"If this generation doesn't step up, we're in trouble. This is, after all, the generation that's gonna be on the business end of climate change for as long as we live." —Pete Buttigieg, April 2019
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, often talks about the surprising catastrophic flooding that hit his city twice in two years after he took office. A 1,000-year flood occurred in 2016. Then, in early 2018, a 500-year flood hit, costing millions and damaging thousands of homes. "For as long as we're alive, and the younger you are the more you have on the line, you know our adult lives are going to be dominated by the increased severity and frequency of weather and even crazy chain reactions that happen," Buttigieg wrote in an email.
Indiana is heavily coal reliant, its state leadership across the board is Republican, and it has passed so-called pre-emption laws that curtail local initiatives to address climate change and fossil fuel use. Yet, Buttigieg set up an Office of Sustainability for South Bend. In the aftermath of the U.S. exit from the Paris climate accord, the city has jumped aboard campaigns by mayors to meet the treaty's goals.
"We've continued to demonstrate our climate values by building LEED-certified fire stations, introducing free electric vehicle charging stations, empowering national service members to improve energy efficiency in low-income neighborhoods, and mentoring other Indiana cities seeking to lead on climate issues," Buttigieg said.
His administration is also working to repair remaining damage from recent flooding and to ensure that vulnerable South Bend neighborhoods don't get battered again. The city approved a contract to install gates on stormwater pipes that drain into the river, for the next time the river reaches flood stage.
- Buttigieg said he backs "a green new deal that promotes equity in our economy while confronting the climate crisis." That includes a nationwide carbon tax which would pay dividends to Americans, and a commitment to retrain displaced workers from fossil fuel businesses that close. In July, he announced a plan to create a Climate Corps service program focused on helping communities build resilience and sustainability.
- His climate plan also calls for at least quadrupling federal research and development funding for renewable energy and energy storage.
- Buttigieg signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge in March. His climate plan foresees a dwindling role for fossil fuels that would be engineered by federal policies. Any new energy infrastructure would have to be "climate positive," which could leave a loophole open, especially in the case of natural gas. He also said that while carbon capture might play a role, it should not become an excuse for continued fossil fuel development.
- He said he would ban all new fossil fuel development on federal lands. Buttigieg wrote: "I favor a ban on new fracking and a rapid end to existing fracking so that we can build a 100 percent clean energy society as soon as possible."
- He recently spelled out the climate role that American farmers could play, even though many deny manmade global warming. "There are some estimates that through better soil management, soil could capture a level of carbon equivalent to the entire global transportation industry," Buttigieg told a young questioner at an MSNBC town hall in June.
Buttigieg, at age 37, is the youngest candidate in the Democratic primary. So, when the inevitable first question comes asking if he's too young to run for president, Buttigieg points to climate change as a big reason for his candidacy. He explains that in 2054, when he'll be 72, the current age of Donald Trump, his generation will be suffering some of the worst effects of climate change.
His website, in a tacit nod to the links between his military record and his recognition of the climate crisis, lists the latter under the rubric of security. If he was slow to roll out specifics for addressing climate change in his burgeoning campaign, the next challenge may be to flesh out his climate positions to drive home that sense of urgency and differentiate himself from the big, more experienced pack.