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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7:12 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Harris: "There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking"

From CNN's Eric Bradner

California Sen. Kamala Harris said she would seek to ban fracking and offshore drilling if she is elected president.

“There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking,” she said of the controversial form of oil and natural gas extraction at CNN’s town hall on the climate crisis.

Harris said she’d backed efforts to stop the practice in California as attorney general. As a Senate candidate in 2016, she said she was skeptical of fracking.

What is fracking, anyway? Learn more in the video below:

6:55 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Harris supports banning plastic straws — and says paper straws need to be perfected

California Sen. Kamala Harris said the US needs to ban plastic straws — but acknowledged that paper straws can be difficult to drink from.

“I think we should, yes," she said when asked about banning plastic. "I mean, look, I'm going to be honest: It's really difficult out of drink out of a paper straw — like, if you don’t gulp it down immediately, it starts to bend, and then the little thing catches it. So, we gotta kind of perfect that one a little bit more.”

She said now is the time for "innovation" when it comes to plastic alternatives.

"Innovation is a process. But you know, let's encourage innovation. I think we can do a little better than some of those flimsy plastic straws," she said.

But ultimately, "we do need to ban the plastic," Harris added.

6:47 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Harris would tell DOJ to go after oil and gas companies

From CNN's Dan Merica

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

California Sen. Kamala Harris said Wednesday that, as president, she would direct the Department of Justice to go after oil and gas companies who have directly impacted global warming, telling the audience at a CNN town hall that she will “take them to court and sue them.”

Harris, a former prosecutor, said “people who profit off harmful behaviors” need to have a financial reason to change their behavior.

“When you take away that money because you take them to court and sue them, as I have done, it’s extraordinary how they will change behaviors,” Harris said. “They have to be held accountable. Maybe this is the prosecutor in me. They have to be held accountable.”

She added: “These are bad behaviors. They are causing harm and death in communities. And there has been no accountability. Certainly not by this administration. Nor, and I hate to say it so generally, by the Republicans in Congress.”

Asked directly if she would sue a company like ExxonMobil, Harris said yes.

“Yes,” she said. “And they’re going to pay fines and they are going to pay fees.”

Harris’ written plan, which was released this week, also harkens back to her time as a prosecutor, especially when she helped California win an $85 million settlement with Volkswagen for cheating on emissions tests for its diesel vehicles.

If she becomes President, Harris’ plan states, she will increase penalties for companies that violate federal pollution laws and restoring the “polluter pays” model for funding the Superfund program.

6:42 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Kamala Harris says she would eliminate the filibuster to pass Green New Deal

From CNN's Eric Bradner

California Sen. Kamala Harris said if elected president, she would back abolishing the filibuster if Republicans stand in the way of legislation to combat climate change.

It’s the first time she has said as a 2020 candidate that she backs the end of the filibuster.

Harris said she would first seek to work with the GOP.

However, she said: “If they fail to act, as president of the United States, I am prepared to get rid of the filibuster to pass a Green New Deal,” she said.

Democrats need to win the presidency and gain three seats in the Senate to take control of the chamber in the 2020 elections. But the party would need 60 votes -- virtually an impossibility given the map of Senate seats up for election next year -- to win a filibuster-proof majority. That means even if a Democrat is elected president and the party wins full control of Congress, Republicans would still have the ability to block legislation in the Senate unless the filibuster is done away with.

6:25 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Kamala Harris is up next at CNN's climate crisis town hall


California Sen. Kamala Harris' town hall just started. She's the third 2020 Democrat to take the stage tonight.

Seven more presidential candidates will have town halls later tonight.

6:45 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Yang says vegetarianism would be better for climate — but "you can't force people's eating choices"

 From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf and Annie Grayer


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

Most of the debate over climate change focuses on fossil fuels, but meat consumption is a big driver of global warming too.

Andrew Yang, asked about how to shape habits around meat, acknowledged vegetarianism is better for the planet – but said the government can’t force anyone to stop eating meat.

“This is a country where there is a lot of individual autonomy, so you can’t force people’s eating choices on them,” he said.

What’s the impact of meat production? 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.


6:23 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Yang explains why he supports investing in cloud seeding

From CNN's Dan Merica

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang explained on Wednesday why he supports combating climate change by investing heavily in unproven technological advancements like cloud seeding.

Cloud seeding is a technology that has been around for years, but its ability to combat climate change is more speculative. The practice involves spraying chemicals into the atmosphere to make it rain or snow, a practice that could help with extreme drought.

Yang said on Wednesday that “all solutions have to be on the table.”

“We’re here together because we can this is a crisis,” Yang said. “If you were attacking on one side, you should be researching various alternatives on the other. That, to me, is just responsible management and responsible leadership.”

Yang’s website says that he, as president, would “invest in any idea that has the potential to reverse the damage done to the environment.”

6:23 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Yang wants US's economic scorecard to include environmental impacts

From CNN's Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir

Businessman Andrew Yang said that is he's elected president, he'll eliminate gross domestic product as a measure of national success and "upgrade" it to a score card that includes environmental factors.

"As your president, I will go down the street to the Bureau of Economic Analysis and say, 'Hey, GDP, 100 years old, kind of out of date.' Let's upgrade it with a new score card that includes our environmental sustainability and our goals — the carbon footprint that companies are putting out there. But also our kids' health, which is tied to the climate, health and life expectancy, also tied to the climate, mental health and freedom from substance abuse, all things we can tie to our economic measurements," he said.

At least one other country already has a similar system. Bhutan, the tiny Buddhist kingdom wedged between China and India, is driven by a policy of Gross National Happiness.

That system takes into account every citizen's mental health and job satisfaction, bans smoking and plastic bags nationwide and refuses to develop almost half of their pristine wilderness.

But some context: Bhutan is a homogenized society with the population of Seattle. 

6:19 p.m. ET, September 4, 2019

Yang wants a carbon tax of $40 to $100 per ton

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

CNN's Wolf Blitzer just asked Andrew Yang if he supports a carbon tax.

"I do support a carbon tax — if you went to my website, Wolf, you would know this," Yang said as the audience laughed.

Yang said his carbon tax would start at $40 per ton, and go up to $100 per ton.

How does a carbon tax work, anyway? Many people think the most effective way to drastically cut carbon emissions would be to set a price on them — essentially, to tax them. 

In 2010, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a so-called "cap and trade" bill. It 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.