With the 2020 elections underway, climate policy is starting to take center stage. Now, most top Democratic candidates have some plan to tackle the issue, and some even have multi-trillion-dollar proposals to combat it. But it wasn’t always that way. In 2015, Bernie declared climate change “the largest threat to national security,” yet the issue was far from mainstream. Could AOC’s Green New Deal have anything to do with it?
The Green New Deal
In February of 2019, AOC released an outline of her Green New Deal. The ambitious plan aims to have the United States fulfill its entire power demand through zero-emissions energy sources, overhaul transportation systems that contribute adversely to the environment, and more.
Certainly, the Green New Deal has set the tone for the elections in 2020. Washington Governor Jay Inslee might be most notable for his climate platform, but we can’t forget about Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, Booker, or Biden either.
The last election, few took climate policy seriously. Times are different now and you can thank AOC for that. Whether or not you agree with the Green New Deal, you have to admit that AOC has put climate policy on the map.
And here’s why.
The First Democratic Debates
Some would argue that climate change still isn’t mainstream and they’d cite the amount of time dedicated to discussing the issue in the first Democratic debates. Specifically, only 7 minutes were allotted in discussing the issue of climate change.
Now, you might argue something along the lines of “Well, of course, immigration and guns got more time — they’re more important issues!” And you’d be somewhat right: social issues have long been important, especially to the Democratic party. The problem with that argument though is that it implies there’s a direct correlation between time spent on an issue in the debates and the importance of that issue. In most cases, there is, but on climate, the DNC is dead wrong.
Let’s take a step back and entertain a couple of points.
Warren, O’Rourke, and Booker answered that climate change is the number one geopolitical threat. For a second, let’s disregard the fact that climate change really isn’t a “geopolitical threat” per se. Did these candidates really think that climate change is a “geopolitical threat”? Well, we’ll never really know, but I have a hunch they didn’t. Just look at the news cycle — that answer paid dividends in a big way.
Discussion of climate change was present on the second night too.
It started with Eric Swalwell mentioning “If we’re going to solve the issue of climate chaos, pass the torch.” Bernie in response to Swalwell’s reiteration of “passing the torch,” mentioned that it wasn’t a generational issue; instead, it would come down to “who has the guts to stand up to the fossil fuel industry…”
Of course, there was a more direct discussion of climate change too. Harris reaffirmed her support for the Green New Deal and mentioned that as president, she would reenter the United States into the Paris Agreement. Buttigieg voiced his plan to institute a carbon tax. Hickenlooper believes that working with the oil and gas to move the needle. Biden voiced that as president, he would build 500,000 recharging stations across the United States. Sanders mentioned he would move the United States away from the fossil fuel industry.
When the candidates were asked about what issue they would tackle if they could only tackle one, answers were pretty spread out.
Bennet also mentioned climate change. Andrew Yang said UBI, the centerpiece of his platform, but sees it also help with climate change. Hickenlooper also mentions climate change.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Though the Green New Deal likely won’t be signed into law, it has created a standard for Democrats. Though climate change isn’t a centerpiece of anyone’s platform other than Inslee’s, the issue will undoubtedly continue to be discussed.
On August 22nd, DNC officials will meet in San Francisco to discuss potentially having a climate debate or forum. In the case of a forum, candidates would discuss instead of debate.
Climate change has come a long way as an issue. For all the complaints about the issue only getting 7 minutes of discussion in the first Democratic debates, that’s already more than the issue got in the entire 2016 election.
Now, obviously AOC wasn’t the first to take political action against climate change, but she should be credited with making the issue mainstream. You wonder if candidates would even bother discussing climate if AOC’s Green New Deal didn’t exist…