Cory Booker Says Every Policy Should Be Informed by Climate Change

CreditPhilip Cheung for The New York Times

Combating climate change is not one item on a list of policies, Senator Cory Booker said: It is “the lens through which we must do everything.”

Under a Booker administration, he said, every department and federal agency would be expected to have a climate plan, and he would use “every lever that I have on foreign policy” to challenge world leaders like President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil who deny or ignore the science of climate change. Foreign aid would be contingent on the recipients acting on climate change, and climate policy would be a central element of any trade deal.

At the CNN climate town hall on Wednesday night, the New Jersey senator scoffed at Democratic competitors who have said that their first action as president would be to recommit to the Paris agreement. “I’m sorry,” he said, “that is, like, a cost of entry even to run for president or talk about the presidency.”

Like many other candidates, he touched on what farmers can do to be “part of the solution” — a favorite phrase among Democrats. Some farmers have put windmills on their land, he noted, and he has proposed a multibillion-dollar fund to help farmers plant cover crops and adopt other sustainable practices.

It was perhaps inevitable that, as a vegan, Mr. Booker would receive one of the most common questions of the night: Whether the government should encourage Americans to eat less meat and dairy.

“‘Booker wants to take away your hamburger!’ — that is the kind of lies and fearmongering they spread,” he said, adding: “Freedom is one of our most sacred values. Whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it.”

What he wants to focus on, he said, is the prevalence of factory farms and their unhealthy and climate-unfriendly practices. “Thanks to the corporate lobby,” he said, “we’re incentivizing those kinds of farm practices and not the ones that represent our heritage and support family farming.”

On perhaps the most divisive climate-related question within the Democratic field — whether nuclear energy should be part of the country’s plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions — Mr. Booker was particularly adamant. He said that next-generation nuclear reactors could vastly reduce the risk of disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and that there was no way to decarbonize fast enough without them.

Under his climate plan, “we need to be at zero-carbon electricity by 2030,” he said. “That’s 10 years from the time that I will win the presidency of the United States. And right now, nuclear is more than 50 percent of our non-carbon-causing energy. So people who think that we can get there without nuclear being part of the blend just aren’t looking at the facts.”