Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren participates in CNN's climate crisis town hall in New York on September 4, 2019.
See how candidates stood out in 7 hours of climate talk
03:28 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Michelle Romero is the national director for, an organization that Van Jones co-founded 10 years ago to promote green jobs in low-wealth communities and a program of the Dream Corps. Van Jones is the host of the “The Van Jones Show” and a CNN political commentator. He is the CEO of the REFORM Alliance. The views expressed here are those of the authors. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

Hope took center stage during CNN’s Climate Town Hall Wednesday night. The optimistic message that the 10 presidential candidates managed to find for tackling our greatest existential threat was this: Addressing climate change isn’t about preventing the worst, it’s about mustering our energy and creativity to win a better future.

Michelle Romero
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We watched the participants for seven hours straight put forth the most ambitious climate plans we have seen in a generation. At a deeper level, we witnessed the rebirth of a positive, creative, and powerful environmentalism for the Democratic Party – one rooted in the lives, values, and needs of millions of ordinary people impacted by climate change who want a better future.

The green economy can create a ladder up and out of poverty, and the candidates described in detail how they will make it happen. From electrifying our nation’s cars, trucks, and buses to installing community-owned solar and wind turbines to rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, we can create economic opportunity and green-collar jobs even in the most depressed areas in our country.

Here are seven things that gave us hope:

Every Democratic candidate actually had a climate plan.

No one had to waste time on Wednesday debating whether climate change is happening. Every single candidate on that stage was taking the climate crisis seriously and had a plan to tackle it. The town hall may not have shifted voters’ opinion of who they will support, but one thing is certain: the preparation candidates had to do before taking the stage had clearly helped them to become more informed about climate change and more equipped to face one of the greatest challenges of our time. The audience probably learned a few things, too.

These climate plans are responsive to the needs of real Americans.

This wasn’t a hypothetical discussion about how to prevent a future climate threat. This was a series of conversations about what is happening to people right now and what they will do if elected president to help struggling Americans. Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar proposed solutions to support farmers with incentives for winter cover crops that help sequester carbon in the soil. Many candidates, including Julian Castro, talked about the need to invest in environmental justice for communities of color.

Resiliency plans to help people facing flooding in the Gulf Coast and fires in the West were strong topics. And we heard several candidates emphasize the importance of supporting coal miners and impacted workers during the transition to a clean energy economy. It was a conversation grounded in the lived experience of everyday people with a focus on improving people’s lives.

The candidates are ready to hold polluters accountable.

Candidates seemed more ready and more willing to hold polluters accountable than ever before. Every candidate recognized that the cost of pollution is too high. American taxpayers are subsidizing fossil fuel industry profits in dollars, sickness, and lost lives – a cost candidates hope to recover through a price on carbon that would force the largest polluters to pay to clean up their own mess. Beyond that, multiple candidates said they would end Citizens United and crack down on big money’s corrupting influence in politics.

Sen. Kamala Harris, when asked whether she would sue a company like Exxon Mobil, said, “I have sued Exxon Mobil.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that while she’s not opposed to people making a profit, she is opposed to them doing it at the expense of others. She would create and enforce strict rules for companies to protect clean air and water for millions of Americans. Meanwhile, Andrew Yang said it’s time to end fossil fuel subsidies and put those dollars to work for the American people.

Environmental justice is a cornerstone of their climate plans.

Environmental justice was a theme throughout the town halls, with most, if not all of the candidates pledging to invest funds directly into low-income communities and communities of color to ensure all neighborhoods have clean air, clean water and are climate resilient. This is a major shift that signals just how far the environmental movement has come.

Booker talked about how green solutions can tackle climate and bring healthy foods to urban neighborhoods. Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would invest in expanding public transit service, which would take millions of cars off the road and help people in isolated neighborhoods reach jobs, education, and health care more affordably and efficiently. Pete Buttigieg called climate change a question of social and racial justice and educated viewers on the historic practices of redlining which forced black and brown communities into neighborhoods now more prone to pollution and vulnerable to climate change impacts.

All of this left us with hope that we can close the divide between the eco-haves and eco-have nots to build a better future for all.

Candidates agreed not to leave anyone behind, including coal miners.

Throughout the night candidates faced questions about how they would address the fears coal miners and fossil fuel workers have about losing their jobs. Almost every candidate recognized we can’t leave anyone behind. Klobuchar shared that her grandfather was a coal miner and said these workers need support during a difficult transition. Senator Bernie Sanders was more specific, saying that “the coal miners in this country, the men and women who work on the oil rigs, they are not my enemy … we’re going to guarantee them an income for five years and the education they need (for the jobs of the future).”

Green jobs will be good jobs.

Last night, Warren put the longstanding fears that green jobs won’t be good jobs to rest, saying she would create more than one million new manufacturing jobs that are “good jobs, union jobs, not just jobs that pay less, not jobs that are an afterthought, but real jobs.” She described a vision for a new economy that doesn’t measure success by the profits of those at the top, but also by the conditions of every worker who powers the economy.

These candidates are committed to bringing people together across differences to enact real reform.

Bold ideas and campaign promises are great, but the next president must recognize they will inherit a deeply divided country. They need to have the vision and leadership qualities it will take to heal divides, build broad public support for the solutions we need most, and work with Congress to pass real, lasting reform. We’ve already seen how easy it is to undo executive actions when administrations turn over, so legislation will be a critical path for long-lasting change.

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    The good news is, several candidates understand this. Booker said he has been able to find “common purpose” with unlikely allies. Klobuchar, when answering a question about what type of carbon pricing measures she would support, said she will need to see who is in Congress to see how far she can take it, signaling an inclination to work in a pragmatic, bipartisan manner. Biden touted his record on being able to build bipartisan support as well. Meanwhile, Buttigieg said, “we have to actually unify the country around (climate solutions). That means bringing people to the table who haven’t felt they have been part of the process.” These are signs we are on the right track.

    In the stroke of one election, Americans can fight climate change and put the country on course to building a better future for all.