Live commentary: How to solve the climate crisis

Updated 12:54 p.m. ET, September 5, 2019
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10:35 a.m. ET, September 5, 2019

Cory Booker proved he understands environmental issues on personal, political, and technical levels 

By Jessika Trancik 

There’s an impressive ease with which Senator Cory Booker talked about the environment. He switched from broad, insightful statements about climate being "the lens, through which we must do everything that we do," to the details of next-generation nuclear energy. It was clear that he has thought deeply about these topics, and he mixed in much-needed humor as the end of the seven-hour event approached. 

Discussing climate change effectively requires a combination of heart and wonkiness. Climate change is affecting people in very personal, emotionally challenging ways, costing homes and livelihoods. Yet it’s also about numbers and data. Wednesday night, Senator Booker proved he understands both. He connected with people’s personal experiences, while citing data and quantitative targets. He fittingly summed up his approach by saying: "in God we trust, but everybody else bring me data."

Four points stood out in Booker's climate plan:

  1. Addressing climate change should go hand-in-hand with addressing environmental justice, agriculture, and other pressing societal-scale challenges. His integrative approach can be economically efficient and effective, and can build broad support among voters.
  2. Our strength is as a research and development (R&D) intensive economy. Increasing clean technology R&D is essential for keeping our competitive edge. (I would add that market-expansion is also needed, to bridge lab development and early market growth, as seen in the cases of solar energy, batteries, electric vehicles and several other technologies.)
  3. Freedom is a sacred value. Policy should open up more choices for people, not limit the options. This will happen with policies that drive technological innovation.
  4. He cited Brené Brown in saying that "You can’t hate up close, so pull people in." Strong policy proposals are needed for helping communities and workers affected by climate change, and many candidates came forward with ideas. But conversations are also needed to understand differing perspectives and collectively design a transition that works for affected populations.

Booker gave the impression that he could have gone on much longer, and maybe he will get the chance to.  

Jessika Trancik is an Associate Professor in Energy Systems at MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society.

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

Elizabeth Warren makes the mistake Hillary Clinton did

By Carrie Sheffield

Sen. Elizabeth Warren embraced flawed policy priorities during the CNN town hall, rejecting nuclear energy and calling for expensive, job-killing carbon mandates and $3 trillion in new taxpayer spending. Her proposal to ban offshore oil drilling would hike gas prices and the cost of household goods, hurting middle-class families.

When asked how she would care for oil and gas jobs displaced by “green energy” policies, Warren glossed over this inconvenient truth: she sounded like Hillary Clinton boasting -- to her 2016 downfall -- about putting “a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." 

Warren said she disagreed with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposal to seize energy utilities and place them in public ownership, however she admitted she wanted something even more drastic: “I think the way we get there is we just say (to fossil fuel companies), sorry guys, but by 2035 you’re done.”

Warren said the displaced workers in a place like Port Arthur, Texas -- the location of the country’s largest oil refinery -- would simply get new infrastructure jobs such as those “right on the water.” She breezed over details, like who would pay for those new jobs, whether they are sustainable and how workers would be retrained.

The carbon mandates Warren embraced on Wednesday would hike monthly energy bills. This would hurt low-income families the most, given that they proportionately spend more on energy than wealthier families.

Carrie Sheffield is national editor for Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog organization, and a visiting fellow at Independent Women's Forum.  

11:38 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Yang dispelled myths. And he was funny too

By Van Jones

The CNN moderator threw some real curve balls at political novice Andrew Yang tonight: Are we all going to have to drive electric cars? Should Americans change their eating habits and eat less beef? What is he going to ask of the American people?

Perhaps to the surprise of many viewers, he handled them all like a pro. And he was funny, besides.

Yang directly took on the myths fueled by Trump’s caricature of a green dystopian future where there are no more hamburgers, or cars, or personal freedom -- an attempt to make Americans fear the clean energy future. And he dispelled them in simple, engaging and even humorous terms. 

No, the government is not going to take away your car. “This is not a country where you take someone’s clunker away from them. But you are going to offer to buy the clunker back and help them upgrade.” People will love driving electric cars, he suggested, saying, “It’s awesome[...] You feel like you’re driving the future.” 

And yes, your burgers are safe too. Becoming a vegetarian helps lower your carbon footprint, but no one is going to force you to do it. 

And although the looming climate catastrophe is an inherently gloomy topic, he brought cheer and a grounded optimism to the subject: “It’s not enough to do less of the bad. We need to do more of the good.”

He also talked about the need for solidarity: “This is an ‘us’ problem, not a ‘you’ problem” -- and we need to act accordingly.

In talking about clean water as a right: “You know what’s expensive? Poisoning your kids!”

He didn’t duck the gravity of the challenge -- even pointing out that America already has climate refugees, referring to a sinking town in Louisiana. 

But the green economy is about building a better future for all -- and newcomer Yang conveyed that masterfully.

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

11:46 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

How to get to Warren's "big change" on climate

By Lara Hansen

Communities all across our country are experiencing the effects of climate change. You hear it in the many questions being asked in this Democratic Town Hall. People are asking about the disparity in the effects of climate change based on income, race, gender or abilities, about the vulnerability of coastal communities and sea level rise, about our fossil-fuel economy’s health effects, or citizens who have lost their homes to wildfire.

Some of these individuals are fortunate to live in communities looking to develop strategies to reduce the impact. Participants in the National Adaptation Forum share these ideas across geographies and there is a whole database of these efforts waiting to be replicated by any of us. We can all work in our own communities, but it is slow going and a patchwork of small-scale actions is insufficient and inefficient in protecting us from many of the effects of climate change.

Isolated local action also creates climate haves and have nots since unfortunately some of the individuals asking questions at the town hall do not live in communities that are taking these issues into account in their local planning and investments. The "big change" that Senator Elizabeth Warren called for -- change that works for everybody -- means creating government structures that enable all communities to do what the vanguard is already undertaking.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg noted that “our national government has failed” and that correcting it will be a “major national project.” We urgently need a national approach if we are going to help citizens -- from Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles to native Alaskan communities to Paradise, California -- who are climate refugees. For them, local solutions cannot sufficiently address their problems.

This is not to say that local action is unnecessary. It is the driver of innovation. Our local community examples will inform our national solutions. If you’re taking local action, please keep it up! If you’re not taking local action, see if you can get something started. As many candidates have said tonight, we need all hands on deck. And those hands need to be coordinated. 

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

11:19 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."