"This is going to be a tough truth, but we are too late. We are 10 years too late."
—Andrew Yang, July 2019
"Climate change has dried up our forests to the point that they are giant tinderboxes," entrepreneur-turned-presidential candidate Andrew Yang wrote in November 2018, amid the historic wildfires that ravaged California.
He said he saw the fires as a metaphor for much of what is ailing American society. "We avoid spending what we should—but end up paying for it in the end, often tragically," he wrote.
As founder of the New York-based nonprofit Venture for America, Yang helped put talented young people on a pathway to entrepreneurship careers in areas where they could help improve society, including clean energy.
- Yang has proposed investing $4.9 trillion over 20 years to deal with climate change. (In comparison, Bernie Sanders has proposed $16.3 trillion; Elizabeth Warren, $2 trillion; and Joe Biden, $1.7 trillion, each over 10 years.) Yang's largest single investment—$400 billion—would go to "Democracy Dollars," essentially a proposal for public funding of federal campaigns to reduce the influence of Big Money interests like fossil fuel companies. It would let citizens direct federal money to candidates "to wash out the influence of lobbyists," he says. Yang has pledged not to take fossil fuel industry donations.
- To meet his goal of net zero emissions across the economy by 2050, Yang would issue aggressive new federal rules that would require all new buildings to be net zero emissions by 2025, and all new car models to be zero emissions by 2030. He would aim to get the country to 100 percent zero-emissions electricity by 2035, while also requiring all transportation sectors—trucking, rail, transit and aviation—to be net zero by 2040. But he doesn't think this can be done without big investment in cutting-edge technology.
- Yang would both raise money for his program and create an incentive for consumers and investors to choose cleaner energy through a carbon fee-and-dividend system. The proposed tax of $40 a ton, escalating by $5 a year at first, then $10 a year, is relatively robust compared to other proposals floating on Capitol Hill, although he would cap the fee at $100 a ton. Yang says he would return at least half of the money raised to citizens as dividends—but there would be strings attached: the funds would be "specifically designed" to subsidize their purchases of clean energy and vehicles. That's in addition to the centerpiece of Yang's campaign, his proposal for a Universal Basic Income of $1,000 per month, no strings attached, for every American over 18.
- Yang is alone among the Democrats in backing investment in new nuclear technologies—$50 billion in research and development for thorium-based molten salt reactors and nuclear fusion reactors. He also would put $11.5 billion over 15 years into carbon capture research and development. He sees this as particularly important for offsetting carbon emissions from aviation, which he believes will be tied to fossil fuels longer than ground transport. Yang also says he would devote $4 billion in annual funding for vocational and apprenticeship programs for clean energy jobs.
- Yang says he would stop new leases for oil and gas development on public lands and end all existing leases. He also says he would "fight against any new pipeline or similar infrastructure, especially any that would cut across contested land."
- Foldable space mirrors, stratosphere scattering of sulfur dioxide, ocean seeding with plankton—Yang's geoengineering proposals to reverse global warming—have gotten a lot of attention, since he is the only candidate to integrated such tech solutions into his climate platform. But he describes these as "emergency options," noting the potential risks, and would put a relatively small investment—$800 million—into further research.
Yang's plan is not as fatalistic as he seemed to suggest when he lamented that we are a decade "too late" in addressing the climate crisis. He wouldn't just adapt to a warmer world, but would aggressively seek to lower carbon emissions through a cap-and-dividend proposal that incorporates the latest thinking of mainstream economists. However, those same economists would blanch at the government intervention that Yang embraces, such as forcing automakers to achieve zero emissions by 2030. Sanders is arguably just as aggressive, but his goal has more wiggle room, coming from someone who has spent some time in the Senate. Yang, who has never held public office, matter-of-factly declares we'll have to empty our coasts, end offshore drilling and possibly launch reflectors into space. Voters will have to decide whether that makes Yang a fresh thinker or one who is not adequately prepared for the challenges ahead.