Climate change a major topic at Democratic debates

Adriana Navarro,
Democratic presidential candidates are seen on stage Thursday at the Knight Concert Hall in Miami, Fla. Photo by Gustavo Cabellero /NBC News/MSNBC/Telemundo/UPI
Democratic presidential candidates are seen on stage Thursday at the Knight Concert Hall in Miami, Fla. Photo by Gustavo Cabellero /NBC News/MSNBC/Telemundo/UPI | License Photo

June 28 -- On Thursday night in Miami, the second batch of qualifying Democratic presidential hopefuls had their shot at tackling the United States' most pressing issues, including climate change, as they "continue[d] the spirited debate about the future of the country," as NBC anchor and debate moderator Lester Holt phrased it.

The second and final night of the 2020 presidential debate season's first discussions featured big names like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders on stage inside the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. They were alongside candidates stepping into the political scene, including entrepreneur Andrew Yang as well as author and activist Marianne Williamson. Among other key topics including immigration, healthcare and the economy, climate change came up as the last conversation of the debate.


Four of 10 candidates identified climate change as "the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S. right now" near the end of the initial debate on Wednesday evening. On Thursday night, only Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper chose climate change as the first issue they planned to push if elected president, especially if there was the chance it would be the only topic they might be able to pass.


Two more candidates-Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana; and Yang-responded with different issues that they believed would lead to addressing climate change, while Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. senator from New York, did not touch on the topic Thursday evening.

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Here's a recap of the candidates' responses to the topic of climate change:

Joe Biden, former vice president of the United States

"I think you've so underestimated what Barack Obama did," Biden responded after moderator Chuck Todd stated that while former President Barack Obama wanted to address both healthcare and climate in his first year in office, he could only get one signature issue accomplished. "It was obviously healthcare," Todd said, leading up to his next question. "He didn't get to do climate change."

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Biden disagreed. "[Obama was] the first man to bring together the entire world, 196 nations to commit to deal with climate change immediately. I don't buy that. The first thing I would do is make sure that we defeat Donald Trump."

"And new science and technology to be the exporter not only of the green economy, but economy that can create millions of jobs. But I would immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. I would up the ante in that accord, which it calls for because we make up 15 percent of the problem; 85 percent of the world makes up the rest. And so, we have to have someone who knows how to corral the rest of the world, bring them together and get something done like we did in our administration."


Bernie Sanders, U.S. senator from Vermont

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"Look, the old ways are no longer relevant. The scientists tell us we have 12 years because there's irreparable damage to this planet. This is a global issue," Sanders said. "What the President of the United States should do is not deny the reality of climate change, but tell the rest of the world that instead of spending $1.5 trillion on weapons of destruction, let us get together for the common enemy, and that is to transform the world energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. The future of the planet rests on us doing that."

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana

"We've got to fix our democracy before it's too late. Get that right, and climate, immigration, taxes and every other issue gets better."

Kamala Harris, U.S. senator from California

"I don't even call it climate change. It's a climate crisis," Harris responded when asked to weigh in on her proposal to address the key topic, particularly as a candidate coming from a state often hit with drought, wildfires and flooding.

"It represents an existential threat to us as a species, and the fact that we have a President of the United States who has embraced science fiction over science fact will be to our collective peril," Harris continued. "I visited while the embers were smoldering the wildfires in California, I spoke with firefighters who were in the midst of fighting a fire while their own homes were burning. And on this issue, it is a critical issue that is about what we must do to confront what is immediate and before us right now."


This is why, Harris said, she supports a Green New Deal, adding that if she's elected as the future leader of the U.S., she will work to reenter the country into the Paris Agreement. "We have to take these issues seriously ... You asked before, 'what is the greatest national security threat to the United States?' It's Donald Trump. I agree climate change represents an existential threat. He denies the science."

Michael Bennet, U.S. senator from Colorado

"Climate change and the lack of economic mobility Bernie talks about," Bennet replied as he responded to the question of what issue would be his first big push while in office.

Marianne Williamson, author and activist

"What we need to talk about is why so many Americans have unnecessary chronic illnesses, so many more compared to other countries, and that gets back into not just the big Pharma, not just health insurance companies. It has to do with chemical policies, it has to do with food policies, It has to do with drug policies. It even has to do with environmental policies."

Eric Swalwell, U.S. representative from California

"If we're going to solve the issues of climate chaos, pass the torch. Here's a solution. Pass the torch. Pass the torch to the generation that's going to feel the effects of climate change."


Andrew Yang, entrepreneur

Yang announced that a major focus for him as president, if only able to focus in on one signature issue, would be to implement a universal basic income, which he believes will impact climate change. "I would pass a $1,000 freedom dividend for every American adult starting at age 18, which would speed us up on climate change, because if you get the boot off of people's throats, they'll focus on climate change much more clearly."

Yang also added the importance of cooperating with China on climate change and artificial intelligence, among other issues.

John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado

"I would do a collaborative approach to climate change and I would pronounce it well before the election to make sure we don't reelect the worst president in American history," Hickenlooper replied in response to Todd's question on what his first major issue to push as president would be.

"In Colorado, we brought businesses and nonprofits together. We got to near universal healthcare coverage. We were the first state in America to bring the environmental community and the oil and gas industry to aggressively address methane emissions," Hickenlooper said. "We were the first state to legalize marijuana and we transformed our justice system in the process. We passed universal background checks in a purple state. We got to near universal healthcare coverage. We attack climate change with the toughest methane regulations in the country. And for the last three years, we've been the number-one economy in America."


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