Beto O’Rourke Calls For A ‘Moonshot’ To Combat Climate Change

With climate activists cheering on the Green New Deal, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke is borrowing a different allusion from American history.

“We’ve called for … an investment commensurate with John F. Kennedy’s moonshot,” O’Rourke told NPR. “We’re going to invest in the technologies that will allow us to lead the world on this. It should be happening right here in the United States.”

O’Rourke continued to evoke the 20th century with a callback to the “greatest generation.” He wants America to rise to the challenge of protecting the climate just as it did in resisting Nazism during World War II.

Since announcing his candidacy and out-fundraising most of his fellow competitors on the first day of his campaign, O’Rourke has failed to maintain his momentum in the polls.

The candidate hopes that his face-to-face approach and grassroots fundraising will set him apart.

“This campaign, that is run entirely by people — no PACs, no lobbyists, no corporations, no special interests — is at the heart of bringing people into this democracy to make sure that we meet this challenge,” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke spoke with Morning Edition as part of the show’s Opening Arguments conversations, exploring the presidential candidates’ core messages.

Interview Highlights

On whether the oil industry can continue operating the way it is

No, we’re going to have to free ourselves from the dependence we have on fossil fuels and that means a greater investment in solar and wind. … Again, we’re making progress in this country, but so are other countries. And I want us to win that race. We’ve called for … an investment commensurate with John F. Kennedy’s moonshot. We’re going to invest in the technologies that will allow us to lead the world on this. It should be happening right here in the United States.

On making sacrifices to combat climate change

We’re going to have to make an investment as a country. It is not going to necessarily be easy. But you talked about the “greatest generation” and we just celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day — that was this country meeting the existential threat of that day, of Nazi Germany, making the United States and the world safe for democracy.

Here’s our generation’s opportunity to meet a true existential threat of this moment. And I’m confident that that’s going to bring out the absolute best in us. Nothing to be afraid of, something to meet head on, and to overcome and to do it together.

On curbing asylum-seekers

First of all, I would treat every asylum-seeker with the dignity and respect that they deserve as human beings. I would resource the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, the Office of Refugee Resettlement commensurate with the demand and the need that they face.

But I would also go to the heart of the problem in Guatemala, in El Salvador, in Honduras and ensure that we’re working collaboratively with communities, with partner nations in the Western Hemisphere to reduce violence at home and address the fact that they are trying to survive. … In other words, try to ensure that they don’t have to make that 2,000-mile journey in the first place. If we meet them after they’ve done that with walls or cages or whatever this administration is doing, then it is a failure. We should be able to address this challenge there.

On ending conflicts in the Eastern Hemisphere

I’m going to make sure that we end the wars in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Syria, and Somalia, and Yemen and Libya. We’ve got to find a way to peacefully, diplomatically convene other players and stakeholders in these regions to resolve otherwise intractable problems or else let’s expect to find ourselves at war 10, 15, 20 years from now. …

I will not put the life of an American service member on the line unless that is the option of last resort. And in those countries, that is not the last resort right now. There are other options available to us.

On whether he can persuade Iran to reenter a nuclear nonproliferation deal

We will have to but it’s going to be really hard. Not only does Iran no longer trust us, but some of our closest allies cannot take our word for granted. … The world wants to know — is the future a democratic one or an autocratic one? And I want to make sure that the United States leads on that, clearly that it’s democratic.

We’re going to stand up for those values here at home — a badly compromised democracy that must be repaired. But we’re also going to stand up for those values abroad. That’s how you ensure that you get the kinds of agreements that allow us to improve upon what President Barack Obama was able to negotiate with Iran and get to the next set of policy goals with that country.

Josh Axelrod is the NPR Digital Content intern.

Victoria Whitley-Berry and Eric McDaniel produced and edited this story for broadcast.

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