Democratic Candidates Field Questions on Climate and Energy in Recent ‘People-Powered’ Debates

The 2008 Democratic presidential candidates fielded a range of questions on how they would tackle global warming and increase America’s energy independence in two recent, innovative, ‘people-powered’ debates. Both events –’s ‘Virtual Town Hall’ on Climate Change and the CNN-YouTube Debates – posed questions to the candidates that were submitted by individuals via video and the internet.

Earlier this month, the full range of candidates fielded three questions each on how they would tackle the climate crisis in MoveOn’org’s Virtual Town Hall on Climate. The event was organized in conjunction with the LiveEarth global concert series, held on July 7th. You can watch the candidates’ responses to each question online here.

Last night, CNN and YouTube organized a similar event that used internet-submitted videos to pose questions from average Americans to the Democratic candidates. This format was both innovative, and in my opinion, effective. The questions were harder hitting, more pointed and even in many cases entertaining than the previous television debates. The candidates fielded three questions on energy and climate change, although not all candidates responded to the questions. You can see the three energy and climate focused questions from the debate below. The debate was broadcast live on CNN on July 23rd and you can head to the CNN-YouTube Debates website for videos of the full debate. CNN and YouTube plan another ‘people-powered’ debate with the Republican presidential candidates soon.

Question: “How will you save the snowmen from global warming?” [note: this one is a humorous question on a serious topic!]

Candidates who respond: Kucinich

Question: “How will your policies reduce energy consumption in the United States?”

Candidates who respond: Gravel, Dodd

Question: “What is your stance on nuclear power?”

Candidates who respond: Edwards, Obama, Clinton

11 Responses to “Democratic Candidates Field Questions on Climate and Energy in Recent ‘People-Powered’ Debates”

  1. 1 Richard Graves Jul 24th, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    As a sidenote, take a look at Mother Jones’s article about how candidates haven’t quite used these new formats to shine, but it has made them come up to a certain bar on Climate and Energy issues.

    Dem Presidential Candidates Compete in a Field of Greens

  2. 2 jessejenkins Jul 24th, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for the link, Richard. That’s a pretty good recap of the MoveOn forum, in my opinion. Check it out.

  3. 3 Matt Maiorana Jul 24th, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    No to Nuclear.

    Sure, as Obama said, there are no “silver bullets” to our energy needs. But that certainly doesn’t mean we should choose the “bullet” that might explode and kill us all. That may be taking things a bit far, but choosing nuclear is reckless. There is substantial room for growth in the wind and solar sectors, both of which should be fully tapped before we look to nuclear. The recent event in Japan(1) was further reminder why nuclear is not the way to go. If an earthquake hit a windfarm or solar instillation it would pose no significant threat. And as far-fetched as it may seem, Greenpeace’s add with the plane hitting a nuclear plant(2) is a legitimate reason to avoid them. Even disregarding terrorists, trucking deadly radioactive waste from every corner of the country to Yucca Mountain(3) will not be easy or safe(4).

    No nukes, no coal. We need a fundamental restructuring of our energy portfolio. A firm cap on emissions is critical to success (cap and trade) – it is the only way we will bring about change.


  4. 4 jessejenkins Jul 24th, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    As the MotherJones article points out, the candidates are all starting to sound pretty similar in their policy positions – all support an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 at this point (except Gravell, who I don’t really count as a candidate anyway!), all support increased renewable energy, efficiency and vehicle fuel economy.

    That’s all great news, and is testament to the efforts of the grassroots to pressure candidates to take stronger positions, and to those candidates who took a stand early on, driving forward the rest of the pack in a race to claim the ‘green mantle.’ John Edwards in particular – who was the first major candidate to publicly endorse an 80% cut in emissions by 2050 and whose consistent and forceful stance on this issue has driven the other major candidates (Obama and Clinton) to catch up – deserves a healthy dose of credit.

    When it comes to deciding who’s the best on climate change in the 2008 democratic primary, it’s starting to come down to two things:

    a) focusing on the remaining nuances in their positions that help reveal how serious a candidate really is about tackling climate change: in my opinion, these include support for coal-to-liquids (they shouldn’t!), support for auctions of carbon allowances under a cap-and-trade (they should!) and how aggressive their energy efficiency and renewable energy goals are (they should be aggressive!); and

    b) focusing not just on what they are saying, but how they are saying it (and when): tackling climate change will require real leadership. It’s not just enough to support a strong policy position, you’ve got to be able to sell it, pass it and implement it. Are the candidates exhibiting leadership on this issue? Are they strong, articulate advocates? Are they leading the pack, or following them in taking up policy positions? All of these things should help you get a sense for whether or not a candidate will actually have what it takes to rise to the challenge and solve the climate crisis.

    So look beyond the LCV scorecard, look beyond the simple position summaries, and take a closer look at the nuances, their command of the rhetoric, the substance and the fire that we’ll need from our next President.

  5. 5 Matt Maiorana Jul 24th, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    Response to Jesse:

    “Except Gravel, who I don’t really count as a candidate anyway!”

    Though not my first pick, I think Mike Gravel is an interesting character. Though I wish he would come out and support 80% by 2050, I still can’t help but be glad he is a nominee. When he talks, I feel like I am getting nothing but the truth – he puts virtually no spin on his word. He doesn’t care if you have a different opinion, he will tell you what he thinks (as was emphasized by his “died in vain” statement). He is a total oddball, but that’s why I like him. Everybody else, to a certain degree, is still playing politics.

    I don’t think Gravel would ever get the nomination, but I would love to see him as Vice President. He could be like the liberals Cheney.

    Back on topic. I noticed you didn’t mention nuclear in your part a) focusing on the remaining nuances in their positions. I certainly do see benefits to nuclear – it’s carbon neutral and France has been using it extensively without major problems – but I still don’t think it should receive government support. Is there a reason you omitted it?

  6. 6 jessejenkins Jul 24th, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Agreed that Gravel is certainly an odd ball! And he definitely doesn’t put spin on his words. But he’s not really a candidate: he has no chance of winning and isn’t really taken seriously but much of anyone. It’s good he’s in there saying what he has to say, I suppose (although sometimes he’s even too far out there for me: check out his ‘fusion will save us’ response to this question in the MoveOn debate). I would personally NOT want him as the VP, as I’m, not sure he’s not a bit unhinged these days…

    Moving beyond Gravel though, I left out nuclear – as well as goal gasification with sequestration for electricity generation – because I think both positions do not reveal a candidates’ commitment to the climate crisis so much as they reveal other environmental concerns (which you may find relevant as well). In fact, one might argue that a candidate truly committed to solving the climate crisis would consider both of these low/zero GHG-emitting electricity generation resources as options to tackle climate change because they believe the climate crisis trumps other environmental concerns.

    I’m not a big fan of either technology, but I’m also a realist (I swear! I am sometimes anyway!) and recognize that transforming our electricity generation to a low carbon future is no easy task, and these technologies may have some roll to play. They should definitely be prioritized below efficiency (top priority always!) and renewables, but one or both of them may be needed to replace pulverized coal plants we’ll need to shutter in the next couple decades.

    The American Solar Energy Society released a report last year that says we can hit the necessary emissions reduction targets with renewables and efficiency alone. I’m optimistic that they are correct, but I’m not certain, and so I can’t comfortably say “NO IGCC COAL!” or “NO NUKES!” like some do.

    Here’s my (simplified) priorities for a new energy future (and I’d like to see a candidate that shares them):

    Priority 1) Solve the climate crisis – meaning reduce emissions in the US on the oder of 80% by 2050 (or sooner) and lead international negotiations to get similar commitments from the developed world and convince the developing world to halt growth soon and reduce back to 1990 levels by mid century.

    Priority 2) Achieve those goals in the most environmentally sensitive, just and sustainable way possible.

    Achieving Priority 1 is not going to be easy and may require some sacrifices – we may have to turn to less sustainable technologies to get the job done than we might hope – but it’s still Priority 1.

    Keep in mind that the impacts of coal mining and nuclear waste disposal pale in comparison to the impacts of global climate change. While I fervently hope not, we may have to get ‘a little dirty’ to solve the climate crisis (and when you consider where we are now, it will almost certainly be far more environmentally benign than our current energy system).

  7. 7 R Margolis Jul 30th, 2007 at 2:52 am

    What will also be interesting is how to accomplish ANY of the big changes. Nobdy wants nuclear or coal, however there is also opposition to wind in certain areas and even opposition to transmission lines (i.e., how will HVDC lines for some of the solar concepts be built if there is opposition to transmission lines).

    One thought for consideration: what is most important safety, economics, lower hierarchy, etc? You cannot have it all and you will need to be ready to explain what you are advocating especially if it is either expensive or not as safe… :-)

  8. 8 Matt Maiorana Jul 31st, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Very good point Margolis, I find the opposition to wind/solar quite interesting. People want to stop global warming, but only until in inconveniences them.

    Anyways – I feel obligated to defend Gravel since I brought him up:,,22146177-30417,00.html?from=public_rss

    An surprising discussion on Fusion. While I doubt it will solve all our problems, there seems to be some serious research surrounding it. While I like his CAFE approach, I agree that Gravel’s climate plan needs to get much more comprehensive before he gets my vote.

    Also, on the topics of Presidential Candidates supporting nukes. While I agree that we will probably need some form of nuclear energy/clean coal, if we can get the candidates to so “No” to each, is it a bad thing?

    Nuclear waste will be dangerous for thousands of years. In that amount of time, the climate will undoubtedly change drastically regardless of anthropogenic influences. This is taking the argument to the extreme, but it helps put things in perspective. We would solve one problem, only to get another. We have the opportunity to adopt clean alternatives – lets do everything we can to make sure those are what gets support.

  9. 9 jessejenkins Aug 1st, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Fusion is definitely the holy grail of clean energy solutions. My college energy prof and mentor, Greg Bothun, often said that the overall objective of the human race should be to avoid killing ourselves off before we can harness the power of fusion energy. All this about renewables and efficiency and CCS is just how we avoid cooking ourselves until we can develop fusion power plants. “Power of the sun in the palm of your hand” and all that (thanks Doc Oc for that quote!).

    Of course, realistically speaking, commercial fusion reactors are probably not going to be a reality until mid-century at the earliest. The ITER test reactor won’t be online until 2015 at the earliest and that will be more or less the first step towards commercialization.

    In short, I don’t fault Gravel for mentioning fusion, and it certainly deserves some federal research dollars, but it’s a long way off (50 years perhaps) and will not be a solution to the climate crisis in the timeframe we’re talking about – i.e. 80% reductions by mid-century. If we can get to that point, then we may be in the clear and fusion can take over to create a truly carbon-free energy infrastructure … maybe…

  10. 10 Matt Maiorana Aug 1st, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, I agree completely.

  1. 1 Think Progress » Novak On YouTube Debate: ‘It Was Really Disgusting’ Trackback on Jul 30th, 2007 at 10:23 pm
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About Jesse

Jesse Jenkins is an energy and climate policy analyst, advocate, and blogger. Jesse is the Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California, where he works to develop and advance new energy solutions to power America's future, secure our energy freedom, and halt global warming. He joined Breakthrough in June 2008 and previously directed the Breakthrough Generation fellowship program for young clean energy leaders. Jesse worked previously as a Research and Policy Associate at the Renewable Northwest Project in Portland, OR, helping to advance the development of the Pacific Northwest's abundant renewable energy potential. A prolific author and blogger on clean energy issues, Jesse is the founder and chief editor of WattHead - Energy News and Commentary, a featured writer and advisory board member at the Energy Collective, and a frequent contributor at, Huffington Post, and

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