Two hours. One climate question.

A brief climate re-cap of the fifth Democratic presidential debate.

Welcome to HEATED, a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis—written by me, Emily Atkin.

If you’ve been forwarded this email, you can sign up for your own subscription here:

It’s the last issue of the week! Congratulations on making it through another one, you beautiful, well-hydrated, responsible news consumer.

It’s also the morning after the debate, and there was a climate question. Hooray, I guess! I’ll summarize what happened below.

But before we get into that, I want to quickly discuss the reader reaction to yesterday’s article, Is Pete Buttigieg’s climate adviser a fossil fuel shill? and explain why I decided to tackle the topic. I always tell you guys to reach out if you have comments, and I heard from a lot of you.

Readers are the spinal cord of this newsletter. It’s a lifeless blob without you. If you have thoughts, questions, story ideas or tips, don’t ever hesitate to reach out. I’m at

On yesterday’s newsletter

A not insignificant number of you emailed and tweeted me yesterday questioning why I decided to pursue a story about David Victor, one of Pete Buttigieg’s climate advisors.

“This strikes me as a very questionable premise for an article,” one reader wrote.

As in, if Buttigieg didn't have a sudden surge there wouldn't be a rush to examine an unpaid advisor. And it has no substantive discussion of the climate policies proposed by Buttigieg.

For example, maybe an unpaid advisor has thoughts about the Green New Deal, but the Climate Page of the Pete Campaign Site mentions a Green New Deal straight off the bat. I get a lot of folks on the further left side of the spectrum don't like Buttigieg but they also labor and strain to discredit him in ways that strains credulity. Is an unpaid climate advisor really the most powerful argument against his climate candidacy? If so, isn't that encouraging?

I fully take this reader’s point about the piece yesterday not having a substantive discussion of the entirety of Mayor Pete’s climate policy. That wasn’t an intentional choice; I just didn’t have time to get into everything. (Daily newsletter biz, folks. I’m tryin’). If you’d like to know more about where Buttigieg stands, InsideClimate has the most succinct but sweeping summary I’ve seen of his plan. Notably, Buttigieg is one of the only candidates who explicitly advocates for a carbon tax.

To the reader’s other point—that if Buttigieg wasn’t leading in the polls, we wouldn’t be talking about an unpaid climate advisor—I’d respond that, well, yeah. That's sort of the whole point of journalism. As someone gets closer to the presidency, their smaller decisions deserve more scrutiny, so the public can make the most informed decision possible about whether to vote for them. If you came out of yesterday’s article thinking, “I don’t care about this,” or “I think David Victor seems fine,” that’s 100 percent legitimate. It’s also 100 percent legitimate if you came out of it thinking, “Screw this guy.”

This newsletter exists to provide you with the information you need to make your own decision about what’s best for the climate. It exists to help you think; not to think for you.

I chose to write about David Victor because I saw he was already being widely discussed in the climate community, but also didn’t see much journalism about it. I saw an information vacuum and decided to fill it.

I completely accept if you have issues with the way I pursue a story, and encourage you to make those known. What I don’t tolerate are accusations that I’m writing things like this for clicks, or because I have some personal vendetta against Pete Buttigieg. That kind of stuff is some unjustified bullshit. Miss me with it.

A light sprinkling of the apocalypse at the fifth Democratic debate

This might be a controversial opinion, but I thought the moderators of Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post did a pretty good job.

Of course, I would have loved to see more than one question asked about the literal existential threat facing modern society and all life on this planet. Of course, I would have loved it if that question was not, in essence, “How would you make sure you saved the planet in a bipartisan way?

But I was stoked to see substantive discussions of paid family leave and reproductive health, which has not yet happened on a presidential debate stage this year. (Thanks, all-female moderators!) And I was impressed with how the moderators gave candidates space to interact and spar with each other, without letting things drag on too far.

In fact, one of the most interesting candidate exchanges that happened last night—aside from the whole “Cory Booker accusing Joe Biden of being high” and “Joe Biden briefly forgetting Kamala Harris exists” thing—came during the brief discussion of climate change.

The exchange I’m talking about was between Biden and Tom Steyer, the California billionaire and longtime climate activist who just recently jumped into the race. Asked how he’d work to stop the climate crisis, Steyer tried to frame himself as climate candidate Jay Inslee reincarnated on stage. "I am the only person who will say that climate change is the number one priority to me,” Steyer said, echoing Inslee’s debate stage rhetoric before the Washington governor dropped out of the race earlier this year. “Biden won't say it, Warren won't say it." Steyer said he was the only candidate who would declare climate change a national emergency, and use the president’s emergency powers to do it.

Warren wasn’t given a chance to respond to Steyer’s claim—which was unfortunate, given that she’s released five climate-related plans so far. But Biden was, and he responded not only by saying he does think climate change is “the number one issue,” but by saying he doesn’t “need the lecture from my friend” Steyer, because Steyer made part of fortune by working at a hedge fund that heavily invested in coal mining.

Steyer hit back that “I came to the conclusion over 10 years ago that climate as the absolute problem of our society,” and has since spent much of his money on environmentalism.

Perhaps more interesting than candidates said in response to the single climate question, however, were the times candidates brought up climate when moderators didn’t ask about it.

In fact, Sanders brought up holding fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change at least twice, by my count—and was the only candidate who spoke on stage about holding fossil fuel companies criminally liable for climate change.

Sanders’ full answer to the climate question, in fact, is worth reading:

You talked about the need to make climate change a national emergency. I've introduced legislation to just do that.

Now, I disagree with the thrust of the original question, because your question has said, what are we going to do in decades? We don't have decades. What the scientists are telling us, if we don't get our act together within the next eight or nine years, we're talking about cities all over the world, major cities going underwater, we're talking about increased drought, talking about increased extreme weather disturbances.

The United Nations is telling us that in the years to come there are going to be hundreds of millions of climate refugees causing national security issues all over the world.

What we have got to do tonight, and I will do as president, is to tell the fossil fuel industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet. And by the way, the fossil fuel industry is probably criminally liable, because they have lied and lied and lied when they had the evidence that their carbon products were destroying the planet, and maybe we should think about prosecuting them, as well.

OK, that’s all for today—thank for reading HEATED!

If you liked this, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you want to share today’s issue as a web page, click this button:


Questions? Comments? Tips? Send ‘em to

Suggestions for an action readers can/should take in response to something I’ve written in this newsletter? Send those to

See you next week!