Too busy to research the ridiculous amount of democratic candidates? We gotcha covered. Here lies each candidates plan to tackle the climate crisis!
Joe Biden, 76
Signature Issues: Restoring America’s standing on the global stage; strengthening economic protections for low-income workers in industries like manufacturing and fast food.
Biden is far from revolutionary in many aspects, including on the existential threat that the climate crisis poses for the world. He does not support the Green New Deal entirely, however, he signaled he will embrace central concepts of the resolution—that the world needs to get net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and that the environment and economy are connected. He was slower to do so, and for that reason he has faced criticism from young, impatient voters.
He wants Congress to pass emissions limits with “an enforcement mechanism … based on the principle that polluters must bear the full cost of the carbon pollution they are emitting.” He said it would include “clear, legally-binding emissions reductions,” but did not give details.
The Biden-Obama administration was strong on climate change—especially in its second term—notably achieving the landmark Paris climate agreement, asserting climate action and jobs go hand in hand. It pushed through auto fuel economy standards that deeply cut emissions. It also produced regulations on coal-fired power plants, though the rule was stymied by litigation and has been replaced with a weaker rule by the Trump administration.
This makes a case against incremental change. While it is effective in getting agendas pushed through an ideologically unbalanced congress, it allows for simple rollbacks in administrations that disagree with the precedent. Many Obama-era environmental policies have been rolled back during the Trump administration, notably the Paris climate accords.
Often overlooked, the Obama era stimulus package of 2009 included big investments in climate-friendly research and infrastructure. But Biden is also tethered to Obama’s “all-of-the-above” philosophy, which left ample room for the fracking boom that bolstered one fossil fuel, natural gas, over another, coal, and put the U.S. on track to become the world’s leading oil producer. Since Biden is so adamant about touting his record as Obama’s VP, it would be important for him to acknowledge the absurd amount of military strikes on developing countries that Obama oversaw, which is antithetical to the narrative of effective environmental policy that Biden is attempting to push on the debate stage. The US military is the worlds largest polluter.
Additionally, he accepts campaign contributions from billionaires with ties to the fossil fuel industry.
Cory Booker, 50
Signature Issues: Has been one of the leaders in the Senate on criminal justice reform, but his appeal would most likely center on his call to unify the country.
Booker supports a Green New Deal, and states on his campaign site that he will work to implement it if elected. Booker was among the first senators with a vision for the Oval Office to endorse the Green New Deal in December 2018, right on the heels of Bernie Sanders. The sweep of its policy prescriptions reflects his own broad agenda: more than a year ago he proposed model jobs legislation that would include federal employment support in 15 pilot cities. Booker also favors Medicare for all, which critically complements the Green New Deal.
Much of his stance on the climate crisis focuses on environmental justice. He plans to step up efforts to defend communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities by doubling staffing in all EPA enforcement offices, put a moratorium on drilling on our public lands, and protect marginalized communities suffering from environmental injustices by increasing staffing at the EPA’s Environmental Justice Office and the External Civil Rights Enforcement Office.
Booker has consistently achieved a nearly perfect voting record on the annual green scorecards of the League of Conservation Voters. But like most other Senate Democrats, there’s no enacted law he can point to that would mark him as an especially effective climate or environmental champion. Cory Booker has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, however, this is not a big sacrifice for a candidate whose main sources of corporate finance have been in other industries, such as finance and pharmaceuticals. Additionally, Booker rarely talks about the climate crisis on social media.
Pete Buttigieg, 37
Signature Issues: Has stressed his generational identity and called for policies on issues like climate change and economic opportunity.
Buttigieg said he backs “a green new deal that promotes equity in our economy while confronting the climate crisis.” That includes a nationwide carbon tax which would pay dividends to Americans, and a commitment to retraining displaced workers from fossil fuel businesses that close down. His climate plan also calls for at least quadrupling federal research and development funding for renewable energy and energy storage.
Indiana, Buttigieg’s constituency, is heavily coal reliant, its state leadership across the board is Republican, and it has passed so-called pre-emption laws that curtail local initiatives to address climate change and fossil fuel use. Yet, Buttigieg set up an Office of Sustainability for South Bend. In the aftermath of the U.S. exit from the Paris climate accord, the city has jumped aboard campaigns by mayors to meet the treaty’s goals.
However, Mayor Pete was slow to roll out specifics for addressing climate change in his burgeoning campaign, the next challenge may be to flesh out his climate positions to drive home that sense of urgency and differentiate himself from the big, more experienced pack.
Julian Castro, 44
Signature Issues: Has emphasized a platform of universal prekindergarten, “Medicare for all” and immigration reform.
Castro has not released a detailed climate policy like many of the democratic candidates. He has spoken often about the urgency of the threat posed by climate change, and in his campaign announcement, he called it “the biggest threat to our prosperity in this 21st Century.”
His tenure as San Antonio mayor coincided with a fracking boom in the nearby Eagle Ford shale, and Castro welcomed the jobs and investment that came with oil and gas development. In 2012, he told the San Antonio Express-News that the drilling boom brought an “unprecedented opportunity” and that high schools and colleges had to do more to train students for oil field work. In a 2015 interview, Castro said that while he had concerns about the safety of fracking, he supported the practice as long as it is well regulated. “I believe that there is a utility to it and that it has a strong economic value, that natural gas is an important component of our energy future and at the same time keeping an open mind as research continues to come in,” he said.
Tulsi Gabbard, 38
Signature Issue: Known for aggrandizing her service in the US military and opposition to American military intervention overseas, including in countries like Syria.
Gabbard is another democratic candidate who has little to say about the climate crisis. However, on her campaign site she states that she founded the OFF Act, which focuses on transitioning the U.S. to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2035 and includes provisions to stimulate the economy and transition workers to jobs in the renewable energy sector. She has stated that she has concerns over the vagueness of the Green New Deal.
In the first presidential primary debate, she spoke little about climate change but said she would fix the wage gap by taking “your hard-earned taxpayer dollars” and investing them in programs that include “a green economy, good-paying jobs, protecting our environment, and so much more.”
Signature Issue: Has long placed women’s equality and opportunity at the center of her policy agenda.
As a senator from upstate New York, Kirsten Gillibrand has seen two climate hot-button issues land in her backyard: fracking and the impacts of extreme weather. She is continuing to seek funding for recovery from Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene and has cited the impacts from those storms—as well as the recent flooding in the Midwest—as evidence that leaders need to take on climate change urgently.
On fracking, her position has evolved. Early in her Senate career, Gillibrand saw fracking as bringing an “economic opportunity” to the state, though she regularly underscored the need for it to be done in a way that was safe for the environment, according to E&E. More recently, she has supported plans that would likely keep any remaining oil in the ground—making fracking a moot point.
She’s been an active supporter of implementing a carbon tax, and in April, was one of four co-sponsors of a Senate bill that would put a price on carbon. The bill aims to reduce greenhouse gases by an estimated 51 percent by 2029, compared to 2005 levels, while generating an estimated $2.3 trillion over 10 years. Resources for the Future found that, if implemented, the plan would lead the U.S. to outpace the targets laid out in its Paris Agreement pledge and double the utility sector carbon reductions by 2030 that were promised by Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
Unlike most of her peers in the 2020 race, Gillibrand hasn’t put out a detailed climate policy plan—this really isn’t her issue. But it is ours, and should be everyones.
Kamala Harris, 54
Signature Issues: Unveiled middle-class tax cut legislation last fall, and has championed a liberal civil rights agenda in the Senate.
As San Francisco’s district attorney, Kamala has worked on environmental policy. Namely, she oversaw the creation of an environmental justice unit and has confronted the fossil fuel industry, opposing a Chevron refinery expansion in Richmond. She frequently joined other blue-state AG’s to challenge Trump regulatory rollbacks. One of 17 to join AGs United for Clean Power in 2016, she signaled support of an investigation of ExxonMobil but did not take on the company as did Massachusetts and New York, which pursued active legal challenges that continue to this day. However, in a state like California where climate and environmental policy rank high on the agenda, her actions could be much more extreme.
There’s no question that Harris understands the importance of climate change, its causes, and the need for rapid solutions. But she has not made it a hallmark of her campaign and has shied away from the particulars. She doesn’t have the kind of comprehensive, detailed plan that many other candidates have offered, and in a few instances, such as whether to vigorously pursue an investigation of Exxonmobil’s activities, she has backed off.
In terms of her criminal justice record, Harris is filled with contradictions. She pushed for programs that helped people find jobs instead of putting them in prison, but also fought to keep people in prison even after they were proved innocent. She refused to pursue the death penalty against a man who killed a police officer, but also defended California’s death penalty system in court. She implemented training programs to address police officers’ racial biases, but also resisted calls to get her office to investigate certain police shootings.
In the second round of debates, Harris gave attention to climate change in stating, “Well, first of all I don’t even call it climate change. It’s a climate crisis. It represents an existential threat to us as a species.”
Amy Klobuchar, 59
Signature Issues: Has championed legislation to combat the opioid crisis and drug addiction, and to address the cost of prescription drugs.
Klobuchar co-sponsored the Green New Deal resolution, but calls it aspirational rather than prescriptive, telling CNN that it doesn’t make sense to her to “get rid of all these industries or do this in a few years,” while it does make sense to “start doing concrete things, and put some aspirations out there on climate change.” She supports putting a price on carbon, but told the Tampa Bay Times “it would have to be done in some way that is not at all regressive.”
She additionally answered a Washington Post questionnaire on fracking by saying she doesn’t want to ban the method of extracting oil and gas, but would like to regulate it better. She has said that “safe nuclear power” along with “cleaner coal technologies” should continue to be developed as part of a comprehensive energy strategy, according to an issue brief on her Senate website.
Amy Klobuchar has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.
Bernie Sanders, 77
Signature Issues: “Medicare for all,” free college tuition, curtailing the influence of, as he calls them, “the billionaires.”
Sanders often says he introduced “the most comprehensive climate change legislation in the history of the United States Senate.” It was a carbon tax-and-dividend bill and accompanying clean energy bill co-sponsored with then-Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2013. The bills were dead on arrival, but they marked an important shift in the Democratic drive for climate action—a pivot away from the cap-and-trade approach that had foundered, and toward carbon taxation.
The Green New Deal is central to the Sanders campaign, and he has left more fingerprints on it than any of the other senators running for president who co-sponsored it. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who propelled it into the center ring in Washington, got her electoral start working for Sanders in his 2016 campaign. And with its emphasis on social justice, working class jobs, health care and spending without regard to revenue sources, it echoes the ideas of Sanders’ long-time economic adviser, Stephanie Kelton.
Out of all candidates in the second round of debates, Sanders gave the most attention to the climate crisis. He stated that, “look, the old ways are no longer relevant. The scientists tell us we have 12 years because there’s irreparable damage to this planet. This is a global issue. What the president of the United States should do is not deny the reality of climate change, but tell the rest of the world that instead of spending $1.5 trillion on weapons of destruction, let us get together for the common enemy and that is to transform the world energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency, and sustainable energy… the future of the planet rests on us doing that.”
His consistent climate change message can be summed up in a few words: it’s real, it’s here, we caused it, and we need to shift the whole economy away from fossil fuels. So he supports nationwide bans on fracking, on new fossil fuel infrastructure, and on fossil fuel leases on public lands. He supports high speed rail, electric vehicles and public transit. He has called for phasing out nuclear energy, and he supports spending money to adapt to climate change, such as defenses against wildfires, floods, drought and hurricanes.
Bernie Sanders was the first candidate to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge.
Elizabeth Warren, 70
Signature Issues: Income inequality and what she sees as a middle class under attack from big corporations and political corruption.
If Warren’s campaign had a single slogan, it would be “I have a plan for that.” While she entered the race with a reputation based on issues other than climate change—some environmentalists dismissed her leadership in this realm—she has made up for it with a series of expansive and fairly detailed prescriptions.
She struck early with a pledge to prohibit all new fossil fuel leases on public lands, which struck a chord with the “keep-it-in-the-ground” camp—she had co-sponsored legislation on the same theme that never moved in the Republican Senate. Some, but not all, other candidates quickly echoed the promise.
She supports the Green New Deal and released a “Green Manufacturing Plan” which includes investments in research, industry, and workers. She plans to lead the global effort to combat climate change—and create more than a million good jobs in the process. Her plan would include $1.5 trillion for American-made clean energy products, $400 billion in funding for green research and development and $100 billion in foreign assistance to purchase emissions-free American energy technology.
In the first presidential primary debate, Warren stated that “There’s going to be a worldwide need for green technology, ways to clean up the air, ways to clean up the water and we can be the ones to provide that,” Warren said. “We need to go tenfold in our research and development on green energy going forward.”
Signature Issues: Has proposed $100 billion in reparations for slavery, with $10 billion to be distributed annually over a decade for economic and education projects.
Williamson is one of the most interesting candidates out of the bevy of people competing for the democratic nomination—she plans to solve America’s problems by “harnessing love”, a statement she even made on night two of the debates. She is a self-help guru who once self-helped Oprah into experiencing 157 miracles.
When asked about her inexperience, she stated, “There are many kinds of experience. Experienced politicians have led us to a situation where, if we don’t act within the next 12 years, in terms of climate change, the survivability of the human race will be in question.”
Williamson—with an exception to Bernie—may be the only candidate running on a platform that outwardly opposes the stagnant nature of the Democratic party. She calls for radical change, however, not without sacrificing her reputation—it often comes off as a “crystal healing, meditation fantasy.”
This bestselling author completely supports the Green New Deal. Going beyond most candidates, she states how more needs to be done in addition to passing the resolution: “while it doesn’t cover the whole range of measures we must undertake to reverse global warming, it is an important step, therefore I support it.” She thinks of the climate crisis in terms of rethinking energy, transportation, economics, climate justice, and national security—and has specific proposals to back her stance up.
In the second round of debates, Williamson was the sole candidate to connect healthcare to the climate crisis in stating: “What we need to talk about is why so many Americans have unnecessary chronic illnesses so many more compared to other countries and that gets back into not just the big Pharma, not just health insurance companies, it has to do with chemical policies, it has to do with environmental policies…” She was also the only candidate to mention the atrocities that the US has been committing in Latin America, whose refugees are inextricably linked to the climate crisis.
Andrew Yang, 44
Signature Issue: Establishing a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for all Americans.
Yang’s biggest policy, and likely what brought him to the debate stage, is his vision for Universal Basic Income (UBI). His proposal is to give every American a monthly check for one thousand dollars, which he connected to solving climate change in the debate.
His campaign site speaks sparingly about climate, however, he does state that “while the role of the federal government is important, much of the work will be done at the state, or even neighborhood, level. The federal government should support local efforts through funding and market-based incentives.” He mostly focuses on Carbon Fee and Dividend in his climate plan.
While Yang has some radical ideas that allude to systemic change, he doesn’t seem to be quite there. His climate plan is vague and follows the same tune of corporate democrats, not the sweeping change we need—one that reimagines our economy and creates millions of green jobs.
During the second round of debates, Yang explained that “we are 10 years too late” when attempting to tackle the climate crisis. He added a dooming “We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground, and the best way to do that is to put economic resources into your hands so you can protect yourself and your families.