The 2020 Climate Forums, Part 1

Seven hours (minus commercial time) of candidate town halls on climate change.

What I wanted to see was realism, ideas, passion, and purpose on the issues of the climate. I saw a lot of that from almost all the candidates. Plans are something we need to see move through congress, and just because a candidate has a good plan doesn’t mean that happens. But, taken as a starting point, they are still useful and the candidates did a lot to discuss where they’re coming from.

Here’s a ranking of how I saw the candidates who participated. The ranking is in terms of the ideas they brought that differed from the pack, positive or negative, but not as an overall view of their plans. In general, all of their plans are good, particularly compared to inaction, and we need to act. The = # preceding a name means a tie.

  1. Booker
  2. = 1 Warren
  3. Yang
  4. Buttigieg
  5. = 4 O’Rourke
  6. Castro
  7. = 6 Harris
  8. = 6 Sanders
  9. Biden
  10. = 9 Klobuchar

I appreciated Booker and Yang speaking about the role of nuclear power. It’s not a perfect technology, and we should handle the waste responsibly by having a permanent repository, whether that’s Yucca Mountain or somewhere else. But it is carbon-neutral, and it cannot be ignored in our immediate and pressing need to deal with the problem of putting out too much carbon. Those who spoke against it, or who seemed to suggest that a permanent repository is a non-starter seem to deny the fact we already have a wealth of radioactive waste to store, and that even if we phased out all nuclear yesterday, we would still have the responsibility to handle that waste. They lost a point, accordingly.

Booker also spoke credibly on a number of other initiatives including farming, reforestation, and his record as mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Warren spoke out on the need to do carbon-trade balancing—accounting for carbon in imports and exports, which is important. But she lost half a point for suggesting that all American-invented technologies related to climate would be exclusively manufactured in the USA. If we should eat local, we should also manufacture local, or at least leave the door open to it. (This will happen eventually as automation and fabrication technologies shift, but in the meantime we need to cut carbon more than we need trade protection. Licensing patents and technologies would allow us to spend the fees on other means to create jobs.)

Yang got a half-point for kind-of-implying the need for a treaty on geoengineering, which is something that is necessary and would include the fact that climate change and carbon pollution are already a form of geoengineering, as unintentional as it may be.

Buttigieg, in a question about his use of private flights in campaigning, spoke about the need for ground transportation including trains. Rail is important, so he got a point for that. The fact is that even the airlines should want us to build out rail, so they can save money on vouchers and have improved throughput by having a fully functioning, diverse transportation system. Everyone who complains about leg room or baggage fees should be in favor of rail.

O’Rourke was the only one who favored cap and trade over a direct carbon tax. There are arguments both ways, and either is useful, but I think there are some market effects possible with cap and trade that can be missed with direct taxes. On the other hand, there are hybrid approaches possible. The main downside of the tax approach seems to be that companies will seek to conglomerate on the basis of the tax rather than any inherent economic need, which can worsen an existing and awful feature of our corporate tax code. In any case, point for not bandwagoning on the tax.

Castro lost a point for suggesting that flood insurance should be subsidized in a way that suggested moral hazard. We can’t do that. We just can’t. There are other moves to make for folks who live in places that are no longer viable, but embracing it is simply folly.

Harris also spoke against nuclear power and waste. She did highlight some of her achievements as a district attorney and attorney general.

Sanders was among the candidates who stated unequivocally that some houses shouldn’t be rebuilt, and we have to face that fact. It’s part of the larger issue around rural-vs-urban and balancing freedom and subsidy in ways that make sense, some of which are climate-related and others of which are just fundamental issues we’ve never really worked out as a nation. For example, in some places farmers commute to the farm, rather than living there. On the other hand he was one of the more expressedly opposed to nuclear power. Again, it has problems, but it’s just not reasonable to condemn it given the challenge.

Biden’s main problem is this fundraiser with a fossil-fuel-tied host. That and he didn’t really seem to have a lot to say on the issue beyond a kind of “trust me” outlook.

Klobuchar lost points for her stances on nuclear power and fracking. While natural gas is better than coal when responsibly extracted, it’s not great and there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not responsibly extracted in too many cases. If the industry wants to be a bridge, it needs to show itself to be a safe one, not a rickety one. She did a good job talking about the opportunities with farms, as did several other candidates.


The climate is a big deal, and the Democratic candidates have set themselves apart from the Republicans by showing themselves to be thoughtful and studious on the issues. The challenge will come in implementing any of their plans, should a Democrat be inaugurated in 2021. But that’s always been a challenge, so long as Republicans have denied reality. It’s hard to move a couch when the other person carrying it doesn’t believe in the stairs.

In general, the 2020 Democratic candidates form a healthy slate. Most of the candidates are worth considering, and it’s hard to pick a favorite out of the pack. We will see how the debate goes this Thursday, and one hopes a few of the climate issues (maybe nuclear power, for example) can be brought up to help the candidates further explain how they approach the issue.

As to plans, they will be changed to become law. And they will be changed after they are law. Some changes good, others bad. There will be mistakes and unexpected wins, both. But we have to act on it. The Republicans fail to even propose plans on many of the pressing issues of the day, where for every single one there will be at least a few Democratic proposals.

That failure is a fundamental problem for our nation. The Republicans that cannot plan cannot lead. And yet there they are, in the driver’s seat of our nation, pressing nobs, turning buttons, and doing a whole lot of damage and nothing particularly useful. It is a shame.

1619 and Hard Choices

The thing I think most about when I think about slavery is the hard choices that people faced, and the many failures and successes they had in thought and action that contributed to history arriving to us as it did. The best histories draw out those choices, and they remind us of our own challenges on issues like climate change or having a generally horrible president.

Consider, for example, the southern tradesman who made farm equipment. Maybe he believed in abolition, believed slavery a grave and indecent institution, and yet he was powerless (in his mind) to stop it. He had choices. He could speak out against it to all who could hear, mostly his customers, losing their business. He could move north or west or overseas, giving up all he had worked for and risking his family’s future. He could do the little things, trying to raise the issue indirectly through microaggressions against the institution.

There were plenty who did all of them, and more who ignored their call, and others still who did worse. One tell that’s worth noting is that those die-hard slavers bothered to make arguments about the intellect of the enslaved and other pseudoscientific endeavors in that vein. That’s a good sign they knew everything was not right. Nobody bothers to excuse the digging of dirt, for nobody is afraid that the dirt is capable of offense. But those who went through major efforts to distinguish and codify the condition of the enslaved Africans seemed often in doing so to admit their guilt.


Today’s hard choices are often on the backs of Republicans who are faced with the institution of Trumpism. The stakes are not now as high as with slavery, at least in terms of numbers, but they are more dear to us in that they are real to us today. And the same options avail the average Republican as then. And the same excuses bubble in their minds, that their livelihood depends upon them going along with the wickedness. Or that they would risk too much for not themselves but for their family. Or that they are merely powerless, too insignificant and too busy.

And today’s hard choices are on all our backs, with climate change. That we do not and cannot decipher the choice between metal straws and paper straws and maybe we should all just carry around funnels and pour liquids in our mouths that way. Or that we need the SUV rather than something more efficient, because roads are dangerous. Or we need the SUV to show we’re not sissies into that green revolution shite.


That’s where I come to mostly when I think about slavery. The stain on the fabric of society that it represented, and how we have our own stains today, most of which are not as directly evil, but still significant and still we face the same sorts of difficulties in navigating them, which acts to slow our ability to wash clean our body and act surely for our own and our children’s betterment.

Think of the Children, GOP.

The future is bleak for the GOP. They have a generation of kids doing active shooter drills. They have a generation of kids with a racist president. They have a generation of kids watching as they deny science and block concerted action against climate change. They have a generation of kids seeing other kids in cages, while they argue they shouldn’t have toothbrushes. They have a generation of kids whose parents worry about their healthcare, whether they can afford insulin, whether a crazy lawsuit (or a Senate vote without Senator McCain) will tump the apple cart.

The future of the GOP will depend upon outright abjuration of the current party, which will take wide swaths of policy (but not all) with it. It’s clear enough that if you wanted to turn off a whole generation to your party forever, you couldn’t build a better party to do it than today’s Republicans.

None of which is much consolation to the kids who have to grow up listening to a racist president, or who will have to endure a worse climate scenario than they would if we had responsible conservatives in the US. They will be more likely to repeal the 2nd amendment than to tweak it or be satisfied with gun safety laws, which isn’t the best outcome.

In general, having two (or more, but at least two) useful parties is always healthy. It keeps the majority party responsible, and it keeps the minority party relevant enough to temper the worst instincts of the majority. But the Republicans, railing against socialism, are pushing for a future where they are powerless to stop the very socialism they fearmonger about. They are, obstruction by obstruction, denial by denial, racist tweet by racist tweet, ceding the future to the Democratic party.

Even the children who will inevitably dislike the Democrats will be more likely to splinter off into the Libertarians or Greens or some new third parties, which will never have enough strength to respond. The long-term strategy of the Republicans is to make sure they never need a long-term strategy. Poisoning a whole generation against them is a safe bet. They won’t need to solve any problems circa 2050, because they will have dwindled into irrelevancy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is the idiocy about demographics as destiny, that California being a “blue state” is caused by who lives there rather than the policies that are put forward. There’s all this woe that Americans don’t fuck enough, aren’t having kids. But the Republicans aren’t putting forward policies to change that (and I don’t mean some Handmaid’s Tale policies, either).

How many damned autopsies from elections would they need before they actually embrace change? They are the victims of campaign funding capture that is detrimental to their own future. The check writers want to see not electoral performance but stump performance, dictating a bad platform that calls for gag rules and walls and tax cuts and little in the way of compassionate or reasonable policy.

The modern conservatives will have to break that mold. They should caucus with the Democrats long enough to see it smashed. To get real campaign finance reform, to get real gerrymandering reform, to get real voting reform. To tune-up the system in a way that makes elections about ideas again, and then they can begin to offer conservative shades of policy instead of Day-Glo murals of doom.

Toward a Candidate Consensus on Climate

The climate is a foundational issue. Beto O’Rourke deserves praise for putting a policy out there. Jay Inslee deserves credit for making it the central issue of his campaign.

The basic problem isn’t hard to understand. We burn carbon fuels, and that releases CO₂. The carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, warming the planet. It accumulates in the oceans, making them more acidic. We have to burn less carbon.

Given we still want to have stuff from far away, and that transportation is one of the largest sources of pollution, transportation is a big target to change. Electrification of transport, coupled with renewable generation of electricity, is the logical step toward carbon neutrality.

But we also know that humans are stubborn, particularly wealthy humans that make a lot of money selling carbon. Economists recognized that getting them to go along is difficult because they can simply lie about the science, buy politicians (or even the whole Republican Party), and stall any real change. So, economists propose a variety of pricing systems, whereby carbon emissions are priced.

Think of it like a gold rush. Someone shouts, “There’s gold in them-thar hills,” everyone goes for it. Already there’s some gold in decarbonizing, but there’s less than there would be if the actual costs of carbon were recognized as part of the economy. By adopting some form of carbon pricing, the greed of man is leveraged to turn gas guzzlers into sippers or even into electrics or hydrogen fuelcells.

Think of it like a tower-building contest. Right now, the contestants are paid per foot, so if you have a tower that’s barely over one foot-mark, it would take more effort to get to the next one. By pricing carbon, it’s like changing it to being paid by the inch. If you can add six inches, it doesn’t make another foot, but it’s still worth it. And you add up all the six-inch additions that all the tower-builders can add, and it’s a lot more than if just a few of them could add a whole foot.


But the main thing is focus. We need leaders, both in the White House and in the congress, who will speak often about the need to address the issue. It’s time for legislation. It’s time to reject anyone who calls it a Chinese hoax.

The consensus is to make carbon more expensive, and in doing so to make alternatives, including reductions in use, clean energy, and carbon sequestration more attractive.

The Old Carbon Deal

I’m here today to present my plan to change the climate. This is the Old Carbon Deal! I hope you’re excited. I know I am. I hope all the media outlets are ready to ask questions about feasibility. I hope lots of suit-and-tie folks are going to write long, important articles about the wisdom of my plan.

First off, the cost. By the year 2100, it will cost at least 10% of GDP per year (the equivalent of almost $200 billion in today’s dollars) directly. That’s economic output, and doesn’t count the damage costs to infrastructure, which will be more like a trillion dollars. That includes things like losses from crop failures, dealing with flooding, etc. It will cost even more indirectly, including from warfare and international economic disruption.

The best part of the cost is that someone else will pay for it! Who doesn’t like free stuff?! Gas prices will stay cheap, big corporations get a huge subsidy, and it’s the poor, like all those island nations you never learned in school, and future generations that pick up the tab!

Poor people who live in drought-stricken and famine-devastation will seek out places that support and sustain human life, disrupting borders and governments. They won’t have a choice—dying isn’t a solution to their problems. They won’t care about the law. Starvation doesn’t negotiate. That will create conflict. Their malnourishment will help spread disease. Their lack of educational opportunity will increase strife and lower their ability to integrate in new lands. More than 350 million people globally will be exposed to deadly heat stress by mid-century, including in parts of the United States.

Temperatures will rise more than 2°C on average, and the oceans’ waters will follow the temperature. Those nice beaches you visited as a child will be washed away. Some coastal cities will have to close up or try to move themselves or undertake expensive remediation. Those who try to stay will face repeated failures that run up the costs even further.

There will be freshwater shortages, further straining agriculture and industry. Livestock will be subject to heatwaves and feed shortages and droughts, too. Nobody will ban cows, but there’ll be a lot less red meat to go around all the same.

Okay, so that’s the costs of my plan. But what benefits does it have? It will shorten your lifespan, making every living moment that much more precious. It will increase disease, making universal healthcare more imperative. New York will feel like Arkansas. People will wear fewer clothes, saving on laundry costs (which will be higher due to water shortages). It will make the rabble believe in a wrathful God.

It may also lead to uncontrolled feedback that could result in even more warming and misery! As oceans rise, their surface area grows, and they absorb more heat! The melting of tundra and permafrost can release more CO₂! The death of ecosystems may result in even less natural carbon storage capacity!


Okay, you’re sold. You want in on this wonderful Old Carbon Deal. What do you have to do to make it happen? Nothing. If we do absolutely nothing, we will enact this climate change plan.

The media doesn’t like the Green New Deal. I don’t blame them. It’s a dud. Let’s do this here Old Carbon Deal. It sounds like a real winner to me.