Presidential candidates took the stage for a second day Friday to detail their plans for fighting climate change as part of a televised forum hosted by MSNBC. It came as millions joined planned demonstrations around the world calling for action on climate change, with 800 events in the U.S.
In total, 12 presidential candidates – 11 Democrats and one Republican – participated in the two-day, town-hall style event at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as Chris Hayes and Ali Velshi interviewed participants one-by-one and took questions from the audience.
Sen. Booker, D-N.J., led the second day of interviews with an emphasis on environmental justice.
In Newark, where he used to be mayor, climate change is not about polar bears and ice floes but high asthma rates and other problems that disproportionately strike poor, vulnerable communities, he said. For them, climate change is a crises that is happening now, he said.
“Everything we do must be done through the lens of the climate crisis,” he said.
He urged giving farmers incentives for wind mills and cover crops that pull carbon out of the air and opposing practices such as massive factory farms. Pig farms in North Carolina treat farmers like sharecroppers, abuse the animals, and dump excrement in massive lagoons that threaten communities, he said. They are placed in low income neighborhoods, often African American ones, that then lead to respiratory diseases and cancers, he said.
The U.S. government must use its enormous purchasing power to bring about change, he said. He called himself a firm believer in free markets but also in full cost economics so that the price of greenhouse gases is not outsourced to the consumers.
He warned the students that he would ask more of them than any other recent president. Though he has a reputation for finding common ground, he is willing to stand his ground, he said.
“We have to bring a fight,” he said. ” Nothing worthwhile is easy.”
Montana Gov. Bullock brought a Western perspective to the discussion, describing his state as one of outdoors people but also one that is seeing a fire season that is 78 days longer than it was just a few decades ago. Even conservatives who might not believe all of the science around climate change — and his state went for Republican President Donald Trump with 56 percent of the vote — can see the effects, he said.
“This cannot be a partisan issue,” he said.
All Americans share the same desire for clean air and clear water and the belief that they can do better for the next generation, he said.
He argued against using executive actions as President Barack Obama did to achieve his environmental goals, only to have Trump overturn them.
"We can’t have this whiplash," he said.
He would frame climate change as not just a crisis but an opportunity to create better jobs and a better future. A hurdle is the corrupting influence of money in politics, he said.
Agriculture can play a role with cover crops, no-till farming and other practices to reduce greenhouse gases. Montana farmers lead the country in the production of lentils, and are the second largest producer of dried peas and the third largest producer of chickpeas. Who would think that Montana leads the country in the production of hummus, he joked.
He would oppose selling federally owned land, and instead look for ways to use it to capture carbon.
Bullock deflected a question about holding corporate leaders accountable for carbon pollution and said he thought it was better to look to the future. Asked about welcoming climate refugees and moving people away from coastal areas susceptible to flooding, he focused on curbing climate change so that those decisions were not necessary.
“You have to believe that you can find commonality, he said.
Mayor Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, has talked about his religious faith and so was asked about climate change from that point of view.
“I think climate is a moral issue,” he said. “It is about stewardship, it is about justice.”
He argued that the country must work very hard to engage rural Americans and workers in threatened industries in the move toward a green economy. Rural Americans need to know where they fit into a changing world so that they can have a sense of pride in how they can help and not just a sense of guilt about contributing to the problem.
“Everybody’s got a plan on climate,” Buttigieg said. “We have to mobilize the entire country around it.”
Asked why his plan, at $1 trillion, was significantly smaller than many of his rivals’, he insisted that his was ambitious. Not all resources need to go through the federal government to solve a problem, he said. He would support a carbon tax and rebate it to Americans based on a progressive formula.
“It’s about rearranging prices,” he said.
He argued that the federal government should be investing more than $20 billion in research, more than three times what it does now, in renewable energy, energy storage and carbon storage.
He would eliminate fossil fuel subsidies so that the country is not using taxpayer money to keep things the way they are.
“This will be one of the greatest national projects in American history,” he said.
Asked about climate refugees, he responded that the phenomenon was already happening. Syrians fleeing the regime of Bashar al-Assad were running not just from brutality but also the consequences of a drought. Climate change was making problems in Central America worse, encouraging people to leave their homes for the United States. The world is facing the potential displacement of hundreds of millions of people and so the country must try to prevent the problem from getting worse but also acknowledge that it will occur.
As a mayor, he has no time for the unresolved debates in Washington, D.C., he said. He intends to ensure that everybody is in on the solution, he said.
At 37, he is the youngest candidate for the presidency and so for him the crisis is not an abstraction, he said.
“I’m hoping to be here in 2050,” he said.
Philanthropist Tom Steyer of California said Americans needed to break the stranglehold that corporations have on the country and its politics.
“Corporations have bought the government,” he said.
The country can reach a green economy, with better jobs and improved health for all Americans, particularly for black and brown communities, but government has passed no legislation at the national level, he said.
Curbing climate change would be his number one priority, he said, and he would start to use the emergency powers of the presidency immediately. He would be open to a carbon fee but had found that setting regulations for American industry to be an effective way to make progress. It is the job of government to set rules — vehicle emission limits, for example — and they have worked, he said.
“I’m not opposed to private industry,” he said. “I’m opposed to private industry writing the rules.”
His plan calls for spending $2 trillion over 10 years, money he says needs to be spent either way. America needs to rebuild and he wants to ensure it is done in a sustainable way, he said.
“A healthy environment produces a healthy economy,” he said.
Those standing in the way of moving toward green jobs have no coherent argument for their opposition, he said. They just like the money they are making in industries such as oil and gas.
Trump, who moved to end California’s more stringent regulations on tailpipe emissions, is doing everything he can to endanger the safety and health of every American, said Steyer, who has been a vocal and persistent opponent of the president and who started a petition calling for his impeachment.
Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, the only Republican to attend the forum, emphasized a price on carbon as the centerpiece of his plan for fighting climate warming.
It would be revenue neutral to the government and therefore not a tax, he argued.
“This is not a sacrifice,” he said. “This is something we have to do.”
Weld, who is trying to force a primary challenge to Trump, criticized him and others who deny global warming is a threat to humans. He blasted Trump for labeling climate change a hoax and said Republican officeholders who refuse to disagree were afflicted by the Stockholm Syndrome, a phenomenon in which hostages come to identify with their captors.
The Republican party was traditionally a defender of the environment, he noted. The original Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were both passed under President Richard Nixon.
Weld would include nuclear energy in a non-fossil fuel mix of energy, controversial to some.
He criticized Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan to spend $16.3 trillion, saying it was not known what that level of spending would accomplish, and he does not support the Green New Deal, the congressional resolution on moving to a green economy proposed by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts. He called the plan hopelessly unrealistic, as first proposed, for guaranteeing a basic income regardless of whether someone works.
“That’s never going to fly,” he said.
Global Climate Strike
Meanwhile, the worldwide "Global Climate Strike" kicked off Friday in Australia, the world's largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas. Students urged the country to take more drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Even though we ourselves aren't sick, the planet which we live on is, and we are protesting and fighting for it," said Siobhan Sutton, a 15-year-old student at Perth Modern School.
Other demonstrations across Europe, Africa, South America and the United States were taking place ahead of a U.N. climate summit in New York.
The protests are partly inspired by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has staged weekly demonstrations called "Fridays for Future" over the past year, calling on world leaders to step up their efforts against climate change.
Last year, the UN issued a report detailing how weather, health and ecosystems could be saved if the world’s leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit, but also warned it would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
The Fourth National Climate Assessment, a report by 300 federal and non-governmental agencies that was released last November on Black Friday, broke down the real-time effects of climate change across the U.S. by region.
"Americans increasingly recognize the risks climate change poses to their everyday lives and livelihoods and are beginning to respond," the report said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.