Recently, the Climate Crisis has been brought into the presidential election limelight in a way that we have never seen before. On Wednesday, September 4, CNN hosted a Town Hall with 10 democratic presidential candidates to discuss their plans to combat the climate crisis. 

This Town Hall seemed like a consolation prize, since climate change activist and political figures did not get the widely requested “climate debate.” The Democratic National Committee (DNC) shut down the climate debate demands by stating that they did not want to sponsor topic-focused debates. (See my article here for reaction to how the DNC handled this situation).

As someone who will be voting for the first time in 2020, the way that presidential candidates responded to the questions posed at this Town Hall is very important to me 

The youth climate strike movement is a big part of today’s climate discussion, and the voices of teens demanding change spoke loudly at the Town Hall on Wednesday. 

Each of the candidates discussed their climate change mitigation plans while also answering questions from the crowd. This piece will provide an overview of the main points made by each candidate and discuss the solutions and issues that they brought up. Though I am not an expert on this topic, I write from the perspective of someone who  is very involved in the youth climate movement. 

Julian Castro

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro was the first speaker at the Town Hall. He said that his first priority if he were to enter the Oval Office would be to rejoin the Paris Accord. 

The Paris Accord is an agreement facilitated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Its goal is to organize climate change mitigation on an international scale by requiring that each country determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate climate change

President Trump has said that he intends to withdraw the US from the Paris Accord at the soonest possible date (November 2020). 

This is a very important statement from Castro. To combat the climate crisis, countries need to band together. The goal of the Paris Accord in to do just that.  

Castro was confronted with his past when an activist from Sunrise Movement asked him about his support of fracking while Mayor of San Antonio. He said that at the time he thought that natural gas was a good alternative to coal. Though he is not calling for a national ban on fracking at the moment, he does support reducing its use. 

Joe Biden

Biden came at this issue with a lot of passion, explaining that we need to combat the climate crisis on a global scale and value scientific facts. 

Though this is a supportive sentiment, he followed it by saying that “Plans are great. Executing their plans is a very different thing,” as a way of putting down his opponents–without demonstrating his ability to execute

Biden’s plan is, in fact, the cheapest of all democratic candidates at only $1.7 trillion.  

Biden needs to be held accountable for his record of poor political alliances and decisions. At the Town Hall, it seemed as though he was telling voters that they should not care about his past when in reality, this is one of the most important things to consider when voting. 

If a candidate has held campaign events while holding hands with fossil fuel companies, as Biden has done, they do not deserve to be at the forefront of an election with the main goal of climate change mitigation. 

Bernie Sanders

The Sanders climate plan is the most expensive one in the race. With a whopping $16 trillion, he plans to tackle climate change head on in a way that he says is going to take the necessary strides to deal with this issue. 

Sanders had no problem taking on Trump and his lack of ability to handle environmental issues. After explaining how the president thinks climate change is a myth, Sanders said, “I think he is dangerously, dangerously wrong.” 

While I do think it is commendable that he is willing to spend so much money on climate change mitigation, it raises a question— Is he doing this so that he can be seen as the most “extreme” candidate on the playing field? After shifting so many Democrats towards more extreme leftist ideals in the 2016 election, it seems like he is trying to maintain that mantle despite having a large liberal presence on the Democratic primary debate stage.  

This is not necessarily a bad thing if he can follow through with his extreme plans. At this point, the large budget of his plans and his age seem to be the only things setting him apart from Warren’s campaign. 

Elizabeth Warren

Warren, who has become a candidate famous for her plans, did not fall short during the Town Hall. Her plans and precise speeches were met with lots of enthusiasm from the crowd, said Elizabeth Kelly, a member of the NYC League of Women Voters who attended the event live in the studio. 

Warren explained that her plan will not only halt carbon emissions but also greatly reduce America’s use of nuclear fuels by 2035.

Warren also acknowledged that climate change is not the fault of consumers. She explained that people were getting too wrapped up in using plastic straws or energy-conserving light bulbs when the root problem is industry emissions. Warren says that she wants to hold companies accountable for their own “messes” by introducing carbon taxes as a first step. 

Warren also explained that she would like to get rid of corruption in Washington involving fossil fuel companies and politicians. This may have been a slight jab at Joe Biden who, despite signing a pact to not accept money from fossil fuel industries, is planning to co-host a fundraiser with Houston-based fossil fuel company “Western LNG”.

Beto O’Rourke

Unlike many of the candidates, O’Rourke came out against a carbon tax. He believes that putting a strict cap on emissions would be better enforced than a tax.

According to the Beto For America official website, his plan would cost roughly $5 trillion. This is not the cheapest nor the most expensive of the available climate plans. It is just average, in the same way that many aspects of his plan are. Other than the carbon cap, O’Rourke seems to have a generally moderate climate plan.

He has explained that he would like to prioritize supporting communities that are being, and will be most affected by extreme weather on account of climate change. This point likely hit especially hard at the Town Hall as Hurricane Dorian was hitting the east coast during it.

Tune in tomorrow for coverage of the second half of the candidates at the Climate Change Town Hall (yes, it was a long night!)