It was not hard for Beto O’Rourke to seem like a champion of green issues during his eye-catching Senate campaign in America’s 2018 midterm elections – after all, he was up against Ted Cruz, a climate change denier.
Now, as the former US congressman vies to be the Democratic candidate to run against Donald Trump in the 2020 race for the White House, he faces much closer scrutiny on the subject.
Environmental advocates and experts wait to see if – as O’Rourke pivots from an election in a conservative-led oil state to a national primary race heavily influenced by left-leaning Democratic candidates – he will have more latitude and desire to put progressive green policies at the heart of his strategy.
“He didn’t really emphasise climate change and global warming very much when he was running against Ted Cruz, but he’s got a field that is absolutely filled with people who are making it a campaign item for voters to consider, and I think he’s going to have to adjust his narrative when he’s out on the trail,” said Robert Forbis, an assistant professor of political science at Texas Tech University. “He’s going to have to take a pretty strong stand.”
The seeds of a decisive and urgent approach were visible in his first campaign visits to Iowa in March, when O’Rourke praised the radical climate change-led proposals in the Green New Deal, citing his home state’s struggles with extreme weather such as droughts and hurricanes.
“Storms like Harvey are only going to become more frequent and more severe and more devastating and ultimately they’ll compromise the ability to live in a city like Houston, Texas,” he told the audience. O’Rourke signalled support for reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and investing in green technology to reach net zero emissions.
“Some will criticise the Green New Deal for being too bold or being unmanageable. I’ll tell you what: I haven’t seen anything better that addresses the singular crisis we face, a crisis that could at its worst lead to extinction,” he said. “Literally the future of the world depends on us.”
Cruz held his Senate seat with a narrow win over O’Rourke last November. The Republican has dismissed climate change as a “pseudoscientific theory” and wrote an opinion article in 2017 urging Trump to rip up the landmark Paris climate agreement.