CNN's climate crisis town hall

11:41 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

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.

“People would move out of those neighborhoods if they could,” O’Rourke said. “They are sick and tired of being flooded and rebuilding, but they can’t afford to” move.

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.

11:49 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

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

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

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.

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

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.

11:02 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

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

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

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.

10:53 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Beto O'Rourke is up next

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

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.

10:51 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Buttigieg defends use of private planes for campaigning

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg defended his decision to fly on private planes during his 2020 campaign despite the increased impact private air travel has on the environment

Buttigieg and his traveling aides regularly fly private, and the South Bend, Indiana, mayor spent more money on private air travel than any other candidate in the second quarter of 2019.

Asked on Wednesday about that travel, Buttigieg said he is “interested in de-carbonizing the fuel that goes into air travel” but that he flies private because “this is a very big country and I’m running to be president of the whole country.”

“I also don’t believe that we’re going to abolish air travel. This is a big country, and while I absolutely think that we can do more to provide alternatives like trains, I don’t think that we’re going to solve the question of how to get around the world without air travel,” Buttigieg said. “This is the sort of the thing that I think we need to look at in a common sense kind of way.”

Buttigieg also slammed the fact that United State has an “inferior train system.”

“Think what it would mean for areas like the industrial Midwest if places from Indianapolis to Chicago to South Bend and Detroit and so on were just a few hours away from each other by train,” He said. “I’m not even asking for Japanese level trains. Just give me like Italian level trains.”

10:52 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Buttigieg: Let’s talk about climate as a "faith" issue

Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of a liberal city in the middle of a conservative state. On Wednesday, he said that to connect with Republicans in places like Indiana on climate issues, Democrats would be wise to use the frame of faith.

“Let's talk in language that is understood across the heartland, about faith,” the South Bend, Indiana, mayor said. “You know, if you believe that God is watching as poison is being belched into the air of creation, and people are being harmed by it, countries are at risk in low lying areas. What do you suppose God thinks of that?

Buttigieg’s guess: That “it's messed up.”

“You don't have to be religious to see the moral dimensions of this because, frankly, every religious and nonreligious moral tradition tells us that we have some responsibility to stewardship, some responsibility for taking care of what's around us not to mention taking care of our neighbor,” he said.

By taking that route, Buttigieg argued, the stakes both become more clear and increasingly real -- to everyone.

“Eventually, it gets to the point where this is less and less about the planet as an abstract thing,” he said, “and more and more about specific people suffering specific harm because of what we're doing right now.”

10:33 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Buttigieg says Trump may be most remembered for "failure to act on climate"

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Pete Buttigieg said the most-remembered element of Donald Trump’s presidency could be his failure to address the climate crisis.

“You could argue of all the horrible things this president has done, the one that will most be remembered 50 or 100 years from now will have to do with the failure to act on climate. At least, that's what it will be like if this goes down in history as the time we failed to get something done,” the South Bend, Indiana, mayor said at CNN’s climate town hall.

“I mean, Congress is like a room full of doctors arguing about what to do over a cancer patient,” he said. “And half of them are arguing over whether medication or surgery is the best approach, and the other half is saying cancer doesn't exist. Think of what a disservice -- this a life or death issue. The president is busy drawing with a Sharpie on a hurricane map. He's in a different reality than the rest of us. The problem is we don't have the luxury of debating whether this is an issue.”

Buttigieg was asked what question he would ask Trump in a debate about climate change, but said he doesn’t believe Trump can be reached on the issue.

“By asking him a question. I don’t think you can't get to him at all,” he said. “And it's not just him. It's all of the enablers in the congressional GOP.”

10:16 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Buttigieg: Combatting climate could be "more challenging than" winning World War II

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday that successfully combating climate change might be “more challenging than” winning World War II.

The comment came early in Buttigieg’s town hall, when the South Bend, Indiana, mayor was seeking to explain how the country needed to be unified around the climate crisis in order to successfully combat it.

“This is the hardest thing we will have done in my lifetime as a country,” he said, “on par with winning World War II.”

Buttigieg then paused, and said, “Maybe more challenging than that.”

He added: “Does anybody really think we’re going to meet that goal if between now and 2050, we are still at each other’s throats? It won’t happen.”

Buttigieg, who often talks about the need to unite around difficult issues, said part of this unification may mean “bringing people to the table who haven’t felt they have been part of the process.”