Climate related issues were a major part of the Democratic Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Brooklyn, New York, on April 14, 2016. While the two candidates agree that climate change is an urgent issue, there are important distinctions between their respective policy positions. Regardless of who wins the nomination, this debate establishes the Democratic party as the only choice for environmentally conscious voters.
Sanders is clearly the greener of the two, and he deserves credit for forcing Clinton to address these issues. However, intimating that his lofty climate agenda may be stymied by the legislature, Clinton pointed to his inability to actually pass climate focused legislation.
When Sanders was pressed on his intent to phase out nuclear power and the potential to have that energy shortfall replaced by greenhouse gas intensive alternatives, he said that “you certainly don’t phase out nuclear tomorrow” and he pointed to his 10 million solar roofs program.
Here are excerpts related to climate, environment, clean energy, fossil fuels and COP21 from the debate.
CLINTON: Well, let me start by saying we need to talk about this issue and we should talk about it in terms of the extraordinary threats that climate change pose to our country and our world. And that’s why for the last many years, both in the Senate and as secretary of State, it’s been a big part of my commitment to see what could be done.
SANDERS: Now, what I think is when we look at climate change now, we have got to realize that this is a global environmental crisis of unprecedented urgency…We have an enemy out there, and that enemy is going to cause drought and floods and extreme weather disturbances. There’s going to be international conflict.
SANDERS: I am proud, Wolf, that I have introduced the most comprehensive climate change legislation…
CLINTON: Well, let’s talk about the global environmental crisis. Starting in 2009 as your Secretary of State, I worked with President Obama to bring China and India to the table for the very first time, to get a commitment out of them that they would begin to address their own greenhouse gas emissions. I continued to work on that throughout the four years as Secretary of State…
CLINTON: …because in order to deal with climate change, we have got to move as rapidly as we can.
SANDERS: All right, here is — here is a real difference. This is a difference between understanding that we have a crisis of historical consequence here, and incrementalism and those little steps are not enough. Not right now. Not on climate change.
SANDERS: What I believe is that this country, if we stand together and not let the Trumps of the world divide us up…can lead the world in transforming our energy system and combating climate change…
SANDERS: Now, the truth is, as secretary of state, Secretary Clinton actively supported fracking technology around the world. Second of all, right now, we have got to tell the fossil fuel industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet.
CLINTON: …well, I don’t think I’ve changed my view on what we need to do to go from where we are, where the world is heavily dependent on coal and oil, but principally coal, to where we need to be, which is clean renewable energy, and one of the bridge fuels is natural gas. And so for both economic and environmental and strategic reasons, it was American policy to try to help countries get out from under the constant use of coal, building coal plants all the time, also to get out from under, especially if they were in Europe, the pressure from Russia, which has been incredibly intense. So we did say natural gas is a bridge. We want to cross that bridge as quickly as possible…
CLINTON: But there has never been any doubt that when I was a senator, I tried — I joined with others to try to get rid of the subsidies for big oil. And I have proposed that again, because that’s what I think needs to be done as we transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
SANDERS: It is not their fault [fossil fuel industry workers] that fossil fuels are destroying our climate. But we have got to stand up and say right now, as we would if we were attacked by some military force, we have got to move urgency — urgently and boldly.
SANDERS: We have got to lead the world in transforming our energy system, not tomorrow, but yesterday. And, what that means, Wolf, it means having the guts to take on the fossil fuel industry. Now, I am on board legislation that says, you know what, we ain’t going to excavate for fossil fuel on public land. That’s not Secretary Clinton’s position.
SANDERS: Let us support a tax on carbon…:Something I don’t believe Secretary Clinton supports.
SANDERS: And that means — and I would ask you to respond. Are you in favor of a tax on carbon so that we can transit away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy at the level and speed we need to do?
SANDERS: … When you were Secretary of State, you also worked hard to expand fracking to countries all over the world.
Campaign Funding from the Fossil Fuel Industry
CLINTON: So, we both have relatively small amounts of contributions from people who work for fossil fuel companies. Best we can tell from the reports that are done. But, that is not being supported by big oil, and I think it’s important to distinguish that.
SANDERS: But, as I understand it, 43 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry maxed out, gave the maximum amount of money to Secretary Clinton’s campaign.
CLINTON: we have got to make a very firm but decisive move in the direction of clean energy…That’s why I’ve set big goals. I want to see us deploy a half a billion more solar panels by the end of my first term and enough clean energy to provide electricity to every home in America within 10 years.
CLINTON: President Obama moved forward on gas mileage, he moved forward on the clean power plant. He has moved forward on so many of the fronts that he could given the executive actions that he was able to take.
CLINTON: And, I was surprised and disappointed when Senator Sanders attacked the agreement [Paris Climate Agreement], said it was not enough, it didn’t go far enough. You know, at some point putting together 195 countries, I know a little bit about that, was a major accomplishment…
SANDERS: The issue here — of course the agreement [Paris Climate Agreement] is a step forward, but you know agreements and I know agreements, there’s a lot of paper there. We’ve got to get beyond paper right now.
CLINTON: Well, I’m a little bewildered about how to respond when you have an agreement [Paris Climate Agreement] which gives you the framework to actually take the action that would have only come about because under the Obama administration in the face of implacable hostility from the Republicans in Congress…
CLINTON: …I was very proud that President Obama and America led the way to the agreement that was finally reached in Paris with 195 nations committing to take steps to actually make a difference in climate change.
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