Read: On climate, Democrats now have a plan to make a plan
Warren has the clearest answer to this question. For her, climate change reveals another facet of the corruption of the American economy, her great theme. She brought up the warming climate during her first minute onstage, framing it as one symptom of an economy that’s “doing great for a thinner and thinner slice at the top.”
“It’s doing great for giant oil companies that want to drill everywhere, just not for the rest of us who are watching climate change bear down upon us,” she said.
Inslee, who has staked his candidacy on fighting climate change, talked about it as a dangerous event to be headed off. “We have to understand this is a climate crisis. An emergency,” he said. He’s running for president so that “on [his] last day on Earth,” he can look his grandchildren in the eye and say he did “everything humanly possible to protect them from the ravages of the climate crisis,” he said.
Meanwhile, former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas framed climate change as an assault on a distinctly American way of life. He mentioned his visit to Pacific Junction, Iowa, where he watched record-breaking floods rise. “There were farms outside of Pacific Junction that were lakes,” he said, before connecting local farmers’ ills to President Donald Trump’s trade wars.
Both Warren and Inslee have latched on to a set of proposals called, as a whole, industrial policy. They aim to turn the United States into a net exporter of high-tech hardware. As Warren put it, “Start with a place where there’s a real need. There’s going to be a worldwide need for green technology, ways to clean up the air, ways to clean up the water. And we can be the ones to provide that. We need to go tenfold in our research and development on green energy going forward.”
Read: The Green New Deal’s big idea
Warren, Inslee, and, to a lesser extent, O’Rourke have all proposed some version of industrial policy. But Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio was the first to actually utter the words. “We need an industrial policy saying we’re going to dominate building electric vehicles, there’s going to be 30 million made in the next 10 years. I want half of them made in the United States,” he said. That’s when Warren went off to the races, describing her plan for a new American green-manufacturing sector. Inslee has such a plan too—at this point, he has more than 100 pages of plans about how to remake the government to fight climate change. But Warren’s rhetorical cohesiveness makes her task easier. Because climate change is already linked to the corrupt economy in her worldview, a climate fix that reinvigorates the economy makes more sense.
Inslee, meanwhile, has to fight off the unrealistic expectation that he will be able to save the world. (The Onion has started depicting him as a Captain Planet character.) Late in the debate, Maddow asked, “We are here in Miami, experiencing serious flooding on sunny days as a result of sea-level rise, and parts of Miami Beach and the Keys could be under water in our lifetimes. Does your plan save Miami?”