Nov 21, 2019

Dems' disjointed climate debate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The climate chatter in last night's Democratic primary debate lacked a narrative through-line but produced interesting moments nonetheless.

The big picture: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg made an agriculture pitch ahead of Iowa. He's the frontrunner in a closely watched recent poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers.

  • And he didn't pass up the chance to emphasize his ideas around the climate-agriculture nexus, which, to be sure, had been revealed before last night.
  • "I believe that the quest for the carbon-negative farm could be as big a symbol of dealing with climate change as the electric car in this country," Buttigieg said in redirecting a question about farm subsidies.
  • His plan would, among other things, pay farmers for soil management practices that store carbon.

Nobody would complain it was too granular (or revealing). MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked the lone question.

  • It wasn't structured to draw out policy specifics. And it didn't. She asked how candidates would "secure leadership and bipartisan support" for a multidecade effort.

What they're saying: FiveThirtyEight's Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux observes that climate discussion in the debates thus far hasn't been especially specific.

  • "Maybe that’s partially because of the questions that are being asked? It’s obviously a hugely important topic, but one where it seems difficult to have a substantive back-and-forth in a debate," she wrote on their liveblog.

Bookmark this: "I think it is the existential threat to humanity. It's the Number One issue," Joe Biden said (emphasis added).

  • Quick take: Let's say Biden wins the White House and Democrats somehow eke out a small Senate majority.
  • He'll face a near-term decision about where to spend his political capital and which major legislation to push first if a narrow window opens. If it's the "Number One issue," does that mean it's first in line?

The Bernie Sanders-Pete Buttigieg contrast: Sanders was aggressive, noting at one point that "the fossil fuel industry is probably criminally liable" because they "lied when they had the evidence" and deserve prosecution (it's an idea in his wider plan released in August).

Buttigieg at one point talked up outreach to "conservative communities where a lot of people have been made to feel that admitting climate science would mean acknowledging they're part of the problem."

  • Those concepts are not mutually exclusive. Both have wide-ranging climate plans, though Sanders' $16 trillion is the most aggressive (and rather controversial).

Tom Steyer made an important point by saying that housing policy is climate policy, noting "how we build units, where people live has a dramatic impact on climate and on sustainability."

  • A Biden-Steyer exchange produced some minor fireworks, which the Washington Examiner unpacks here and The Los Angeles Times describes here

Climate surfaced repeatedly in answers even outside the lone direct question, which shows how the topic is now stitched into the fabric of Democratic politics.

Go deeper:

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Why climate change is a defining issue for 2020

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images

Climate change is playing a larger — and more polarizing — role than ever before in a presidential election.

Why it matters: In the past, the topic barely registered with voters and candidates were less polarized. Today, all Democratic candidates are treating it as a crisis, with detailed plans and funding sources to address it, while President Trump ignores the problem and bashes those plans.

Go deeperArrowNov 25, 2019

What makes the 2020 election historic for climate change

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: J. Countess/Getty Images

Climate change is playing a larger — and more polarizing — role than ever before in a presidential election.

Why it matters: In the past, the topic barely registered with voters and candidates were less polarized. Today, all Democratic candidates are treating it as a crisis, with detailed plans and funding sources to address it, while President Trump ignores the problem and bashes those plans.

How John Kerry and the Sunrise Movement distill Democratic climate politics

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Former senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has spent decades working on climate change, endorsed Joe Biden Thursday in a statement that included a shout-out to Biden's ability to tackle the topic.

Meanwhile, the upstart, leftist Sunrise Movement released its scorecard of candidates' climate plans and commitment to action. It puts Biden's far behind Elizabeth Warren and especially Bernie Sanders, who scored the highest with his aggressive (and, some climate experts say, questionably constructed) $16 trillion proposal.

Go deeperArrowDec 6, 2019