It’s that time again, folks: The Democratic candidates for president are preparing to take the debate stage for the second time this election cycle. The next round of debates in Detroit on July 30 and 31 will feature almost all of the presidential contenders who appeared in the June debates in Miami (just swap out Representative Eric Swalwell for Montana Governor Steve Bullock).
Amid activist calls for a climate-themed debate and new polls that show widespread support for the Green New Deal, candidates are jockeying for a slice of the climate action pie.
What we’re looking for on the first night
The night’s biggest matchup will be between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Polls have the two progressives neck and neck. But can climate change give one candidate an edge over the other? In a recent poll of climate-conscious voters, Warren outranked Sanders by capturing 20 percent of those voters support to Sanders’ 16 percent.
Warren’s unofficial slogan — I have a plan for that — definitely applies to her approach to climate change. Warren has released five climate plans* and Sanders has released zero. The Massachusetts senator’s mastery at getting into policy without getting bogged down by it could be what gave her an edge over Sanders, who tends to talk in sweeping statements. Bonus: They’ll be standing next to each other on stage.
Here’s what to look for with the other first night frontrunners: Pete Buttigieg has said climate change inspired him to run for president, but he’s only released one climate-oriented proposal so far, and it’s milquetoast.
More importantly, will Buttigieg go head to head with Beto O’Rourke? The two whippersnappers from the Midwest and the Southwest, respectively, know the importance of the rural vote. At the first debate, O’Rourke emphasized the role farming and soil can play in drawing down emissions. At a recent event, Buttigieg said that rural Americans will play a crucial role in his climate strategy. Is there enough land for the two to share? We’ll see.
What we’re looking for on the second night
Washington Governor and self-proclaimed “climate candidate” Jay Inslee (polling below 1 percent) is probably low on current frontrunner Joe Biden’s list of concerns right now. Still, Inslee is promising to take Biden to task on climate change on Wednesday night. Will we see a Kamala Harris-style smackdown? Probably not; Inslee had a hard time getting a word in edgewise last debate.
Speaking of Harris, the California senator has said she supports the Green New Deal but hadn’t released a climate proposal … until now. On Monday, she proposed climate equity legislation in tandem with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the co-authors of the Green New Deal resolution. We’ll be watching to see if Harris brings up climate justice.
Speaking of new climate moves: Kirsten Gillibrand just came out with a $10 trillion climate plan — the most expensive in the field. If Inslee is given the opportunity, he might try to ask her how she plans to execute her proposal — some climate hawks noted that her plan, though wide in scope, seemed a little vague.
And in the unlikely event that moderators fail to bring up the subject at all? Inslee said he’s going to talk about climate change at the debates “whether they want me to or not until they get the National Guard out.” Moderators didn’t spend much time on the topic during the first debates in Miami, so we’re hoping Inslee debates himself until he’s escorted out of the venue.
The events could hold a couple of surprises for the watchful climate hawks among us, particularly from the folks I didn’t mention: Marianne Williamson, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Tim Ryan, Steve Bullock, and Amy Klobuchar on the first night. And Tulsi Gabbard, Michael Bennet, Bill de Blasio, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, and Julian Castro on the second.
Yang might make a case for his geoengineering institute, like the X-Men’s Danger Room but for climate scientists. Hickenlooper could go after the Green New Deal again (he’s not a fan). Who knows what Williamson will say, but she’s got a pretty comprehensive climate platform on her campaign website. If she steers clear of anti-vax rhetoric and focuses on renewable energy? Girlfriend, you are so on.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story said Warren had three plans, not five. Grist apologizes for the error and has sentenced this indoor kid author to five years in Buttigieg’s climate corps.