Climate crisis gets stage time at Democratic debate

Odds drop for Bloomberg after debate performance

Debate night
Barbara Gomez, 45, and Adalberto Gomez, 47, watch debate hosted by Chispa in at Layla’s Palace Banquet hall.

“Bloomberg is a joke,” said Liliana Abel-Suarez, 18, who attended a debate watch party hosted by Chispa Nevada at Layla’s Palace Banquet hall, a favorite spot for quinceanera celebrations. 

“Bloomberg was a joke,” agreed Massimo Greco, 17.

Michael Bloomberg was a hot topic for debate night viewers, the shock of a $400 million dollar campaign collapsing overnight. Prediction market bets for the former New York mayor fell by nearly 10 percent in the immediate aftermath.

But the night was a win for environmentalism.

“I think this debate was actually the first debate we got to see a good amount devoted to climate,” said Rudy Zamora, program director of Chispa Nevada, which focuses on environmental issues. 

Debate moderator Jon Ralston, editor of The Nevada Independent, asked candidates about their plans to combat climate change in Las Vegas and Reno, and keep two of the fastest-warming cities in the nation livable.

Climate change is the second-highest priority for Nevada Democratic voters, but well behind health care, according to a 2019 Monmouth University poll. A poll last month by Suffolk University/USA Today showed health care and climate change remain the top issues for the state’s voters.  

The effects of the climate crisis take a toll on its people as well as the infrastructure in Nevada.

“As we see, more and more Latinos are working construction, more and more are working landscaping and if it keeps getting hotter what does that mean for them? Does it mean their days get cut shorter? Does their pay get cut? Does it mean they have to work through dangerous conditions?” Zamora said.

Zamora said there were too many personal attacks and not enough focus on the issues during the debate, but added that the focus on climate change was a move “in the right direction.”

“Climate is one of those things that are intersectional,” Zamora said. “We can’t talk about socioeconomic justice if we’re not talking about climate. We can’t talk about immigration if we’re not talking about climate, we can’t talk about education if we’re not talking about climate.”

“We need to keep pushing candidates to talk about the issues,” Zamora continued. “We align with the issues not the bantering that happens on stage.”

Bertha Robaedo, 85, is a longtime volunteer for Chispa. She was satisfied by the discussion around climate change but wishes there was more focus on air quality and water conservation.

“Las Vegas is growing so fast,” said Robaedo in her native Spanish. “We need to think about our footprint.”

Robaedo is a Pete Buttigieg supporter and believes the former mayor’s youth means he will have fresh ideas. She will be participating on Caucus Day but said she was a little disappointed by Buttigieg’s performance and believes he needed to perform better to outshine who she believes are his two main competitors: Sen. Bernie Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden.

Patrick Donnelly, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity Action, said Wednesday’s debate was the most substantive discussion on climate change at a debate so far, but it could have gone farther.

“In general, they shied away from Nevada-specific environmental issues and I would like to have heard more about that,” he said. 

Sanders and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who dropped out of the race in early January, have spoken at length about the Yerington Paiute Tribe, which contends that toxins from the nearby Anaconda Mine have contaminated the tribe’s groundwater source. It wasn’t mentioned during the debate. 

One Nevada connection that was mentioned was the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant near Tonopah. “When the fourth stage is completed, it will be able to take care of 60,000 homes for every single bit of their needs,” Biden answered when asked what specific policies he’d implement to keep Las Vegas and Reno livable without hurting their economies.

The plant, which declared bankruptcy last year, had received a loan from the Department of Energy during the Obama administration. 

“The solar array that the vice president is talking about is being closed because it’s not economic, that you can put solar panels in into modern technology even more modern than that,” Bloomberg countered

While Donnelly wasn’t sure what point Bloomberg was making, he said a common “right wing talking point” was to call the project a waste of money. 

Donnelly also complimented Sen. Elizabeth Warren for speaking on how Black and brown communities often contend with the effect of climate change and environmental racism. 

“I was very pleased to hear Senator Warren explicitly acknowledge environmental racism,” Donnelly said. “On an all-white stage, it was important to hear the racial component of environmental injustice highlighted.” 

While he praised both Warren and Sanders, he had harsher words for other candidates.

“You have two dinosaurs on stage — Bloomberg and (Sen. Amy) Klobuchar,” Donnelly said. “Both embrace fossil fuel and said to keep fracking even though the science says that’s not the way you beat the climate crisis.”

But for many, the strength of candidates’ performance during the debate will have zero effect on their vote. According to Nevada Democrats, nearly 75,000 people have already participated in the four-day early voting period, which ran from Saturday through Tuesday, making it impossible to change their vote. 

For comparison, approximately 84,000 people participated during the one-day caucuses in 2016 and 117,599 participated in 2008. There are a little under 700,000 registered Democrats in Nevada, about 38 percent of the electorate, according to the Office of Nevada Secretary of State.

Keion Cherry, 23, already voted and while Sanders was his first choice, the debate left him questioning his vote and leaning toward Biden who impressed him during the debate.

“I see other people fighting but Joe had that ready to go attitude that was attractive and had me rethinking, but I already cast my ballot,” Cherry said.

But for others, like Massimo Greco, there was still time to change their mind by Caucus Day on Saturday.

“Warren definitely exceeded my expectations,” Greco said. “Definitely changed my opinion on her. I’m going to keep on eye on Warren’s campaign more than I thought I was before.”

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.