Over the span of 18 months, in August 2016 and February 2018,
South Bend, Indiana, was struck by a pair of historic floods —
the kind of low-probability catastrophes that have become
terrifyingly common in a warming world. The small Midwestern city
still dealing with the consequences.
For its mayor, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg,
those floods serve as a tangible reminder of the environmental
challenge the world faces, and the inspiration for the climate plan
he released in September.
Buttigieg’s scheme isn’t the most ambitious: Compared to
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ $16.3 trillion estimate,
Buttigieg wants to spend closer to $2 trillion, and sets a longer
timeline for pollution reduction. But the 37-year-old candidate’s
approach to the crisis reflects both his creeping centrism and his
youth: It’s a mix of the urgent and the politically practical.
Emphasizing the rural and non-coastal interests that are often
dismissed in issues of environmental adaptation, Buttigieg wants to
set up and fund regional resilience hubs, push for greener
agricultural methods, and retrain workers in fossil-fuel industries
like coal mining.
Last month, CityLab sat down with Buttigieg on the banks of the
St. Joseph River in South Bend — one of the sites of the recent
flooding. Parts of the conversation will appear on the upcoming
Channel special “2020:
Race to Save the Planet” (airing November 7 at 8 p.m. ET), in
which eight presidential candidates discuss their plans for
confronting the climate crisis. This interview has been condensed
Q. For a lot of people, climate change still can seem
like an ideological or an abstract problem. I’m wondering if you
could paint a picture — what does climate change look like
currently, and what might it look like in 30 years, when you’re
in your 60s?
A. When I think about climate change, I think about
neighborhoods like the one we’re in right now. Too often, I think
our imagination around climate change is confined to the North and
the South Pole. But I see it happening right here in the middle of
America, including in my own neighborhood.
Twice in the space of two years, we had extreme weather events
— floods that are only supposed to come along every few hundred
years. It’s a sign to me that the predictions and warnings that
we’ve been seeing from the scientific community for years are
coming true on an accelerated basis. What that means is that by 30
years from now, this could be the dominant fact of American life.
It could be holding back opportunities for a new generation,
transforming and destroying our economy.
Or we could get ahead of it. The way I would prefer to envision
climate change is as a major national challenge that we rose to as
a national project, and led the world in dealing with, and stood
taller because we did it.
That’s why my vision on addressing climate change is not just
about all of the technical changes we need to make, the investments
we need to have, and the need to hold companies accountable for
doing the right thing. It’s also about making sure we’ve
invited everybody to be part of the solution: from volunteers in a
national service program to the agricultural sector, which we
should be funding and supporting in sustainable agriculture
If we get this right, it doesn’t have to be partisan. This is
too important, too serious, and too urgent an issue for us to allow
it to continue to be viewed through a partisan lens. There’s no
time to argue over whether climate change is real. We’ve got to
get to work on making something happen.
Q. How do you think cities should think about the
often-emotional decision of whether to rebuild or to retreat? And
how would you incentivize those retreats and fund those
A. A good example of this comes from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which
experienced a very destructive flood. People have decided to
move on, but it wasn’t forced. It was supported. The families
were made whole. So how does our future planning accommodate the
fact that a 100-year flood isn’t what it used to be? That means
making sure that we have adequate resources from an insurance
perspective and from a planning perspective to ensure that our
future communities are more resilient and are built with these
extreme weather events in mind.
Q. Along with rejoining the Paris climate accord,
you’ve pledged to convene a “Pittsburgh
Climate Summit” in your first 100 days in office. I’m
wondering what the significance of that global and local pairing
is, and what you hope to accomplish at that summit.
A. The idea behind the Pittsburgh summit is that so many local
governments, cities, mayors, counties, sometimes states are acting
on their own because they got tired of waiting for Washington. Some
of the best ideas on sustainability — from installing a local
electric-vehicle charging system, to ensuring that community
standards rise higher and meet the Paris accord — are going on
across this country and across the world in a network of cities
that aren’t waiting for their national governments to catch up. I
want the White House to be an ally for those kinds of communities.
Convening them in Pittsburgh will be an opportunity to share the
best of what’s going on in those cities and towns, and working on
ways that the federal government could be supporting them.
Q. Many cities and states are trying to push people into
a less car-centric lifestyle. That’s a challenge for cities with
inadequate public transportation systems, or whose built
environments are very sprawling and car-centric. How would you
encourage people to turn away from personal vehicles and to build
more connected and more green cities?
A. Well, you know, design in cities, especially through the 20th
century, really revolved around the car. I’m trying to make sure
that design for the future revolves around the human being.
Sometimes that means car transportation and sometimes that means
walking, biking, or public transit.
We can’t expect people to move beyond personally owned
vehicles if there’s not a good alternative. So we’ve got to
make sure that between ride-sharing, public transportation, and
just good old fashioned walking and biking, we’ve got an array of
options right now. The United States subsidizes driving a
tremendous amount. We’re more reluctant to support transit or
things like trains. When I’m president, I envision making that a
greater balance and supporting cities that are trying to do that,
too, because if we get it right, it’s also more sustainable, more
healthy, and more economically friendly.
For example, when we transformed the heart of [South Bend],
down our traffic instead of just getting cars through it as
quickly as possible, it led to growth in small business, because we
have a more vibrant core in our downtown. When we change our
mentality, it’s amazing what possibilities can be unlocked.
Q. Communities of color are being disproportionately
impacted by climate change. But they’re also often left out of
conversations in Washington, D.C. How would you help communities of
color be more prioritized in the future?
A. One of the things we’ve seen is that neighborhoods and
communities of color are always disproportionately harmed when we
have these extreme weather events. It’s why, first of all, there
needs to be more economic and political empowerment for people of
color. That’s a focus in my Douglass
Plan, an agenda to
deal with the impacts of institutional racism in this
We also need to look at how our neighborhoods are set up. Many
of them were segregated by design.
I’m proposing a twist on the Homestead Act — a 21st-century
version of that — that supports people living in historically
redlined neighborhoods that are now beginning to get
We also just need to make sure that we have a political system
that is capable of hearing the voices of those who have been
excluded. In many ways, local processes can lead the way toward
what we need more of in our national government.
Q. You differ from others in the presidential race, like
Senator Sanders, in calling for a tax on carbon. We saw in the
Yellow Vest protests in France how anger over fuel taxes helped
trigger a populist revolt. How would you structure a carbon tax so
that everyday Americans won’t feel the economic
A. The key to making a carbon tax work for everyday Americans is
to rebate out the value to the American people every year, and do
it with a progressive formula so that most people are better off
than before. The idea of a carbon tax is not to suck money out of
the economy and bring it into the government — at least not for
me. For me, the idea is to make sure that our prices more
accurately reflect the true cost, including the cost to our own
future, of things like fossil fuels. We can do that without making
most Americans worse off economically if we have a rebate — a
dividend, if you will — that goes out to every American based on
what’s been collected.
Q. In September, you visited Conway, South Carolina,
release a federal disaster relief plan. How will that plan
account for some of the mistakes made in past administrations with
regard to hurricane recovery?
A. One thing that we’ve learned from recent disasters,
including the one where we’re sitting right now, is that there is
a complex, overlapping bureaucracy when it comes to getting
disaster relief. The last thing you want somebody to have to do
when they’ve been put out of their home by a disaster is have to
navigate all of these different agencies to figure out how to get
help. I’m going to set up a disaster commission tasked with
simplifying that process and making sure that we secure the funding
sources for relief. Right now, all too often we see administrations
dipping into [these funds] for other purposes.
Q. You mentioned holding companies accountable for their
role in climate change as well. At
tech companies like Amazon, some workers are staging protests
and walkouts to draw attention to their employers’ inaction. How
would you as president think about galvanizing companies and the
A. Well, the beauty of the carbon tax and dividend is it does a
lot of that work in terms of realigning the signals in our economy.
We also have to make sure that there is a strong Environmental
Protection Agency, run by somebody who actually believes in
environmental protection and in climate change. This doesn’t have
to be anti-business. What I want to do is recruit businesses to
ensure they’re doing the right thing and to recognize how
private-sector growth is a big part of how we reach the clean
energy economy that we need. But that means making sure that
we’re honest about the long-term costs of inaction when it comes
to what carbon emissions are doing to our very ability to live in
the communities that we have built over these last decades and
Q. You’ve also talked about how rural voters could
soon be the future of climate-change voters. I’m wondering how
you mobilize that cohort?
A. I’m excited about the possibility of inviting agriculture
to be a big part of the solution. Science tells us that with cover
crops and soil management, we
could be taking in as much carbon on farms around the world as
the entire global transportation sector is putting out right
We have the science to tell us it can be done. We need to not
only invest in research, but also support the farmers, so if the
[costs] are not quite penciling out, we make them whole. If we’re
willing to do that over a trade war, we should absolutely be
willing to do that as a way to incentivize and reward farmers who
are on the cutting edge of the quest for the zero-emissions farm.
If we can do that here in America, that achievement will spread
around the world and be a tremendous part of the solution.
This story was originally published by Grist with the headline
Pete Buttigieg’s climate vision: Local fixes for a planet in
crisis on Nov 8, 2019.
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News 2
Pete Buttigieg’s climate vision: Local fixes for a planet in crisis