Op-Ed

Climate change is real, and Democratic candidates must debate real solutions

A Lake Worth beach entrance is blocked in October 2018, when all county beaches were closed because of red tide.
A Lake Worth beach entrance is blocked in October 2018, when all county beaches were closed because of red tide. Getty Images

This week, Democrats will gather in my hometown of Miami for the first debate of the 2020 presidential primary season. If the 20 participating candidates don’t spend time talking about their plans to combat the climate crisis and secure a clean energy future, then this debate will be a huge missed opportunity for Florida and for the future economic health of the entire country.

If there is a place in this country that understands the impact of climate change, it is the Sunshine State. Florida is more vulnerable to rising sea levels than anywhere else in the country, with our real estate at greater risk than any other state. Powerful hurricanes such as Michael and Irma have wreaked havoc across the state, causing more than a hundred deaths and billions of dollars in damage. Last year, red tide crept up on Florida’s coastline, killing marine life and leading to respiratory problems among residents.

Obviously, when it comes to climate change, Floridians are in the market for solutions, not just soundbites from candidates. Voters in Florida, and across the United States, are beyond polite acknowledgments that climate change is real and must be addressed. We’ve been hearing this for years. What Florida voters want are concrete plans and commitments to start tackling the climate crisis on day one as president.

We challenge the candidates in these debates to give Florida voters what they want. Candidates who have already rolled out ambitious climate proposals should take this moment to tout their ideas and encourage their opponents to outline their specific positions. And we challenge the moderators to ask meaningful questions that elicit enlightening answers and elevate the climate crisis to the top priority it needs to be in order to make progress in the years to come.

The Trump administration and its Republican allies have done everything possible to block progress and move us backward. We face an existential threat, and the 2020 presidential election will determine the future of our country and our environment.

We know this from the scientists who are telling us it’s true. But anyone who has been paying attention to or has experienced recent extreme weather events knows it, too. From wildfires in California, to flooding in Iowa and Nebraska, to devastating Hurricanes like Sandy, Maria and Harvey, extreme weather is having devastating impacts on families, communities and the economy. And all too often, these impacts are felt first and worst by communities of color, and low-income communities that already deal with a disproportionate share of pollution and other environmental harms to their health and safety.

By the end of this century, climate change will cost our country hundreds of billions of dollars per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In Miami, officials are planning to spend $200 million to fight sea level rise. This is a shameful burden for us to ask future generations to bear.

Voters understand this. Recent polling shows the environment is top of mind among Democratic primary voters, on par with healthcare. This is not an issue that anyone running for president should be permitted to gloss over.

The League of Conservation Voters, and our members across the country, will be watching closely. LCV Victory Fund and affiliated entities spent $80 million in 2018, the largest investment ever, to support pro-environment candidates across the country and toss out anti-science and anti-environment leadership in the House of Representatives. And we have even bigger plans for 2020.

LCV has announced a $2 million effort, Change the Climate 2020, to elevate climate action and track candidates’ positions on climate change in the 2020 presidential primaries. Additionally, LCV Victory Fund recently launched the Beat Trump Presidential Climate Unity Fund in partnership with the NRDC Action Fund PAC and NextGen America, which will raise money for the eventual pro-environment presidential nominee who faces Trump in the 2020 general election.

This is just the start.

The first Democratic debate in Miami is a key moment in the fight to combat the climate crisis. We look forward to hearing the moderators ask the candidates about their plans to confront climate change and expect every candidate without a comprehensive climate plan to release one soon. The 2020 election is our last, best chance to address the climate crisis, and voters deserve candidates, debates and media coverage that take the issue incredibly seriously.

Carol M. Browner, former EPA administrator, is the chair of the board at the League of Conservation Voters.

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