Can climate change be stopped? That’s a question the New York Times posed to 21 of the 22 Democratic candidates running for president. In a series of short videos published on Wednesday, the hopefuls weighed in on whether the largest and most important threat to Americans can, indeed, be “stopped.”
The Times picked a good question because it doesn’t have an easy answer. Obviously, a climate-informed person running for president doesn’t want to tell the whole truth here. Climate change not only cannot be halted entirely but is also expected to accelerate quite rapidly in the coming years and decades, no matter what we do now. Plus, the U.S. only emits around 15 percent of the world’s emissions, and getting China and India to stop developing all of a sudden isn’t exactly as straightforward as signing an executive order.
Leave it to a politician to figure out the right way to answer an unanswerable question. The candidates’ answers ranged from boilerplate, to nuanced, to nonexistent (Joe Biden was the only Democrat running for president who did not respond to multiple interview requests from the newspaper of record).
Without further ado, here is Grist’s official breakdown of how the candidates responded.
Realistic: We can’t stop climate change
- Andrew Yang: “We need to … prepare for the fact that climate change is likely going to be with us and will accelerate in years to come.” He said there are things we can do to slow it down — sequester carbon, invest in renewables, lead the rest of the world in the sustainability arena — but we’re locked in for some pretty severe effects.
- Seth Moulton: “Will we be able to solve it in a four or eight-year term?” He shook his head. “It’s gotten too bad.” But Moulton said it is “incumbent on us to try.”
- Amy Klobuchar: “You can’t stop climate change, but you can respond to the crisis in a meaningful way.” She was the only candidate to discuss in detail the climate-fueled disasters happening now: hail, wildfires, floods in the Midwest.
Optimistic: We can’t stop it but I won’t explicitly say so because that’s depressing and unpresidential
- Kirsten Gillibrand: “Global climate change should be a moon shot for this generation.” That’s not really an answer. But she did say we need to pass a Green New Deal and put a price on carbon. If she was able to deliver on that as president, we’d be sittin’ pretty in the U.S.
- Cory Booker: “It’s not going to be one person in one office. It has to be a movement.” He said he’ll rejoin Paris climate agreement in his first hours as president.
- Julian Castro: “Yes, I think it’s possible for the next president to have a dramatic impact.” He called for massive investments in renewables, and said he likes the concept of a Green New Deal.
- Bernie Sanders: “Not alone, and not, certainly, just by doing what has to be done in the United States.” He called for spending less on weapons and more on tackling rising temperatures.
- Tulsi Gabbard: “The United States alone can’t accomplish this.” Didn’t say much else.
- Beto O’Rourke: “We have 10 years in which to act. I want to do my part to make every second count.” But Beto noted that “no one person or one political party will be able to do this on their own.” He said he will stop oil and gas leases on federal land, and went into some wonky detail on encouraging farmers to do stuff like plant cover crops and sequester carbon in soil.
- Elizabeth Warren: “I think it’s possible for the next president to make huge advances on climate change.” She said the EPA and other government agencies will play a role in that, and called for investment in clean infrastructure and climate resiliency. It’s a “win-win-win,” she said.
- Kamala Harris: “There’s no question that the next president has it within her capacity to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” But unlike a lot of other prominent candidates, she didn’t include much detail on how she aims to put a dent in emissions.
- Pete Buttigieg: “I think it’s possible for the next president to reverse the trajectory toward climate ruin that we’re on today.” But Mayor Pete injected a bit of realism in the same breath: “Can we do it in four years? Of course not.”
- Marianne Williamson: “Climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our generation.” That, alas, is not really an answer to the question. But she did call the issue a priority and said the American people are ready for a shift toward climate action.
Hopeful: Yes, we can stop it because this is America, goddamnit
- John Delaney: “Yes. I do. I believe I can get a carbon tax passed in my first year as president.” If Delaney is able to get a carbon tax passed in his first year as president I will eat my hat.
- Michael Bennet: “I think we, as a country, leading the world, need to stop climate change.” A reporter asked if the next president can actually stop it. “I do,” Bennet said, and argued that a bipartisan solution is the best route.
- Jay Inslee: “Yes, not only can we defeat climate change, it is the only option.” Inslee, who knows that climate policy only works when it is paired with something that benefits voters, said a clean energy future could produce 8 million jobs.
- John Hickenlooper: “Absolutely.” He said it will have to be a global solution.
- Bill de Blasio: “Yes, it can be done.” He called for putting the “full force of the federal government” behind the Green New Deal.
- Steve Bullock: “It’s possible for the next president to finally take the steps to at least address climate change.” That’s all well and good, but he lost us when he said that scientists are in agreement that we need to address the crisis “in three decades.” Scientists say we need to take major steps to address the problem in about a decade or less.
- Tim Ryan: “Yes. I do.” He called for engaging the “free enterprise system” to reverse climate change. Say what now?
- Eric Swalwell: “It is possible for the next president to reverse the devastating effects that climate chaos has caused in our country.” No one asked you if the next president can reverse climate change, Eric.