Newspapers and Facebook feeds of the past few months have been filled with discussions of potential candidates for the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In addition to healthcare, education, and foreign policy, candidates in the upcoming election must be prepared to speak on one of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change.
Concern for climate change has been building up for a while, but the issue has gained particular attention over the past year. This is because President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and continued to rollback many Obama-era climate policies; IPCC reports have also gained more media attention over the past couple of years than ever before.
So, how does this growing concern manifest in the proposed goals of the 2020 democratic presidential candidates? First, despite growing concern, climate change is still largely a partisan issue. This became clear last week when the senate blocked the Green New Deal. Of those who voted against the deal, only four were Democrats. Yet climate change is not the number one issue for most Democratic candidates.
Of the Democrats who have officially announced their intent to run in the 2020 presidential race, those who have garnered the most media attention are Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren. To varying degrees, Sanders, Booker, Warren, and Harris have all included climate change as one of their primary issues to address.
Sanders has received particular support from organizations like the Sierra Club. Curiously, the League of Conservation Voters, an organization dedicated to advocating for pro-environmental policies and politicians, gave Sanders a score of six percent in its annual report card in 2016. Of the 17 environment-related issues that were voted on in 2016, Sanders missed 16 of them because of the campaign trail. Harris has the highest lifetime score with 100%, Warren and Booker both have a score of 99%, and O’Rourke has a significantly lower score of 95%.
Other lesser-known Democratic candidates who have named climate change as a main issue are Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Governor John Hickenlooper. So far, only Governor Jay Inslee of Washington has named climate change as a number one priority — he describes his campaign as a Climate Movement. Inslee’s campaign is a particularly new and notable occurrence, so even though he has significantly less support than the other candidates, the support he possesses now is indicative of the growing awareness that U.S. citizens have of environmental issues.
The discussions that politicians continue to have, along with the success of these candidates in the upcoming year, will be an indicator of how much U.S. voters have begun to care about issues surrounding climate change.