Live commentary: How to solve the climate crisis

Updated 12:54 p.m. ET, September 5, 2019
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11:19 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

We may be at a major tipping point in our politics

By David Gergen

The best thing about CNN's Town Hall on the Climate Crisis tonight is that this event is occurring at all. For too many years, our media and our political leaders have treated the dangers of climate change as a secondary concern. It was virtually ignored in the presidential debates of 2016, and when President Trump went to the G-7 summit recently, his team objected to a session about climate dangers, calling it a "niche issue.”

It is especially good to see CNN return to its roots. Founder Ted Turner believed to his core that global warming was an existential threat to the planet and he wanted CNN to be on the cutting edge in enlightening the public about the dangers. He should be very proud tonight. 

These conversations with the 10 Democratic candidates have also accomplished something else important: suddenly, the climate crisis has emerged as one of the highest priorities of the party heading into the election year, joining health care, immigration, guns and abortion. Perhaps even surpassing them. 

We have never seen either party treat threats to the environment with such urgency. Having just returned from a glacier expedition in Greenland — and seeing firsthand how real the threats are — I can just say: this could be a major tipping point in our politics.  

David Gergen has been a White House adviser to four presidents and is a senior political analyst at CNN. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and founding director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. 


11:22 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

The most realistic of the Democrats

By Alice Stewart


At half time of CNN’s climate crisis town hall, we have heard numerous sweeping plans to confront climate change. All of the Democratic candidates appear to agree that the first step in this long journey is to re-enter the Paris Climate Accord. After that, their plans -- and priorities -- on addressing what many refer to as an “existential threat” to this country begin to differ.

Former Sec. Julian Castro highlighted an ambitious plan aiming to get the United States to net-zero by 2045, meaning all coal-generated electricity will be phased out and replaced by zero-emission sources. And while Castro focused on taxing “corporate polluters,” he could not name one of the culprits when asked.

Businessman Andrew Yang supports ending subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. He wants everyone to love driving electric cars, as opposed to “gas guzzlers” and “clunkers.”

California Sen. Kamala Harris vowed to issue an executive order to implement the Green New Deal. She also supported bans on offshore drilling, fracking and plastic straws.

As usual, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the most realistic about making promises that are simply not sustainable. She discussed "carbon pricing," a fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels, to ease the burden on the environmentally disadvantaged.

Former Vice President Joe Biden made the strongest case with regard to the Paris Climate Accord and the fact that we need to bring the rest of the world together in addressing an issue that knows no geographical bounds.

Interesting note -- each candidate has attacked President Donald Trump and his rolling back of federal government regulations. But that was a cornerstone of his campaign and will undoubtedly be a focus of his re-election pitch to voters. 


Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and former Communications Director for Ted Cruz for President.

11:22 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Sanders is planning for profound change

By Errol Louis

To hear Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tell his town hall audience, his sweeping Green New Deal is a logical and practical response to climate change. But Sanders’ description of how he plans to raise the money to fund his plan -- an estimated $16 trillion over the course of a decade -- shows he is planning to profoundly transform American society.

In addition to taxing the rich, Sanders would end tax incentives and subsidies for fossil fuel companies, which is straightforward enough. But he also plans to cover the cost, in part, by spending less on overseas military deployments in support of fossil fuel companies. That sounds like he plans to reduce troop commitments in the Middle East, which raises big questions about our diplomatic and national security aims and interests in that part of the world.

Sanders also talks about having government take the lead in developing renewable energy sources -- and using profits from those investments to help offset the cost of the Green New Deal.

Sanders, in short, is calmly proposing a huge restructuring of the American economy, and he seems to think Congress will come along for the ride if he’s elected. As for the people in the oil and gas business who would lose their jobs, Sanders says he would provide 5 years of income as well as education for displaced workers. 

The coal miners in this country are not his enemy, Sanders argued. “Climate change is my enemy.”

If Sanders becomes the nominee, Republicans will point to his $16 trillion plan and call him a tax-hungry, big-government socialist. But Sanders says climate change is too dangerous for lesser measures.

“We are fighting for the survival of the planet earth,” he said. As such, we need to lead the world through “a global energy transition.”

It was a smooth, quiet call for the most radical proposals ever offered by a serious presidential candidate.

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. 

10:00 a.m. ET, September 5, 2019

GOP’s climate denial makes no sense

By Ana Navarro

We’re half-way through the CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall with 10 leading Democratic presidential candidates. The contrast could not be more obvious. Democrats think addressing climate change is an urgent and priority issue, which they take very seriously. Donald Trump thinks it’s a hoax spread by the Chinese.

That is so stupid, part of me wants to think it is a joke. And so, by extension, the people who support Trump don’t believe there is a climate crisis either. To the point that the Trump campaign is selling plastic straws to own the “Liberal snowflakes” or something like that.

As a Floridian, it is insane to me that addressing the climate crisis has become a tribal political issue, with one group listening to science and the other group listening to Trump. Monster hurricanes forming in increasingly warm waters off the US coast don’t give a damn if you are a “Red State” or a “Blue State”. Rising sea-levels, threatening cities like Miami, where I live, don’t stop to ask for partisan affiliation before eroding the beaches.

Republicans love their children as much as Democrats. Why are Republicans resisting and mocking small and big efforts to try to take care of our planet and preserve it for generations to come? 

Ana Navarro is a Republican strategist and CNN political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro.

11:22 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

The only thing that matters

By Julian Zelizer

Democratic candidates are spending an entire evening of town halls discussing climate change on CNN. The candidates have used their time to promote different plans for dealing with this global crisis. In contrast to the Republican silence on this issue, each of the Democrats have a vision about what needs to be done. Center and left agree that Washington needs to act.

But the one proposal that came out of the town halls, more important than any other, is getting rid of the filibuster. When Senator Kamala Harris joined the chorus calling for an end to the practice that allows a minority of senators to block the desires of the majority, she revealed a growing recognition within the party that it will be impossible to tackle climate change without this reform. Following the town hall, she reiterated the point,

tweeting: “If Republicans continue to block progress, I’ll get rid of the filibuster to pass a Green New Deal.”

Under Senator Mitch McConnell, Republicans have shown repeatedly that as a majority they will not support substantive legislation to curb emissions and as a minority they will use the filibuster to prevent Democrats from passing such bills. In other words, regardless of who controls the Senate in 2021, none of the Democrats seeking the presidency would be able to make progress via the legislative branch unless they have a 60-vote majority. And executive action, as President Barack Obama learned, can be easily reversed.

To paraphrase what Speaker Pelosi likes to say about needing to have 218 votes to move forward with an idea, without ending the filibuster Democrats are just having a conversation.

The time has come for action. The damage and threats that the world faces from a ravaged environment get worse every year. And as of now, most of Republican leaders have moved firmly into the denialism camp and reject the need for legislative solutions.

Democrats, as we saw tonight, do want to do something about climate change. But without filibuster reform, it will just add up to a lot of talk.

Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, and author of the forthcoming book, "Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party."

11:00 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Biden misses an opportunity

By Jen Psaki

At nearly every opportunity at the CNN climate crisis town hall, former Vice President Joe Biden weaved in his experience on the international stage and on national security issues. His basic message was, ‘I will bring the world together -- and that’s what we need to address climate change.’

In that vein, he brought up the Paris climate agreement. Now, while that issue is important, it is not what will move the general public to sustain the kind of activism we have seen from young people and progressives who have pushed this issue to the forefront.   

However, it may be a preview of how Biden will attempt to differentiate himself from his opponents at the next debate. His experience as Vice President and as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee do stand in comforting contrast with the current inept leader of the free world.

But at this stage in the primary process he would benefit from talking more about children struggling with asthma because of increased pollution than leading with his negotiating skills with China.


Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki

10:45 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

The most realistic action we can take

By Lara Hansen

Let’s be clear, taking no action on climate change is the riskiest action we can take. This includes proposals that commit us to continuing to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure -- including natural gas which emits greenhouse gases not only when it is burned to make energy, but also in its extraction, refining and distribution. Senator Elizabeth Warren aptly called the current state of affairs where inaction rules “a nightmare.”

Let’s be clear, climate change is a monumental problem (as Senator Amy Klobuchar put it) and an existential crisis (as Senator Bernie Sanders reminded us) that we have spent over a century creating. It is a driver of the intensity of Hurricane Dorian, which is being reported on during this town hall.

Let’s be clear, we need a monumental solution but we do not have a century to enact it. We need bold, rapid action. Senator Kamala Harris’ commitments to use legal recourse and regulatory tools to spur this change, and Sanders' economy wide plan may seem risky if you have not been focused on climate change and its impacts. However, these strategies are anything but risky, they are lifelines in the heavy seas that surround us.

These approaches lead us to former Vice President Joe Biden’s reflection on how these solutions create new jobs. They also lead us to Harris’ reflections on improvements for air and water quality. Sanders even discussed the concomitant advantage of joining the global community to fight the common enemy of climate change -- it can help to reduce global conflict.

Indeed, these proposed solutions are rich with benefits beyond simply reducing the rate and extent of climate change.

Lara Hansen is the Chief Scientist, Executive Director and co-founder of the not-for-profit organization EcoAdapt, and co-author of Climate Savvy.

11:23 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Klobuchar spoke directly to real Americans' concerns

By Van Jones

Amy Klobuchar had a great night tonight. She really did her homework and shared her climate plans through the eyes of real Americans. 

Mychal Estrada from Green For All (an organization I helped to create) asked Kamala Harris an important question before Klobuchar took the stage tonight: “As we make the transition from dirty diesel and coal, our industry workers -- many of whom voted for Donald Trump in the last election -- may fear losing their jobs, benefits, and ability to provide for their families. How will you work across the aisle to support all workers, and build trust with the Republican constituents dependent on a fossil-fuel economy?"

Unfortunately, Kamala Harris failed to directly answer the question. But later Klobuchar took the challenge head-on: We can’t build a green economy that leaves anyone behind, she said. 

Her grandfather was a coal miner, so it’s personal to her. She talked about the need to support impacted workers and help them make the transition while still being able to provide for their families. She shared ways farmers can be part of the solution by sequestering carbon in the soil. She talked about how low-income Americans might save money through clean economy solutions.

She also talked about the importance of environmental justice for communities of color living on the front lines of pollution; she touted plans for moving money from polluters' pockets into programs that can lift these communities up with a price on carbon. 

Klobuchar laid out a vision for a green economy where everyone has a place and no one gets left behind. That’s something that can resonate with the voters watching tonight. 

Van Jones is the host of the "The Van Jones Show" and a CNN political commentator. He is the co-founder of Green For All, a program of Dream Corps, and the CEO of the REFORM Alliance.

8:42 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Are the candidates living in a fantasy?