The presidential hopefuls didn’t shy away from the issue of global warming during their first debate, but they weren’t exactly specific either.
Screenshot from CNN Youtube channel
A variety of topics and issues were covered at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate, from income disparity to the Black Lives Matter movement, gun control, and Edward Snowden. Less time, however, was spent dealing with one of the most pressing issues of all: climate change. In fact, the debate format demanded that only a few minutes would be allotted to the issue. As as result, none of the candidates could really delve into great detail about their domestic or international climate change policies.
Despite the candidates’ appetizer-like comments on climate change, this portion of the debate is still worth highlighting. Not only because the debate put the candidates on record, but because only three Republicans addressed the issue in their first debate with, of course, predictably non-scientific opinions.
Senator Bernie Sanders
\nBernie Sanders didn't mince words on climate change at the debate, saying “the future of the planet is at stake.” He added that he agreed with Pope Francis that climate change is a “moral issue”.
“The scientists are telling us that we need to move extremely boldly,” he said. “I am proud that, along with Senator Barbara Boxer, a few years ago, we introduced the first piece of climate change legislation which called for a tax on carbon.”
Sanders also tied climate change action to campaign finance reform and the Republican party. “[L]et me also tell you that nothing is gonna happen unless we are prepared to deal with campaign finance reform, because the fossil fuel industry is funding the Republican Party, which denies the reality of climate change,” he said.
In the debate, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley noted that he has called for America to move toward a “100 percent clean electric grid” by 2050. The governor considers the response to climate change an engineering challenge—an intentional one, like sending astronauts to the moon.
O’Malley cited Nevada as one of the “most sustainable cities in America” with its work in green building, architecture and design, but also mentioned Iowa, which gets 30 percent of its energy from wind. Read O’Malley's “A Job Agenda for Our Renewable Energy Future” to dive more deeply into his climate change agenda.
While Webb highlighted his legislative push for alternate energy at the Democratic debate, he also reminded voters that he supports nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels. “I’m a strong proponent of nuclear power—it is safe, it is clean,” Webb said.
Webb also noted that climate change isn’t merely a domestic issue, but an international one, calling China and India the “greatest polluters in the world.”
“Fifteen out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in one of those two countries,” he said. “We need to solve this in a global way. It’s a global problem and I have been very strong on doing that. The so-called agreements that we have had with China are illusory in terms of the immediate requirements of the Chinese government itself. So let’s solve this problem in an international way, and then we really will have a way to address climate change.”
Image by Brett Weinstein via Flickr
Like Jim Webb, Hillary Clinton used the debate pulpit to take China and India to task over pollution, while also citing her and President Obama’s efforts to get the two countries to agree to bilateral deals at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009:
When we met in Copenhagen in 2009 and, literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese, going throughout this huge convention center, because we knew we had to get them to agree to something," Clinton said. "Because there will be no effective efforts against climate change unless China and India join with the rest of the world. They told us they’d left for the airport; we found out they were having a secret meeting. We marched up, we broke in, we said, “We’ve been looking all over for you. Let’s sit down and talk about what we need to do.” And we did come up with the first international agreement that China has signed. Thanks to President Obama’s leadership, it’s now gone much further.
Clinton also framed climate change as a business issue. After traveling the country as a candidate over the last few months, Clinton believes that the creation of “good-paying jobs” will come about through investment in “infrastructure and clean energy” and “by making it possible once again to invest in science and research, and taking the opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy.”
Image by LincolnChafee2 via Wikimedia Commons
The former senator and governor of Rhode Island didn’t directly address climate change in his debate remarks, but he did tell the country where he sits on coal lobbying efforts. When asked what enemy he is most proud of, Chafee was unequivocal.
“I guess the coal lobby,” he said. “I’ve worked hard for climate change and I want to work with the coal lobby. But in my time in the Senate, tried to bring them to the table so that we could address carbon dioxide. I’m proud to be at odds with the coal lobby.”