In case you missed the Democratic presidential candidates debating in the US last night, here’s a quick rundown on what they said about climate change. Note that four of the five brought up the subject before any climate questions were asked! (Jim Webb, former Virginia Senator, was the exception.)
Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian points out that the candidates “mentioned climate change a dozen times during the two-hour encounter,” much more frequently than the many Republican candidates did during five hours of debating. Katie Herzog of Grist compared the Republican debates to “episodes of The Real Housewives.”
Rebecca Traister at New York Magazine’s “The Cut” characterized the debate nicely:
“From Las Vegas, we saw what was surely one of the higher-quality debates Democrats (and certainly Republicans) have held in ages, and it was especially good if you were a Hillary Clinton supporter, a Bernie Sanders supporter, a left-of-center Democrat or anyone who is deeply sick of reading Hillary Clinton’s emails [as longtime Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont confessed he is].”
Sanders passionately referred to climate change as the greatest national security threat facing the US:
“The scientific community is telling us: if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be inhabitable.”
Sanders also repeated Pope Francis’s message that climate is a highly moral issue, intertwined with the future of humanity.
Martin O’Malley, previously the governor of Maryland, has often referred to climate change as a significant threat to US security as well. He pledged to move the nation to 100% renewable electricity by 2050, a goal favored by many progressive UN, national, and scientific thinkers, and the most forceful promise of the evening. O’Malley also takes the position of New York Times veteran and Pulitzer winner Thomas L. Friedman and others that climate change has played a role in the current unrest in the Middle East.
O’Malley and Sanders both pledge to reduce perilous offshore oil and natural gas drilling. They also vow to make renewable energy the source of half the nation’s electricity by 2030.
Former Senator and Secretary of State and party front-runner Hillary Clinton spoke about the importance of multilateral cooperation among heavy emitters and recalled a proud moment from her time as Secretary of State:
“I have been on the forefront of fighting climate change, starting in 2009, when President Obama and I crashed a meeting on the Chinese and got them to sign up for the first international agreement to combat climate change that they’d ever joined. We marched up [to them], 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 China has signed.”
Climate activists recall this occasion as part of the debacle resulting from the Copenhagen UNFCCC talks, as Eric Holthaus points out in Slate.
However, her attitude (“polished, often warm and relaxed, and in command of all the issues,” as David Gergen of CNN characterized it) reinforced last year’s widely held conception of her as truly worthy of the presidency. Again, Clinton came out forcefully against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which she had supported five years earlier. It’s refreshing when a politician admits the possibility of changing one’s mind.
Clinton was the only debater to frame her climate change comments in the more positive outlook of their potential for the business sector, a point Christiana Figueres and other UN leaders have favored increasingly over the past year or so.
“I’ve traveled across our country over the last months listening and learning. And I’ve put forward specific plans about how we’re going to create more good-paying jobs: by investing in infrastructure and clean energy, by making it possible once again to invest in science and research, and taking the opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy.”
Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, the least known candidates, also added progressive climate sentiments. Chafee sees his major enemy as the coal lobby, and Webb pointed to China as the major emitter—a position it has only occupied in the past several years.
The views of these five Democrats that climate change is a crucial issue indicate clearly that the subject will be important in the 2016 election.