii, the first Hindu Congressmember, and a military veteran–she also grew up as an avid surfer. According to her own campaign materials, concern for the environment is what got her into politics to begin with. Her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is an impressive 96%.

She has not endorsed the Green New Deal, saying it is too vague (although the GND is not a policy proposal but rather a proposed commitment to develop policy. It’s supposed to be vague), and has not–as far as I can gather–released her own climate plan yet. She does talk about the importance of climate action often. She has also proposed an ambitious House bill aimed at reducing emissions from both transportation and electricity generation.

She is definitely on the right side of the issue, but it’s not clear how she would use the office of the presidency to help.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand, a lawyer by training, is the current Senator from New York, having succeeded Hillary Clinton. She has drawn some fire among Democrats for socially conservative positions she has held in the past–and has since repudiated. She has made a name for herself largely as an advocate of women’s empowerment and by speaking against public figures accused of sexual harassment. Her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is 95%–and her score for 2018 is 100%.

Ms. Gillibrand has backed the Green New Deal, saying the country needs a “moon shot” on the issue “as a measure of our innovation and effectiveness.” She is calling for some form of carbon pricing program (she has not yet proposed details), saying that “if you’re a polluter, fair enough, but you’re going to have to pay a lot more,” to cover the public costs of such pollution.

An online search shows that she speaks publicly about climate change often, but she has not yet released her own plan. It is not clear whether she has developed any ideas about how she might use the office of the presidency to lead on the issue.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris is a current senator from California, and is a former State Attorney General. Her multi-ethnic background means she has scored multiple “firsts;” her state’s first black AG, first Asian-American AG, and first female AG are all her. She has not yet become strongly associated with any particular issue (indeed, she regards her lack of a unifying political theme as an advantage), but her lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters is actually 100%. Pretty impressive!

Although, since she’s been a legislator for less than two years, her scorecard is based on comparatively few votes thus far.

She has signed on to the Green New Deal and is considered a reliable ally on environmental issues, including climate change, but has not yet positioned herself as a leader on the subject. An online search shows she speaks publicly about climate, but does not seem focused on the issue at all.

Some Thoughts

So far, in the course of reading up on the candidates, it looks as though we may have passed an important political watershed among Democrats; candidates may no longer ignore climate, and the weakest in this year’s crop resemble the climate hawks of, say, 2008. If that’s the score, then we’re in a good position, since even an opportunistic climate wishy-washer could be persuaded to take meaningful climate action by an engaged, vocal electorate.

Personally, I’d prefer a real climate go-getter, someone who recognizes the gravity of the situation and treats it like an emergency, but it may be that the choice of best option will hinge on other criteria. After all, anyone who isn’t actually invested in some form of climate denial can be pushed into signing bills and even a couple of executive orders–if there are bills to sign.

The real champion must prove themselves capable of defeating the climate denial movement, working across the aisle, and engaging culturally conservative voters in Middle America, otherwise he or she is unlikely to win the general election and will be incapable of accomplishing anything once in office.

If such a champion arises but has less than stellar climate credentials, I’ll be OK with that. Let the President bring the nation together–let Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and others light the fire that keeps the unified nation going in the right direction.