Live Updates

CNN’s climate crisis town hall

See how candidates stood out in 7 hours of climate talk

What we covered here

  • 10 candidates, one night: CNN hosted a Democratic presidential town hall in New York City focused on the climate crisis.
  • Why this matters: Many candidates have unveiled policy proposals to address the threat posed by a warming planet. President Trump has said he does not believe government reports that cast grave warnings about the effects of climate change.
  • Your questions, answered: We asked scientists to help answer your most pressing climate questions. Read more here.
  • Your feedback: Please take a few minutes to provide input on the live updates experience.
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10 key lines from CNN's climate crisis town hall

CNN tonight hosted 10 back-to-back town halls with 2020 Democratic candidates.

The candidates took questions directly from a live studio audience — composed of Democratic voters interested in the issue — in New York as well as CNN moderators.

Here’s the key takeaway from each candidate’s town hall:

  • Julián Castro said that “new civil rights legislation” to address environmental racism — minority communities facing the brunt of the climate crisis — is part of his plan to combat global warming. “I know that too often times it’s people that are poor, communities of color, who take the brunt of storms that are getting more frequent and more powerful,” he said.
  • Andrew Yang said that if he’s elected president, he’ll eliminate gross domestic product as a measure of national success and replace it with a system that includes environmental factors. “Let’s upgrade it with a new score card that includes our environmental sustainability and our goals,” he said.
  • Kamala Harris said that, as president, she would direct the Department of Justice to go after oil and gas companies who have directly impacted global warming. “They are causing harm and death in communities. And there has been no accountability,” she said.
  • Amy Klobuchar called for a reversal to the Trump administration’s move to rollback regulations on methane emissions. “That is very dangerous,” she said of the administration’s move.
  • Joe Biden was asked by a 19-year-old activist how young voters can trust him to prioritize their futures over big business. “I’ve never made that choice. My whole career,” he said.
  • Bernie Sanders was asked whether he would roll back Trump administration plans to overturn requirements on energy saving lightbulbs. He delivered an emphatic answer: “Duh!”
  • Elizabeth Warren said that conversations around regulating light bulbs, banning plastic straws and cutting down on red meat are exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants people focused on as a way to distract from their impact on climate change.
  • Pete Buttigieg said that successfully combating climate change might be “more challenging than” winning World War II. “This is the hardest thing we will have done in my lifetime as a country,” he said.
  • Beto O’Rourke said that, should he be elected president, his administration would spend federal dollars to help people in flood-prone areas move to higher ground. “People would move out of those neighborhoods if they could,” he said.
  • Cory Booker is a vegan — but he says he won’t try to get other Americans to stop eating hamburgers. “Freedom is one of the most sacred values — whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it,” he said.

Booker: People against nuclear power to fight climate change "just aren’t looking at the facts"

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said that people who don’t think nuclear power needs to be part of the fight against climate change – a group that includes many of his presidential opponents – “aren’t looking at the facts.”

Booker said that he warmed to nuclear power after reading studies about it and talking to nuclear scientists about technological advancements “that make nuclear safer.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are both opposed – in different ways – to nuclear power.

Warren said Wednesday that she would oppose nuclear energy as a way to combat climate change should she be elected president in 2020.

“We’re not going to build any nuclear power plants and we’re going to start weaning ourselves off nuclear energy and replacing it with renewable fuels,” Warren said, adding that she hopes to phase out nuclear power by 2035.

Booker: "Whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it"

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is a vegan – but he says he won’t try to get other Americans to stop eating hamburgers.

Still, Booker said at CNN’s climate town hall Wednesday night that he would stop subsidies for corporate farming practices that contribute to pollution and global warming.

But, he said, he sees health care as extending beyond doctors and nurses to include healthy food systems.

“We are going to have to make sure our government is not subsidizing the things that make us sick and unhealthy and hurt our environment,” he said.

Booker, who said he became a vegetarian while playing college football at Stanford, said he visited a community in North Carolina where “the farming practices are becoming so perverse” that people there can’t open their windows, are seeing their creeks polluted and are suffering respiratory illnesses.

“There’s not a person in our country, seeing that misery, that wants to take a part in that,” he said.

Cory Booker is the 10th — and last — candidiate to take the stage

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is the last 2020 candidiate to take the stage at CNN’s climate crisis town hall.

He’s taking voters’ questions now.

Earlier tonight, these 2020 candidates participated in the event:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • Businessman Andrew Yang
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro

O'Rourke would spend federal dollars to help people move out of flood-prone areas

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said that, should he be elected president, his administration would spend federal dollars to help people in flood-prone areas move to higher ground.

Central to O’Rourke’s answer was Houston, Texas, where a series of floods have affected parts of the sprawling city, raising questions about whether people should rebuild in the same places that have already flooded multiple times.

He added: “That’s why under my administration we’re going to invest the resources that will allow people to move to safer ground, rebuild their homes, their businesses and their lives.”

O’Rourke made clear that this would be for people whose homes have “repeatedly flooded.”

“We should help people move when they need to move,” he said.

Americans don't have to "radically or fundamentally change" how they eat, O'Rourke says

CNN’s Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir asked Beto O’Rourke if the American diet has to change in order to combat the climate crisis.

“To grow one pound of beef, it takes 20 times the land and 20 times the carbon pollution as one pound of plant protein. So as president, how do you think the American diet should change?” Weir asked

O’Rourke said he rejects “any notion that we have to radically or fundamentally change how we eat or what we eat.”

He continued: “I just think we have to be more responsible in the way that we do it, and the best way to do that is to allow the market to respond by setting a price on carbon in every single part of our economy, every facet of American life.”

What’s the impact of meat production, anyway?

There’s a lot for environmentalists to hate about beef. It’s cattle ranchers, encouraged by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, setting fires in the Amazon to destroy rain forest in order to make room for more meat production.

But there is also the matter of methane produced by cows. Livestock is responsible for more than 14% of greenhouse gas emissions — and beef in particular is responsible for 41% those. 

Democrats are proposing a shift to “sustainable” agricultural practices, but Republicans have mocked a line cut from a Democratic summary of the Green New Deal that mentioned “cow farts” and allege that Democrats want to take away Americans steaks and hamburgers.

O'Rourke brings up statehood for Puerto Rico

Beto O’Rourke raised the prospect of Puerto Rican statehood at CNN’s climate town hall Wednesday. The former Texas congressman said the island should have the option of “two U.S. senators who can go to town for them” to fight for disaster-related funding.

Beto O'Rourke opposes carbon tax, backs cap-and-trade

Beto O’Rourke said he opposes a carbon tax and instead backs a carbon cap-and-trade program in which a shrinking number of “allowances” would be sold to polluters each year.

“It’s the best way to send the pricing signal to ensure that there is a legally enforceable limit,” the former Texas congressman said at CNN’s climate town hall Wednesday.

“We should certainly price carbon. I think the best possible path to do that is through a cap and trade system. There would be allowances granted or sold to polluters,” he said, adding that “there would be a set number of allowances that would decrease every single year.”

Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2010 that would have capped carbon emissions for businesses and forced emitters to buy credits for emissions from other businesses – that’s the trade part – but it never went anywhere in the Senate.

Many people think the most effective way to drastically cut carbon emissions would be to set a price on them – essentially, to tax them, which O’Rourke said he opposes.

The International Monetary Fund recently suggested fossil fuel producers were getting more than $600 billion per year in subsides from the US government because they are not paying for the carbon they emit into the air. That’s part of a larger $5.2 trillion that the IMF paper suggested oil and gas companies were getting from governments worldwide.

Beto O'Rourke is up next

Beto O’Rourke’s climate crisis town hall just started, and he’s taking questions from voters.

He’s the ninth Democratic candidiate to take the stage in New York City tonight.