Highlights from CNN’s climate town hall

All right, today we are doing a single-issue show. This is only the second time we’ve done this, the other one was a super-long explainer episode on Medicare for All. Today, of course, it’s looking at what we heard last night at CNN’s Climate Town Hall.

The event was notable for a bunch of reasons, and one of them was that the network gave the candidates basically equal time—about a half hour each, if you cut out the commercials and stuff. There were minor variations, but that’s the basic time budget and they did a surprisingly good job at sticking with it, for a live TV event. I think that’s important for any candidate forum, because it does give the candidates a level playing field for speaking about their positions. The whole event also took place during live coverage of Hurricane Dorian as it slowly approached the east coast of the US.

Okay, so let’s get into the clips and some overall discussion of each candidate. We’re going to go in the running order that they appeared onstage.

Julián Castro

First up, Julián Castro. He set a sober tone on the issue. He spoke about the disproportionate effects of climate change on communities of color and poor communities, which was part of his overall climate plan. I’m going to play you an audio clip, and I had to cut this down for time, of his answer to a question by Emily Wilkins, who is a retired teacher and faces paying flood insurance bills that rise by 18 percent EVERY YEAR. She asked, essentially, what Castro would do for people like her, who could lose her home because of the cost of insuring it against floods. Here’s a portion of Castro’s answer:


Andrew Yang

Next up was Andrew Yang. Yang spent his time on stage showing his fun, jokey side while also tackling policy. We rarely see Yang on these big media platforms speaking for more than a minute or two at a time—like in the debate, he has always been near the bottom of the talk-time rankings. So, finally, we got to see a half hour of Yang on a major stage. He talked about geo-engineering, he talked his Freedom Dividend and other major policies. He also talked about a theme of the evening, which was getting fossil fuel money out of politics. He suggested ending all fossil fuel subsidies, and adopting the Freedom Dollars plan that was also embraced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand before she left the race. That would be a method of election fundraising that could radically reduce corporate influence on campaigns. Anyway, one clip that stood out was actually Yang’s very first answer. It’s a good combination of his approach, which is often technological, includes a dash of history and education, plus it gets a laugh. So, listen in and Wolf Blitzer speaks first:


Kamala Harris

Then we had Senator Kamala Harris. She covered an incredible amount of ground in her half-hour on stage. She talked about focusing on heavy transport as the FIRST kind of vehicle to electrify across the board—including school buses for kids. She talked about reducing red meat consumption. She talked about single-use plastics and banning plastic straws. She, like every candidate, said she would rejoin the Paris Agreement. But I want to highlight this answer she gave about her experience in the Senate. An audience member named Mychal Estrada asked her how she would work in a bipartisan way to address climate change. Here’s the tail end of his question, and how she replied:


Amy Klobuchar

And then Senator Amy Klobuchar came up. She emphasized her midwestern roots and that perspective on the issues. She took direct aim at President Trump, she cited native tribes in some of her answers, and she took a decidedly moderate position on a handful of issues. For instance, she said she would NOT ban fracking, while Harris right before her had said she would.

Klobuchar was asked about how, as a Senator from Minnesota, she would address the beef and dairy industry and its lobbyists’ influence on the government. Here’s part of her response:


Joe Biden

And next up was Joe Biden. He was placed right at the 8pm Eastern time slot—the most prime of primetime—and he emphasized his experience as a leader, and his experience in Congress. Overall, Biden’s message was consistent and fairly simple—he has a long history dealing with policy, and he feels he can get it done. Here’s a clip from early in his time on stage, in which he gets at many of those points related, really to leadership. Listen in:


Okay, we’re now at half-time, Biden was the fifth candidate. Let’s take a quick break, you can grab a drink or something, and we’ll be right back.

Bernie Sanders

All right, next up was Senator Bernie Sanders. He gave firm answers, including a very lengthy explanation of how he would come up with the $16 trillion dollars his climate plan would require over a period of 15 years. That is, by the way, the highest dollar amount of any climate plan we’ve seen so far. He firmly rejected nuclear power as an element of the solution to climate change, due to his concerns about nuclear safety and long-term storage of nuclear waste. But his breakout moment was this exchange with Anderson Cooper. Listen in:


And, by the way, he DID return to the specifics of the lightbulb thing after that, essentially saying that, yes, he approves of efficient technology.

Elizabeth Warren

And then we had Senator Elizabeth Warren, who paced the stage, and, from my viewing of the event, actually forced CNN into the most dynamic camera movement—they kept cutting to different angles, because she was moving around so much, and kind of roving around and getting close to the audience. Her key point was that fossil fuel money, and its effect on government, is a key problem in addressing climate change. She called out corruption among politicians. She also rejected nuclear power.

In this clip, Chris Cuomo asks a question, and I think this response does a great job summing up Warren’s overall set of points and attitude toward the issues. So, listen in:


Pete Buttigieg

Next up, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He was the ONLY member of the Millennial generation present at this event—at least on stage. He went right into talking about his proposal to tax carbon, which would essentially redistribute money from polluters and progressively credit it back to low- and middle-income citizens. This is part of his detailed plan released yesterday, and gets at how he would build a coalition to support this work. He talked about social, racial, and gender justice in the context of climate change. I’m going to play two clips here, which add up to roughly the same time as the other candidates got with their single longer clips.

First, Buttigieg discussed the nature of the challenge and the broad similarities that so many of the candidates have on policy. I think this is important to call out, because there REALLY ARE a lot of similarities here, at least among this group of ten. The most substantive differences have to do with things like nuclear power, fracking, funding sources for your climate plan, and the specific dates by which certain milestones need to be accomplished. Similar to how Biden talked about this same issue in the context of leadership, it starts to come down to less of the details of the plan, and more about whether you think a given candidate would prioritize it AND can actually GET IT DONE. Okay, so listen in:


And this second clip comes from later on, and it goes right back to the same point. It gets at WHY government exists in the first place, and this, again, is something that most people don’t SAY OUT LOUD, but they probably need to. Not everybody took a Civics class in the last few years, right? Okay, Chris Cuomo speaks first in this one. Listen in:


Beto O’Rourke

Next up, and now we’re getting close to 11pm Eastern for this, but some of us were just barely hanging on. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke took the stage, managing to retain some energy despite the later hour. Now remember, O’Rourke released his climate plan way back in April, and it was in fact his FIRST big, detailed policy proposal. Now, he wasn’t the only one to release a climate plan before this week, but he is firmly in the half of the group who released a plan proactively and EARLY. If you want a summary of the later plans, check out yesterday’s show. I also dug into O’Rourke’s plan on the show for April 29ththis year.

Among many other things last night, O’Rourke gave a shout-out to statehood for Puerto Rico, suggesting that if that territory actually had representation in the Senate, that might allow them to advocate in a meaningful way for disaster relief funding and effective climate policies overall.

So here’s the clip. Don Lemon speaks first, introducing a question from the audience, and what you hear is essentially O’Rourke doing his recent connect-the-dots stuff pertinent to President Trump and how the cascade of policies in politics are all tied together. Listen in:


Cory Booker

And last up, Senator Cory Booker, who is the only vegan candidate, walked onstage at 11:22pm Eastern time. The very first thing he did was thank the audience, which had been sitting there for, at that point, more than four hours, patiently listening and asking questions.

Booker said that he would integrate climate into EVERY department within his administration, and use climate as THE lens through which he examined various issues and policies.

He discussed agriculture policy and all sorts of stuff. And then Don Lemon brought it around to the vegan thing. I’m gonna cut out the first few minutes of that discussion, because it’s mainly about agricultural policy and some jokes about veganism that just aren’t pertinent to policy. But I want you to listen to how Booker manages to work in a discussion of healthy food, factory farming, economic justice, and environmental justice within the context of a climate change discussion. This is a KEY example of what it means to view an issue through the lens of climate. Listen in:


Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. This show is already way longer than usual, so I’m gonna let you get back to your day. Check the links in the show notes for more from CNN, each of these candidates spent around 30 minutes on stage, so there is a LOT MORE to digest if you want to dig in. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.