American political life is still far from normal: just the other day, at a rally in Wisconsin, our president repeated blatant falsehoods about doctors and mothers executing infants; questions abound about the attorney general’s redactions of the report by Robert Mueller; the Supreme Court will hear arguments on a case determining whether or not discriminating against LGBT+ individuals is legal for employers. 

Running parallel to, and often intersecting with, all of this mania is the 2020 Democratic Party primary election. It feels incongruous to have such a normal political process during what feels like the longest presidency ever. But it makes it even more worthwhile to evaluate these candidates on the merit of their platforms and plans for the future of the nation. 

Beto O’Rourke, after winning national affection during his failed Texas senate campaign, has had a mediocre couple of months. His numbers are dragging, and he has made some mistakes in his use of language. 

But on April 29, in Yosemite National Park, he revealed his plan to combat climate change. The plan is ambitious, committed, an excellent place to start, and a strategic move to get his name back in the news cycle. The timing of O’Rourke’s climate platform is fortuitous, and it is the most thorough one released by any 2020 candidate so far — even more than Jay Inslee’s, the governor of Washington running an entirely climate-focused campaign. 

Climate change has become a top issue for many Democratic voters. Per a poll from Monmouth University, climate change is Iowa Democrats’ second biggest priority, behind healthcare. On Tuesday, a CNN poll found that 82% of Democratic voters see it as a top priority. This is a promising trend in national concerns, if about twenty years too late. O’Rourke’s first major policy reveal lends credence to the argument that he will be a strong leader on climate. 

O’Rourke’s plan is expensive, first and foremost. A $5 trillion price tag is hefty any way you spin it. He does tell us how he plans to pay for it, which seems so often to be a criticism of these broad agendas, suggesting raising taxes on oil companies. This change in tax code, of course, could realistically only be accomplished with a fully Democratic Congress. This is not a given, and as such O’Rourke has detailed a plan for extensive use of executive action on climate. He plans on reversing the current President’s actions on fossil fuel leases and deregulation of polluting industries, prioritizing the integrity of our climate over corporate welfare. 

He goes on to acknowledge that climate change and environmental degradation are intersectional issues. The plan lists the “exacerbation of social inequality” as a chief reason for why the climate plan was an important proposal to tackle first. He acknowledges that race is an indicator of where pollutants are located, a brief if important snippet from a presidential candidate on environmental justice. Other candidates have little to no plans on climate — I struggled to find anything official on Cory Booker’s platform, and Joe Biden’s issues page is thin at best. O’Rourke’s plan could push other contenders to see the moment for what it is and generate some robust debate on climate change policy. 

Frankly, O’Rourke has been thin on policy thus far. He’s been coasting on his charisma and progressive identity. Bringing climate change to the front of the discourse might be motivated by tactical political maneuvering rather than good-hearted desire to change the world — if he can be the first candidate to get out in front on climate change, an important issue this election cycle, it could boost his campaign numbers. 

As for the actual plan, the goal of halving carbon emissions by 2030 seems nigh-impossible, unless we experience some sort of rapid energy revolution, which is unlikely. The price tag is huge, and how he plans to pay for it is pretty limited to just “taxing corporations and the wealthy” — candidates like Elizabeth Warren have given more detailed cent-by-cent breakdowns of their policies. O’Rourke further complicates his own platform by not having signed on to a ‘no fossil fuel money’ pledge, refusing to take money from oil CEOs but not refusing money from fossil fuel employees. 

O’Rourke’s climate plan is well timed and politically ambitious. It is a spiritual sibling to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, and if enacted, will do us all a world of good. It is inconsistent in thoroughness but constant with commitment to a better future. There is little chance that these policies, if O’Rourke wins the presidency, will be enacted in the form we see today. But the plan is excellent, with a few weak spots that leave it open for valid critiques. It is a positive sign that a major candidate has released so thorough a plan, opening the door for others to follow suit, improve upon or follow in his footsteps. 


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