Climate Change and the 2019 Democratic Debate

Climate change, the Green New Deal, and the jobs of those in the fossil fuel industry were discussed during last month's Democratic Debate.


Last month, the presidential primary debates for the kicked off in a two-night event in Miami, Florida. Among many hot button issues that were discussed, was among them. While some criticize that the topic of climate change was not given enough attention, others are hopeful that more emphasis will be placed on climate change policy in the coming months. 

Potential candidates from any political affiliation no longer have the luxury to push aside or ignore that something must be done about climate change once and for all. However, finding the right solution may prove to be more difficult than getting politicians and the public to care about climate change in the first place. 

Tensions Over the  and  

Disagreements among the candidates were noted particularly when it came to the topic of the Green New Deal. Representatives such as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) support the Green New Deal. Others like former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and former Maryland Representative John Delaney, are against the Green New Deal. Delaney’s biggest criticism of the Green New Deal is that the plan ties its progress to other issues that are unrelated to climate change, such as universal health care. Sanders argued back at this, stating that he is“tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas,” and that the industry is committing a massive criminal offense by destroying the planet for profit. According to Sanders, something drastic must be done. 

In response to Sanders’ rhetoric, Montana Governor Steve Bullock stated that Sanders’ unwavering focus on abolishing fossil fuels could be a potential turn off to voters in the industry from supporting the Democratic Party.  

Additionally, Bullock remarked that those in the fossil fuel industry have spent their lives powering the country up until now. Reorganizing an entire industry without the proper plans in place could backfire on the Democratic Party if the Green New Deal is to move forward in its entirety. 

Sanders responded by saying that he is not anti-worker and that any employees pushed out of the fossil fuel industry will be supported and transitioned into new jobs. How Sanders plans to make this guarantee an actuality is still unclear. According to his campaign website, there is little information other than a consistent echo of “thousands of good paying jobs will be created” once the transition from fossil fuels to a widespread, renewable system takes place. With no detailed outline for how thousands, if not millions, of workers will survive financially and economically during this transition, it is understandable why Governor Steve Bullock and others vying for the Democratic nomination are apprehensive about Senator Sanders’ bold claims.  

Socialism as a Solution – or a Set Back? 

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper stated during the debate that the policies being supported by his fellow Democrats in the Green New Deal border on socialism. Hickenlooper stated that we simply “can’t promise every American a government job,” and that demonizing fossil fuel and oil companies is not the way to solve climate change. According to Hickenlooper, socialist tendencies and similar ideologies will not bring about a sustainable solution.  

Climate Change Policy Proposals Released This Year 

Just this past May, former Vice President Joe Biden released a “middle ground” approach to fighting climate change, which faced heavy criticism almost immediately despite coinciding some of its plans with the Green New Deal. Senator Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and environmental activists across the nation spoke out against Biden’s climate change plan. The most prevalent criticisms expressed that we cannot afford to take a middle ground approach when it comes to climate change. According to most Democratic nominee hopefuls, more aggressive action is needed if we are to avoid catastrophic conditions on Earth as climate change continues to worsen. 

Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) also released a climate change proposal this year back on July 25. Her plan highlights what many of the other Democratic presidential candidates also support, including a 10 trillion-dollar investment into clean energy, a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, and a “just transition for workers that may lose their jobs in the process.” 

Moving Forward to Fight Climate Change 

To continue the climate change discussion that began during the Democratic presidential candidate debates, CNN plans to host a Democratic presidential town hall event on September 4. Only eight of the candidates that met the Democratic Nation Committee’s polling threshold will be invited. It is anticipated that more detailed plans of how the candidates plan to fight climate change will be revealed. 



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