CNN's climate crisis town hall

By Meg Wagner, Dan Merica, Gregory Krieg and Eric Bradner, CNN

Updated 3:25 AM ET, Thu September 5, 2019
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11:50 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

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

From CNN's Dan Merica

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.”

“People who think that we can get there without nuclear being part of the blend just aren’t looking at the facts,” Booker said.

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.

11:57 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

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

From CNN's Eric Bradner

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

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.

“Freedom is one of the most sacred values -- whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it,” Booker said.

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.

11:47 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

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

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

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

From CNN's Dan Merica

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

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

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

From CNN's Eric Bradner

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

From CNN's Eric Bradner and Zachary B. Wolf

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

From CNN's Dan Merica and Annie Grayer

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.”