Climate change finally took center stage in 2020 race

Climate change finally took center stage in the race for the White House. Last week, Democrats had a serious discussion of the crisis, while President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's top adviser on Asia to serve as deputy national security adviser United Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' MORE made a mockery of it.

CNN sponsored a Climate Change Town Hall with 10 of the Democratic presidential candidates. Several of the candidates released their own climate proposals ahead of the event. 

Alternatively, Trump took another shot at climate science last week. In the past, Trump has described climate change as a “Chinese Hoax.”

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Last week, the president said he’d never “even heard of a Category 5” hurricane, which must have been little comfort to residents of the Bahamas where Category-5 storm Hurricane Dorian devastated the islands and killed at least 43 people.

The Forecaster in Chief even reportedly expanded the reach of Hurricane Dorian on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather map to Alabama with a sharpie to back up his earlier claim that the state was in the storm’s path. Of course, the fact that climate change is making such storms more destructive was lost in the discussion.

Trump’s dismissal of climate science and inaction on the climate crisis stands in stark contrast to his 2020 rivals. 

The starting point for all Democratic discussions of climate change begins with the Green New Deal. A candidate’s position on this proposal — along with “Medicare for all” — is a bright line that separates the liberals and moderates in the party.

A poll conducted for CNN in April found that climate change and health care were the two most important priorities for potential Democratic primary voters. Four of five (82 percent) of the Democrats said that slowing climate change was very important to them while three quarters (75 percent) indicated providing health insurance for all was very important. The next biggest concern was stopping gun violence (60 percent).

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The Green Deal sets targets for eliminating the nation’s carbon footprint by 2030 by ending our dependence on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gasoline by increasing the use of clean energy from the sun, wind and water. The plan calls for the creation of millions of new jobs in the green energy industry to stimulate the economy and to fight the climate crisis. 

A new national survey conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News shows only three Democratic candidates in double digits. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenUnited Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Trump doubles down on call to investigate Biden after whistleblower complaint: 'That's the real story' Omar: Biden not the candidate to 'tackle a lot of the systematic challenges that we have' MORE leads the field at 27 percent with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOmar: Biden not the candidate to 'tackle a lot of the systematic challenges that we have' Seven takeaways from a busy Democratic presidential campaign weekend in Iowa Democrats go all out to court young voters for 2020 MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenUnited Auto Workers strike against GM poised to head into eighth day Omar: Biden not the candidate to 'tackle a lot of the systematic challenges that we have' Seven takeaways from a busy Democratic presidential campaign weekend in Iowa MORE (D-Mss.) clocking in at 19 percent and 17 percent respectively.

The three front runners in the Democratic presidential races have all released proposals to combat climate change.

The Democratic plans all take their inspiration from the Green New Deal. The candidates’ plans share common elements such as renewed American participation in the Paris environmental accords, moving the United States to zero net carbon emissions by 2050 and a ban on taking campaign money from the fossil fuel industry. 

Sanders offers the most ambitious proposal among the Democratic frontrunners. He would completely eliminate carbon from transportation and power generation by 2030. Sanders would spend $16 trillion over the next 15 years to develop clean energy. The money for his effort to fight climate change would come from ending federal fossil fuel subsidies and from the income tax revenues generated from the 20 million new jobs created in the clean energy industry.

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Biden’s plan would fund the development of clean energy with $1.7 trillion in federal investments and another $5 trillion from public and private partnerships.

Warren would spend $2 trillion over 10 years on green research and manufacturing as well as ban oil drilling offshore and on federal lands. The funding would come from increased taxes on wealthy Americans and corporate profits.

These proposals to fight climate change fit nicely into the portfolios of the contenders. The Sanders plan is bold, which fits the transformative campaign he is running. Warren incorporates her campaign for political ethics reform by noting the corrosive nature of the fossil fuel lobby. Biden’s proposal is cautious, offering a relatively small amount of federal funding to leverage larger amounts of private money to reform the energy infrastructure. 

Each of the three frontrunners has a legislative history in the fight for clean energy. Sanders has been talking about the threat for 30 years. Biden introduced the first bill in the Senate to address climate change back in 1987. Warren sponsored the Climate Change Disclosure Act, which would require corporations to warn their stockholders of the dangers that a corporation’s policies pose to climate change. 

The fight against climate change will require that we completely alter the economy of the United States and that entails political risk for Democrats. Trump and his party run a greater risk in denying the existence of a problem that already threatens the health and well-being of American voters and people all over the world.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.