By Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Ari Natter
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who has made fighting climate change the centerpiece of his bid for the White House, framed seven minutes of sparring on the issue, warning: “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we are the last that can do something about it.”
Four of the 10 Democrats on stage invoked climate change as the greatest geopolitical threat, though two lumped it in with other concerns, China and nuclear proliferation. But on the debate stage, they struggled to outline clear strategies for attacking it.
Former Representative Beto O’Rourke of the oil state of Texas reiterated his pledge to galvanize $5 trillion in clean energy investments and stressed the role that rural America can play in confronting the crisis with sustainable agriculture practices.
“We’re going to put farmers and ranchers in the driver’s seat,” he said, “to make sure that we capture more carbon out of the air and keep more of it in the soil, paying farmers for the environmental services they want to provide.”
Former Representative John Delaney of Maryland interjected to highlight his support for slapping a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, with the revenue rebated to households — an idea that has gained some traction on Capitol Hill. “This has got to be our way forward,” he said.
Miami was a fitting backdrop for the climate change discussion as it is already seeing the perils of a warming planet. Rising seas and storm surges threaten Florida’s coastlines and could put more than $346 billion worth of property in the state literally underwater, according to the National Climate Assessment released last year.
Voters are increasingly concerned about the issue, as the effects of a shifting climate become more apparent in the form of catastrophic hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires.
A series of recent scientific reports have warned that greenhouse gas reductions are urgently needed to avert the most devastating consequences of climate change. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal calling for a “10-year mobilization” to confront climate change has also shifted the political conversation on the subject, helping spur 2020 contenders to outline competing blueprints for addressing it.
On Wednesday, the Democrats broadly cast the crusade against climate change as a chance to bolster green jobs and economic growth, with Senator Elizabeth Warren describing a “$23 trillion market coming for green products” that the U.S. should dominate.
Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio outlined ambitions for half of the world’s electric cars to be built in the U.S., warning that the Democratic Party needs to get “workers back on our side.” And Inslee stressed that America “can put millions of people to work in the clean energy jobs of the future,” while drawing a distinction with Donald Trump. The president thinks “wind turbines cause cancer,” Inslee said, when they actually create jobs.
Trump’s re-election campaign, in a statement after the debate, accused the Democrats of embracing “a $93 trillion energy plan that would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and cost each American household $600,000 in new taxes.”
Although brief, the climate discussion itself was novel. The subject got short shrift during the 2016 election cycle, only obliquely coming up once during three general election debates when Ken Bone, a power plant operator, asked about coal mining.
Environmentalists have lobbied hard — and unsuccessfully — for an entire debate focusing on climate change. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez rejected bids for a climate-centered debate, amid pressure from Inslee and environmental activists who rallied outside DNC headquarters in Washington on Wednesday.