Too busy to research the ridiculous amount of democratic candidates? We gotcha covered. Here lies each* candidates plan to tackle the climate crisis!
*only candidates polling above 1% nationally
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.
Michael Bloomberg, 77
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.
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.”
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.
Tom Steyer, 62
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.
Unfortunately, her plans aren’t all “big structural change” when it comes to saving our planet and people from climate change. Warren’s Green New Deal would make the military more environmentally friendly. She cites military readiness as being under threat from climate change. Let’s be clear, with a military budget larger than the next ten countries’ militaries combined, America’s military is not under threat from anything. The military itself is a major producer of greenhouse gas emissions.
Warren has the appeal of a “practical progressive,” somewhat bridging the divide between Biden and Sanders, for those who are not completely on board with Sander’s straight to the point policies that would help working people in the United States. While her plans are thorough, her record in the senate does not lend hope that she would bring about the paradigm shifting change that she promises.
This is seen in her lack of expertise and equivocal stance on the American military industrial complex and support for environmentally destructive pro-war policies. In 2017, she voted in favor of raising the defense budget to $700 billion dollars, including an additional $60 billion for military operations in countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The bill increased military spending by $80 billion in total, and even surpassed the $54 billion increase requested by President Trump.
To be fair, this isn’t really so surprising. As a senator for Massachusetts she’s been known to meet regularly with defense contractors from her state, including Raytheon, which is headquartered there. She’s fought to stop the Army from shifting funds away from military communications products made in her state, lobbied in favor of poorly-graded General Dynamics-made products, and promised to protect Massachusetts military bases and facilities from defense cuts.
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.