Welcome to Got Issues?, MTV News’s candidate-by-candidate breakdown of your biggest concerns and questions about the 2020 race.
The climate crisis is no mere buzzword — as far as existential threats go, the fact that the planet keeps getting hotter and hotter is becoming more and more difficult to ignore. Young people have consistently showed up to the frontlines to demand mass change from government and business leaders, and that devotion is paying off: If the 2020 elections have taught us anything, it’s that candidates need to have ideas on how to undo the damage to the environment being wrought every day.
According to an MTV Insights study, 83 percent of respondents aged 18-34 said climate change was important to them as a political issue. Twenty percent of respondents also listed climate change the number one issue that would likely get them to vote, tied with gun control reform. Yet while most presidential candidates have climate policies and proposals, the crisis hasn’t taken up much stage time at any of the Democratic presidential primary debates.
MTV News reached out to every major presidential candidate with the same question: If elected, what would you do to fight the climate crisis — and how would you center the young people who have been making the issue their rallying cry for years? Some offered statements, while others made time for interviews — and of course, we dug into everyone’s backgrounds and voting records to fill in the blanks. The general consensus is that something needs to be done to combat the crisis, but how that is achieved differs from candidate to candidate. Ahead, learn more about what each presidential candidate would do to address a bigger threat than even the meteor in Armageddon — and the timeline, cost, and infrastructure changes they believe are crucial in meeting those goals.
How does he want to save the planet? Make it a global fight.
Since his first term in the United States Senate in 1973, Biden has voted in a manner deemed “pro-environment” by the League of Conservation Voters, or the LCV, 83 percent of the time. In 1986, he introduced the Global Climate Protection Act, which established a task force dedicated to informing lawmakers about the climate crisis. He has also been met with criticism from progressive activists, many of whom want to see the end of fracking — a practice several candidates have said they would regulate but not necessarily ban outright — among other industry-changing measures.
In a statement provided to MTV News, Biden pointed to the ways his plan promises to allocate $1.7 trillion to fight the crisis, prioritize the creation of 10 million jobs in a “clean economy,” and advocate for communities most affected by environmental racism. He also highlighted the ways in which the crisis is a “worldwide problem” and promised to convince other countries to make “more ambitious national pledges, above and beyond the commitments they have already made.” (The U.S. is currently the second-largest producer of carbon dioxide on the planet.)
“Nothing gives me more hope for the future than seeing my five grandchildren challenge expectations. They see breakthroughs in technology we can’t even yet imagine. They’re passionate and engaged; poised to remake the world,” Biden added. “But the only way they’re going to get a chance to fulfill all that potential, is if we take drastic action right now to address the climate disaster facing the nation and our world.”
How does he want to save the planet? Focus on executive authority.
Let’s get one thing out of the way here: Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire many times over. But even the former mayor of New York, who is reportedly worth $62 billion, wouldn’t have enough money to solve the climate crisis in one fell swoop. That would cost between $300 billion and $54 trillion, experts posit, though it’s hard to put a price tag on something that no one has ever done before. So, Bloomberg is running for president instead —– though if any billionaires reading this want to throw a chunk of change at the environment in other, less campaign-intensive ways, plenty of people could use your checks.
Anyway, back to Bloomberg. In a statement provided to MTV News, he touted his work as mayor of New York City, as well as the philanthropic efforts that came after that, as indicators of his commitment to fighting the climate crisis. “Younger generations didn’t cause the climate crisis — but they will bear the heaviest burden of President Trump’s inaction. They deserve a leader who is fiercely committed to protecting our environment and our communities, and providing a future we can rely on — not the climate denier we have in the White House today,” he said.
Bloomberg’s proposed climate plan aims to reduce national greenhouse emissions by 50 percent within the next 10 years, and supply Americans with “clean energy jobs.” As Vox notes, his plan is smaller in scope largely because it focuses on what a president can do without approval from other branches of government.
How does he want to save the planet? Aim for the middle, kind of?
Buttigieg’s plan would cost roughly $2 trillion — which is on the lower end of the fiscal spectrum compared with some of the other presidential candidates’ ambitions. The plan aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, 20 years later than the guideline set in place for the Green New Deal. “Under my administration, we’ll create three million well-paying jobs that generate clean energy and build resilient infrastructure, develop new wind and solar farms to replace coal and gas plants, and appoint an EPA administrator who actually cares about environmental protection,” the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told MTV News in a statement. He would also end the practice of providing subsidies to fossil fuel companies, which cost the U.S. 10 times as much as education annually.
“They say young people are idealistic. But we’re not progressive because of our idealism, we’re progressive because of our reality,” Buttigieg, who is the youngest of the Democratic frontrunners and a millennial, said. “We can’t afford to fail when it comes to solving the climate crisis. That’s why this will be my top priority.”
How does she want to save the planet? ???????????
“‘Environmentalism’ is not a policy choice. It is part of our everyday lives,” Gabbard, a representative for Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district, writes on her website. “Central to our rights as Americans, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is having clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and safe food to eat. These essential elements are core to the existence of every human being, and it is my personal commitment to fight to protect and improve them.”
Her website features plenty of quotes on the environment, but no comprehensive plan; she did not return MTV News’s request for comment by publication time. The LCV rated her voting history as being 96 percent in-line with pro-environment thinking.
How does she want to save the planet? Again, aim for the middle!
The Minnesota senator has a pretty solid track record when it comes to the environment: She’s voted in a pro-environment manner 96 percent of the time, the LCV notes. Her climate plan is more moderate than those of other candidates; in it, she promises to allocate $1 trillion to an infrastructure package that “will create good-paying union jobs and give workers the skills they need to succeed in the green economy.” Her plan largely relies on the work of executive agencies, and aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. She did not return MTV News’s request for comment by publication time.
How does he want to save the planet? Three words: Sixteen. Trillion. Dollars.
The Vermont senator wants to dedicate over $16 trillion to the climate crisis, which makes it the most expensive plan of any of the other candidates running for president. Even so, Sanders thinks we’ll make the money back, he told the New York Times in August when he unveiled the radical plan.
Sanders, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1991 and moved to the Senate in 2007, has a lifetime voting record that is 92 percent consistent with pro-environment efforts, according to LCV. And that voting record reflects in his Green New Deal plan, which holds fossil fuel companies accountable for the damage they’ve wrought on the environment and the people who live near their sites by setting aside money to support fossil fuel workers in their transition to “cleaner” jobs, and “[making] the fossil fuel industry pay for their pollution, through litigation, fees, and taxes, and eliminating federal fossil fuel subsidies.” (The Sanders plan mentions the term “fossil fuel” 91 times, if you want a cursory glance at where his focus lies.)
“We must build an unprecedented grassroots movement that is powerful enough to take [the fossil fuel industry] on, and win,” Sanders’s plan states. “Young people, advocates, tribes, cities and states all over this country have already begun this important work, and we will continue to follow their lead.” The candidate earned the endorsement of the youth-led environmental advocacy group Sunrise Movement in January. He did not return MTV News’s request for comment by publication time.
How does he want to save the planet? Focus on the communities.
Steyer is the founder of NextGen America, a political action group that supported progressive candidates, largely by deploying field organizers to engage with young voters. “I have long believed that tackling our biggest challenges as a society requires getting young people involved and empowering them to take action,” he said in a statement to MTV News, highlighting the group’s work “contact[ing] millions of young people, mobilizing them to take back our democracy and registering hundreds of thousands to vote.” Steyer stepped down as CEO shortly after announcing his candidacy; the group has since been hit with a wave of allegations by ex-staffers who said their time there was marked by daunting goals, high turnover rates, and workweeks that all but ensured burnout. (The organization told Splinter it adjusted its policies after the 2018 midterm election.)
Steyer has never held political office before, so there is no voting record to judge; in his past life running a hedge fund, he invested in fossil fuel industries. (In December, he told The Verge he has divested from those companies.) His climate plan largely empowers communities to provide specific solutions for the issues they face, branded as self-determination; but communities aren’t the main perpetrators exacerbating environmental disaster — companies are. Steyer’s plan also promises that the government will hold the companies that largely created those problems accountable for their decisions, but it’s unclear what that will look like beyond community “investment.”
“Young people understand that we have one chance to get this right and we can’t wait to take action on saving our planet,” Steyer said in his statement. “My administration will finally break the corporate stranglehold of our government, moving our country towards a 100 percent clean energy economy and creating millions of good paying jobs along the way, mostly in densely unionized industries.”
How does he want to save the planet? Well, he says he does, but….
When MTV News reached out to the Trump re-election campaign for this story, we were connected to White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere, whose initial response was “America’s pollution problem? What is that?” Eventually, we got this statement:
“Other countries around the world are obsessed with the Paris Climate Accord, which shackles economies and has done nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and those on the radical left are pushing the Green New Deal, which would outlaw cows, cars, and planes,” Deere said. “President Trump understands economic growth and environmental protection do not need to conflict, implementing common sense policies that have kept our air, water, and environment clean, including lower C02 [sic] emissions, while also creating one of the strongest economies in recent history.”
But all of that is pretty misguided. The idea that the Green New Deal is looking to “outlaw cows” likely comes from the FAQ page that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) released when they unveiled the plan; in it, they explain that they aim to “get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast, but we think we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, plant lots of trees and restore our ecosystem to get to net-zero.” Both the agriculture and transportation industries currently have outsized impacts on the U.S.’s carbon emissions, but it’s most likely that the idea to “fully get rid” of these mainstays was a quip whose context the Trump administration has repeatedly twisted.
If anything, the Trump administration’s policies are more likely to hurt the environment than keep it clean. According to the New York Times, the current administration has initiated rollbacks on at least 95 rules and policies that protect or otherwise impact the environment. And for many people, their economic well-being is inextricable from the climate crisis: Farmers have seen smaller crop yields due to flooding and temperature shifts, and four in 10 Puerto Rican residents felt Hurricane Maria’s impact through job loss or lost work hours. Even so, the Trump administration filed paperwork to fully withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement by November 4, 2020 — one day after this year’s election. And the first draft of his proposed budget for 2021 would decimate the Environmental Protection Agency, and hobble other crucial programs.
How does she want to save the planet? Full-court press, baby, let’s go!
“Climate change is an existential threat, and we are running out of time — but I have hope,” Warren said in a statement to MTV News. “I have hope thanks to young people who are going out on strike, organizing, and working every single day to get global leaders to wake up to the urgency of this crisis. If we're going to save our planet, we need to listen to the voices of young people and make big, structural change.”
The Massachusetts senator pointed to a myriad of her plans, which she designed to work in tandem to fight the climate crisis as it manifests on every front. Among other policies, she has proposed a path forward toward further protecting public lands; bringing the U.S. military to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030; and to lead the charge in protecting the world’s oceans, whose ecosystems are at major risk due to rising water temperatures and acidity levels. According to the LCV, Warren has a nearly impeccable voting record of 99 percent on environmentally conscious matters.
“I will fight for a Green New Deal to transform our economy and save our planet,” the senator promised. “Young people know that climate change is a threat to every living being on earth — and I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as we fight for the future of our planet.”
How does he want to save the planet? Mostly, go back to the old ways.
Weld’s plan is pretty simple — the former governor of Massachusetts places emphasis on rejoining the Paris Accord; pricing out carbon emissions, a practice whose efficacy is still pretty murky; and implementing what he calls a “rational transition to carbonfree energy production,” which will rely on a mix of nuclear energy and natural gas (which is a fossil fuel).
“While acting on climate change is a moral obligation in our stewardship of our planet and our protection of a fragile ecosystem, the means and methods by which we take those actions must be relentlessly rational,” he says in his plan. The problem there? Most scientists agree that we don’t have enough time to be “rational” anymore — and, in fact, the most rational thing to do is widespread and drastic reform.