Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Climate Change Plans of Presidential Candidates: Andrew Yang

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Given the accelerating evidence for climate change, it is not a surprise that the topic is getting attention among the presidential candidates currently running for office. Most of the major candidates have released a plan or at least a statement as to what they will do on the issue if they were to enter office. Today I am starting a new series that will look at each of the plans of the major candidates to highlight what I see as their pros and cons. Please note that the review of the plans is not meant as an endorsement or rejection of any of the candidates. The series kicks off today with Andrew Yang's climate change plan which you can read here.

I have read most of the climate plans of the candidates and I have to state off the bat that Andrew Yang's is the most comprehensive, innovative, and thoughtful of them all. I don't agree with everything that is in the plan, but there is no doubt that he is extremely serious about this initiative. What is so striking about his plan compared to the others is that he is not dumbing down the facts or the science. He speaks to the public as if they are thoughtful, intelligent people. When you read some of the other plans, they sound like watery speeches in your head. When you read Yang's plan it sounds like a thoughtful article written by someone who knows what they are talking about. Let's break his plan down a bit.

First of all Yang provides a rather stark title and preamble for the plan. The title, "It's Worse than You Think--Lower Emissions and Higher Ground," gives the reader a sense that we have a problem and that the solutions will not be easy. He frames the climate change challenge within the context of the weather extremes we have seen over the last few years. He notes that the time to act was decades ago which is why we need to move aggressively forward now. He provides timeline benchmarks (which many plans do not have) and he also has drafted a budget for the plan with a high price tag 4.87 trillion dollars over 20 years.

He has five main themes to his plan:
  • Building a sustainable economy
  • Building a sustainable world
  • Moving people to higher ground
  • Reverse the damage we have done
  • Hold future administrations accountable
Each piece of the plan has some outstanding ideas such as creating new building standards, developing a carbon fee, and stopping new pipeline projects. I won't go into the details on all of them, but suffice it to say that there are lots of exciting things in Yang's plan. 

He also goes into tremendous detail about how to build the new green economy. One of the more interesting ideas is the development of a new National Labs under a new Department of Technology that would be responsible for conducting research on sustainability technology issues such as green energy and materials. The new National Labs would have partnerships with a variety of organizations to promote technology transfer.

To address the various issues we will face due to our changing climate, Yang is proposing the development of a Climate Change Adaptation Institute that would help us improve urban planning, agricultural adaptations, and other things that we will face as our environments change. He also proposes the study and potential implementation of emergency ideas related to carbon capture and the use of floating atmospheric mirrors to reflect solar energy back into space. There is no shortage of strong ideas and vision in Yang's plan. This is the real strength of it. Some may (and have) criticized his ideas as too bold or too "out there" but it is this type of thinking that highlights the urgency of the problem that was so clearly articulated in the introduction to the plan.

My biggest concern with the plan is that he highlights a need to utilize nuclear energy as a stop-gap until we enhance our green energy technologies. Many sustainability experts have advocated for this initiative. The basic argument is that we need to quickly cut back on carbon emissions and the only way to do this without tanking the economy is to quickly ramp up nuclear energy production that uses new nuclear technologies. The last nuclear power plant built in the U.S. started construction in the 1970's. There is no doubt that technology and safety have improved since that time. However, it is still nuclear energy and in my mind, we are trading one bad situation for another. But at the same time, Yang's assertion here for the need for nuclear energy is one that many sustainability experts advance and he is not coming out of left field for opting for this choice.

Overall, I am very impressed by the boldness and vision of Yang's plan. It is worth a read. As we will see when we read and review the other candidate's plans in this series, it is the boldness and attention to detail which make his plan stand out. Look for a review of another candidate's climate change plan in the next week or two.


(For those of you teaching environmental science, environmental policy, or sustainability this semester, you may wish to follow along or assign your students the reading of the various plans I will be posting to allow them to evaluate them as an exercise.)

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