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Beto O’Rourke Becomes Latest 2020 Contender to Pledge Climate Action

Beto O'Rourke speaks at a protest against President Donald Trump in El Paso in February. Christ Chavez / Getty Images

Beto O'Rourke announced he would run for President in 2020 Thursday, making the Texas Democrat the latest primary contender to list combating climate change as a major priority.


"This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us," O'Rourke said in a video announcing his campaign. "The challenges that we face right now, the interconnected crises in our economy, our democracy and our climate have never been greater. And they will either consume us, or they will afford us the greatest opportunity to unleash the genius of the United States of America."

A native of El Paso, Texas, O'Rourke served three terms in the House of Representatives before rising to national prominence in 2018 when he almost unseated Ted Cruz in the race to represent Texas in the Senate, CNN reported. It was the closest Senate race in Texas history since 1978, according to Vox. In recent months, he has actively campaigned against President Donald Trump's proposed border wall, holding a counter-rally in El Paso when the president spoke there in February to promote his barrier.

In his announcement video, O'Rourke mentions many key priorities, including workers' rights, expanding access to healthcare, improving legal pathways to immigration, criminal justice reform, racial justice and ending ongoing wars. But he closed his list of issues with a call for climate action.

"Perhaps most importantly of all, because our very existence depends on it, we can unleash the ingenuity and creativity of millions of Americans who want to ensure that we squarely confront the challenge of climate change before it's too late," he said.

Climate is shaping up to be a major issue on the 2020 campaign trail, a big change from the 2016 presidential election, during which a total of five minutes and twenty-seven seconds were spent discussing global warming and other environmental issues during the three debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, according to Grist. This time around, one Democratic candidate, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, is making climate change the central issue of his campaign. At least five others have endorsed the Green New Deal, a 10-year plan championed by freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to transition to 100 percent renewable energy while creating jobs and supporting frontline communities.

O'Rourke has spoken positively of the Green New Deal, but, as Vox pointed out, his style is less to endorse specific policies than to debate solutions and listen to ideas with the goal of promoting general liberal values. His voting record is more conservative than the average Democrat's, however, and he has been criticized for taking campaign donations from oil companies.

In a Vanity Fair profile published Wednesday, he praised both the ambition of the Green New Deal and the idea of pricing carbon and "allowing the market to respond to that."

He also linked policies designed to address income inequality, such as Ocasio-Cortez' call for a higher marginal tax rate, with a push to mobilize the nation on climate issues.

"If you're trying to mobilize this country to meet an existential threat, as we did against the Nazis in World War II, then you're going to have to ask everyone to sacrifice," he said. "If you don't see a shared interest or shared opportunity to advance, then we'll no longer see ourselves in this together and this country will truly break apart. This level of gross income inequality cannot persist, and if there's a better way to get there, I'm open to it. But it's definitely going to involve higher marginal rates on the very wealthiest in this country."


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Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.