A "Climate Emergency" — The Case for Bernie Sanders


We have very troubling news about climate change today:

The NASA data shows the average global surface temperature in February was 1.35C warmer than the average temperature for the month between 1951-1980, a far bigger margin than ever seen before. The previous record, set just one month earlier in January, was 1.15C above the long-term average for that month.

How bad is it? Here’s the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies:

That’s not special in a good way, either:

We are in a kind of climate emergency now,” said Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, from the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research in Germany. He told Fairfax Media: “This is really quite stunning ... it’s completely unprecedented.

This is incredibly difficult news to process and accept, but the reality is that we have simply run out of time for business as usual.

Naomi Klein:

We find ourselves in this moment where there are no non-radical options left before us. Change or be changed, right? And what we mean by that is that climate change, if we don’t change course, if we don’t change our political and economic system, is going to change everything about our physical world. And that is what climate scientists are telling us when they say business as usual leads to three to four degrees Celsius of warming. That’s the road we are on. We can get off that road, but we’re now so far along it, we’ve put off the crucial policies for so long, that now we can’t do it gradually. We have to swerve, right? And swerving requires such a radical departure from the kind of political and economic system we have right now that we pretty much have to change everything.

Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics:

We have used up all of our room for manoeuvre. If we delay any longer strong cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, it looks like global mean surface temperature is likely to exceed the level beyond which the impacts of climate change are likely to be very dangerous.


Amazingly, to those of us who think about it all the time, climate change doesn’t rank very high among the priorities of Democratic voters this year. Voters are, by and large, failing to understand where we are in time.

Our failure to act on behalf of the planet and future generations is, unquestionably, one of the great moral failings of this present moment. It is, in many ways, a reflection of our privilege as citizens of a wealthy nation that is somewhat more insulated (for now) from the devastating impacts of a warming planet and increasingly acidic oceans.

Polls show that young people and people from the Global South — in other words, the populations who will have to live most directly with its consequences — are more concerned with climate change than older Americans.

This younger generation has grown up with climate change. They are legitimately scared and are crying out for drastic change now. 

The only relevant question in this moment is: Will we listen?

Will we listen to our children and grandchildren who are terrified of our world becoming uninhabitable in their lifetimes?

And can we extend our concern to people in other places who are already seeing their crops and fish disappear? Can we bring that knowledge with us into the voting booth?


The media are telling us that Clinton and Sanders are essentially the same on the issues, and that the main difference is that Clinton is more practical. But this is simply not true. 

These are two very good, decent human beings, but their records suggest they would have very different approaches to climate change. 

Bernie Sanders has opposed the Keystone pipeline, offshore drilling, Arctic drilling, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and fracking. He supports a carbon tax to fund clean energy infrastructure and create millions of good jobs. He introduced the Keep It in the Ground Act that would end fossil fuel leases on public land. He takes no fossil fuel money, of course, because he takes no corporate money at all.

Hillary Clinton’s record is one of twists and turns. She supported Keystone until she spoke against it in September. Promoted the TPP around the world, calling it the “gold standard” of trade agreements, until she voiced concerns about it in October. Supported offshore drilling until she went on record against it in December. Promoted fracking around the world as environmentally safe, and still supports it. Is backtracking on a promise to ban fossil fuel extraction on public lands. 

Friends of the Earth said of the Clinton plan on climate change:

While it is great that Secretary Clinton has recognized the importance of renewable energy, the reality is that her plan will not lead to the transformation that we desperately need.  If we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we are going to need an Apollo program for renewable energy, not just the corporate stimulus that Secretary Clinton has offered.


Clinton’s official position is that “Domestically produced natural gas can play an important role in the transition to a clean energy economy.”

Bill McKibben of 350.org, responds to this idea of fracking as a bridge to clean energy:

That's what people used to argue. That was before people fully understood just how much methane is leaking out, and we now think that fracking for natural gas is at least as bad as burning coal.

The good news is we no longer really need a bridge. Renewable energy is ready to go. The price of a solar panel has dropped 80 percent in the last eight years. The team from Stanford's given a remarkable set of documents about precisely how New York State and indeed all the other 49 states could go entirely renewable at affordable prices by 2030.

But it takes political will. The political will to stand up to the dominant power of the fossil fuel industry. 

Josh Fox, director of Gasland, speaking about last week’s debate exchange on fracking:

The problem is all these methane leaks - and that offsets the CO2 savings to such a degree that it actually makes fracked gas a worse fuel [than coal], because of the cumulative impacts….

Now, what Lester Brown has told us is that we need to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2020 if we are going to save the Greenland ice sheet, and save a huge amount of that sea level rise. Eighty percent of emissions by 2020 means that you can't build any of those power plants. Period. You've got to go in another direction. That's why Bernie is saying, and Bill McKibben is saying in the Solutions Project, and Mark Jacobson at Stanford and myself and Naomi Klein and all these people are saying, you can't build these power plants. You've got to phase out natural gas and you've got to do it right away….

What you heard from Hillary Clinton was exactly the kind of mealymouthed response that you hear from these Democratic governors who are in the pocket of Big Oil and Big Gas….

Environmental Action reports that communities of color would be hardest hit by fracking, which has, for example, had a heavy impact on Native Americans in North Dakota.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate running who opposes fracking.


Given her shifting positions on key issues related to climate change, we must look at what Hillary Clinton is showing us about who she is. 

Less than a week before the Iowa caucuses, for example, Hillary Clinton attended a gala fundraiser in Philadelphia at the headquarters of Franklin Square Capital Partners, a major investor in the fossil-fuel industry, particularly domestic fracking.

One of Franklin Square Capital’s investment funds, the FS Energy & Power Fund, is heavily invested in fossil fuel companies, including offshore oil drilling and fracking. A disclosure posted by the company cautions that “changes to laws and increased regulation or restrictions on the use of hydraulic fracturing may adversely impact” the fund’s performance. 

Just last week, her campaign raised even more fracking money at a $575-a-head fundraising lunch hosted by Alisa Wood, a partner at the international private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR).

In 2009, KKR began heavily investing in fracking, purchasing large shares of three North American oil and gas companies, and selling two of them for billions in profits. The third was hit hard by plummeting gas prices, and declared bankruptcy last year. But KKR was not deterred, and still owns a large portfolio of small fossil fuel companies, at least two of which — Cinco Industries and Comstock Resources — use fracking.

Her biggest campaign bundlers are from the fossil fuel industry. Mother Jones tells us about some of them:

  • lobbyists from Chevron who have resisted efforts to impose regulations on carbon emissions;
  • the vice president of an energy company seeking to export more gas to countries outside of US free-trade agreements;
  • a lobbyist for ExxonMobil who “was retained, along with a host of others, to increase the company's reach into the Democratic Party it had ignored for years.” 
  • And a former lobbyist for TransCanada, the company working to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, who sits on the board of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, an investor in the pipeline.

That Canadian bank paid Clinton $990,000 for speeches in the months leading up to her presidential announcement. Another Canadian financial institution with an interest in Keystone XL, TD Bank, paid her $651,000 in speaking fees.

As Secretary of State, Clinton created a new position "to elevate energy diplomacy as a key function of US foreign policy,” and hired David Goldwyn, an industry insider, to direct it. Mother Jones reports:

According to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, one of Goldwyn's first acts at the State Department was gathering oil and gas industry executives "to discuss the potential international impact of shale gas." Clinton then sent a cable to US diplomats, asking them to collect information on the potential for fracking in their host countries. These efforts eventually gave rise to the Global Shale Gas Initiative, which aimed to help other nations develop their shale potential. Clinton promised it would do so "in a way that is as environmentally respectful as possible."

But environmental groups were barely consulted, while industry played a crucial role. When Goldwyn unveiled the initiative in April 2010, it was at a meeting of the United States Energy Association, a trade organization representing Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and ConocoPhillips, all of which were pursuing fracking overseas….

In some cases, Clinton personally promoted shale gas. During a 2010 gathering of foreign ministers in Washington, DC, she spoke about America's plans to help spread fracking abroad. "I know that in some places [it] is controversial," she said, "but natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel available for power generation today." She later traveled to Poland for a series of meetings with officials, after which she announced that the country had joined the Global Shale Gas Initiative.

Given her record and platform, it’s no surprise that the industry website The American Energy News takes comfort in the possibility of a Clinton win:

News that Hillary Clinton will follow President Barack Obama’s oil and gas policies if she wins the Democratic presidential nomination and is elected in Nov. won’t exactly be greeted with enthusiasm by many in the energy industry, but critics can take some solace that it could be worse.

Bernie Sanders worse.

Hillary Clinton is not evil. She’s much better than the Republicans. But she is without question a friend of the corporate establishment who will continue to reap enormous profits from extracting and burning every bit of fossil fuel left underground. Her shifting positions on climate issues make her much to risky to entrust with our children’s future.


The generation that will live with the consequences of what we decide right now is voting for Bernie Sanders at rates of 70-85%.

Naomi Klein:

The young people I meet understand that we're on a deadline and there is definitely a sense, particularly in the U.S., of the system being so deeply broken that radical solutions are indeed practical, and that this idea that we're going to tinker around the edges and go slowly is ridiculous. 

We are at a moment in time when we face a series of radical options. Steady as she goes is not one of them. We either face a radical physical future or else we embrace some radical political and economic change. That's hard for an older generation that has invested its identity in cautious centrism to accept, whereas for a lot young people it's sort of in their blood

Bill McKibben:

But younger people and poorer people may not see the world the same way. They may sense an urgent need for change. I mean, we've just broken the planet's temperature record two years in a row. If you think that we need a leader who will push to change the way we see the world then it makes perfect sense to imagine Bernie as the realistic candidate, the one who will get things done.

Let’s not sell them out. Let’s stand with our children, with future generations, and with people around the world whose lives are being destroyed by climate change.

The future of our planet is in our hands and we have no time to lose. 

Let’s elect Bernie Sanders.

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