The two-day Climate Forum 2020, hosted by Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, Our Daily Planet, MSNBC and New York Magazine, kicked off in Gaston Hall on Sept. 19. Thursday’s schedule for the forum included Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), currently polling second for the Democratic nomination, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who interacted with students at Yates Field House the night before the forum.
While candidates throughout the day agreed climate change is one of the most pressing issues for young voters and frequently highlighted the shortcomings of the President Donald Trump administration, their views split on topics such as nuclear energy and carbon capture technologies.
In the first session of the climate forum, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) emphasized the need for a moderate, bipartisan solution to the climate crisis, while acknowledging the severity of the issue.
“Obviously we have a huge, unbelievably urgent existential problem on our hands, and we have lots of problems on our hands, and this generation of Americans has a lot to be really angry at us about,” Bennet stated.
In addressing the need for bipartisanship to solve the issue, Bennet touted his record in the Senate representing Colorado, a state that is evenly split down party lines, according to The Denver Post.
A shift has occurred within political parties on the issue of climate change, according to Bennet, who pointed out previous Republican support for the issue.
“The Republican Party used to have a fairly honorable environmental record,” Bennet said. “Richard Nixon created the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and signed into law the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. Ronald Reagan closed the hole in the ozone layer. Both Bushes said, you know, we need to do something on climate, and my friend John McCain ran on climate change. What changed?”
Many of the effects of climate change are irreversible, and our efforts to combat climate change have begun far too late, according to entrepreneur Andrew Yang, the second speaker of the day.
Nonetheless, we must still work toward a more sustainable future, Yang said.
“I’ll stand by the fact that we are too late to curb some of the warming we’re seeing around the country and the world right now,” Yang said. “We should have been doing this work 20 years ago, but the second-best time is now.”
Many Americans think shifting toward more environmentally friendly living is too expensive and burdensome, according to Yang. However, supporting initiatives to combat climate change can actually be economically beneficial, Yang said.
“This does not have to be a matter of cost and inconvenience,” Yang said. “We can actually create hundreds of thousands of opportunities around the country if we make the move towards a sustainable economy.”
Yang said he strongly supports nuclear power as a potential green energy source and questioned why other presidential candidates would oppose the initiative.
“I don’t know why other candidates are shying away from nuclear,” Yang said. “It’s a responsibility of a leader and manager to consider every alternative, and nuclear is one of the most viable ones.”
Author Marianne Williamson addressed economic injustice, intersectionality and nationwide morality, connecting the issues to climate change at each juncture during her session at the forum.
In the opening of her hour, Williamson endorsed big-picture perspectives on the issue of climate change.
“I think in many ways when we talk about climate change we talk about the trees, but we need to take a step back and talk about the forest,” Williamson said.
Williamson highlighted her “Environmental Crisis Plan,” which would create a mandatory year of service for young adults similar to the military draft, through which individuals would participate in efforts to help repair the environment. The idea was met with mixed audience reactions.
When a student voiced concerns about the safety of her policy of using hydrogen fuel in airplanes, Williamson responded that the protection of individuals should be at the forefront of climate change policy.
“I don’t buy that we’re going to have to make a choice between climate reversal and safety,” she said.
Citing examples of corporate influence and criticizing President Donald Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) emphasized the importance of tackling climate change and standing up to the fossil fuel industry in his Climate Forum slot.
Trump should be taking more seriously the problem of climate change much more seriously, according to Sanders.
“We are facing an unprecedented global crisis,” Sanders said. “It disturbs me very, very much that we have a president who believes that climate change is a hoax.”
Sanders has been vocal on the campaign trail about climate change as a global emergency, proposing plans to make large investments in renewable energy and create 20 million jobs.
Sanders also specifically spoke about the disproportionate effect that climate change can have on individuals from low-income socioeconomic backgrounds as opposed to affluent communities.
“We include in our proposal, many, many billions of dollars for prevention, and to do everything that we can to protect those communities, who time and time again have been hit hard by extreme disturbances,” Sanders said.
Sanders also focused on the effect certain industries have had preventing action against climate change. The fossil fuels industry has served as a major obstacle to concrete action against the issue, according to Sanders.
“We have got to stand up to the greed and corruption. I know those are strong words,” Sanders said. “The time is now to save the planet and transform the system away from fossil fuels.”
Sanders responded to criticism of some of his proposals to fight climate change by reiterating the time sensitivity of the issue.
“This is going to be administratively very, very difficult, but no one has given me an idea of what the better alternative is,” Sanders said.
During his time on stage, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney (LAW ’88) focused on his bipartisan record as well as his previous stances on environmental and trade issues from his tenure in Congress.
The Keystone XL — a controversial extension of the Keystone Pipeline that runs through Canada, Montana, South Dakota and several other Midwestern states — was a mistake in the United States’ environmental record, according to Delaney.
“It was a terrible symbol we were sending to the world,” Delaney said.
Despite his stance on the pipeline, Delaney was seen as a moderate while in Congress, ranking 36th according to the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Bipartisan Index. Delaney promised to bring bipartisanship into the climate change conversation if elected.
“The best way to pass big, transformative laws is to get bipartisan support,” Delaney said.
Additionally, Delaney discussed the potential economic gains that he sees from the renewable energy industry as an entrepreneur, including from electric cars and carbon capture. Though Delaney says carbon capture technologies should only be used as a last resort, he mentioned the potential he sees for the technology, comparing it to renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind power.
Delaney criticized Trump’s actions, referencing the ongoing United States and China trade dispute and the president’s isolationist trade policies as a barrier to addressing climate change on a global scale.
“You can’t tariff your way to solving climate change,” Delaney said. “You have to innovate.”
Similar to Delaney, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) focused his conversation on industry, innovation and bipartisanship.
Climate change should not be framed as a partisan issue, according to Ryan.
“Let’s get away from the left and right conversation and get into the newer and better conversation,” Ryan said.
Ryan focused his discussion on the manufacturing industry and the potential he sees for a green economy in the United States, particularly if the profits made from initiatives like carbon taxes are used to stimulate the economy.
Although Trump is not to blame for every issue, Trump is at fault for not putting enough attention toward environmentally friendly industrial policy, according to Ryan.
“I don’t blame Trump for every problem,” Ryan said. “But I blame him for not having urgency and for not having a green industrial policy.”
Ryan expressed interest in using natural gas as a bridge to a long-term goal of renewable energy and working with U.S. corporations to combat the impacts of climate change.
“Ultimately, the way you beat them is to move them off of what they’re doing,” Ryan said. “At some point, we’re working with them to get from where we are to where we need to be.”
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro touted his record on developing sustainable infrastructure while at HUD and earlier in his career as mayor of San Antonio.
Much of Castro’s climate platform draws on his economic and infrastructure-focused experience, and investing in sustainability will benefit the future of the American economy, he said.
“Maybe it’s the mayor in me, maybe it’s the Texan in me, but I believe there’s a huge economic opportunity there,” Castro said.
Though enacting strong policies with clear timelines is a key part of his plan for combating climate change, Castro also called for accountability on past missteps on climate policy, including recent appointments of policymakers at the Environmental Protection Agency who support Trump’s plan to roll back environmental regulations in favor of business freedom.
“I’m going to appoint people to the EPA and other departments who actually believe in science and believe in climate change,” Castro said. “We need to be forward-looking with this while holding people accountable for the past.”
The historically Republican state of Texas will vote Democrat in 2020, Castro predicted, to cheers from the audience. Pro-business and environmentally friendly policies are not mutually exclusive, according to Castro. The areas of Texas that have been home to traditional sources of energy like coal and natural gas will easily transition to sustainable energy sources like wind farms and solar panel factories, Castro said.
“I do believe that [by] embracing the right kind of climate action plan that reflects the urgency of this problem, you can still win in Texas and do that,” Castro said.
Special to The Hoya Elizabeth Brenneman and Hoya Staff Writers Myroslav Dobroshynskyi, Amy Li, Harrison McBride, Meredith Miller and Katrina Schmidt contributed reporting.