The sixth Democratic primary debate was notable in at least one way: On Thursday (December 19), moderators kept candidates on the issue of the climate crisis for a significant amount of time. How major is this? Well, consider that November’s debate saw only one question on the issue, and some debates didn’t broach the topic at all, save for key talking points in candidates’ answers. That candidates discussed everything from climate justice and environmental racism to the hypothetical of generating energy via nuclear power.
But they also underscored was the reality that, whether or not the government acts in a meaningful way in the immediate future, young people and the generations to follow will be forced to live with the consequences of decisions made by people older than them.
“There’s an Ojibwe saying that a great leader makes decisions for seven generations from now,” Senator Amy Klobuchar (MI) said. “We have a President that can’t make decisions for seven minutes from now.” She’s referenced the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe before — in fact, as early as 2017 — and added the line about Trump in August of this year. No matter how rehearsed her line, it underscores the reality that the decisions the next president makes will greatly impact the earth and its finite resources.
Tom Steyer raised the stakes in his take on the topic. “We will declare a state of emergency on day one of my presidency,” he claimed, adding that he is the “only person” on stage “who will say unequivocally that this is my number one priority.” He touted in particular his history fighting environmental racism and added, “I would call on Mayor Buttigieg to prioritize this higher, because the people in his generation understand that this is a crisis…but it’s also the greatest opportunity to rebuild and be inventive.”
In one survey, 41 percent of Generation Z respondents said they fear climate change more than any other threat. Even millennial Republicans are more concerned about the climate than their older counterparts. Buttigieg’s plan would cost $2 trillion, and pushes for the United States to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
“The issue now is whether we save the planet for our children and our grandchildren,” Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) said. “We have got to — and I’ve introduced legislation to do this — declare a national emergency. The United States has got to lead the world,” he added, referring to the Green New Deal, which he introduced with the Green New Deal, and followed with a $6 trillion policy of his own.
He has an idea of where some of that money would come from, too: “And maybe, just maybe, instead of spending $1.8 trillion a year globally on weapons [of] destruction, maybe an American president — i.e. Bernie Sanders — can lead the world instead of spending money to kill each other,” he added. “Maybe we pool our resources and fight our common enemy, which is climate change.”
Five of the current presidential candidates are older than 70; they’ll be over 80 by 2030, which is when many environmentalists posit is the point of no return for the catastrophic change which is already wreaking havoc on many communities. By contrast, the oldest millennial will be 48.
“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” Greta Thunberg told Time magazine when she was named Person of the Year. “That is all we are saying.”