We are now officially through half of the United States Presidential election primary and caucus season, and there are currently 5 contenders left in the Republican and Democratic parties vying for their party’s respective nomination. Delegate math shows that Governor John Kasich has no chance to become the Republican nominee, so we’re left with four real candidates to examine.
The differences between the candidates of the two major parties could not be greater. On the Democratic side, there are two candidates who proudly embrace science and agree that action on climate issues is sorely needed. On the Republican side, both of the remaining candidates reject the scientific consensus and instead argue that climate change is nothing more than a series of unfortunate weather events.
It is important to remember that acceptance of climate science is not necessarily limited to one political party. Recent polls show that majorities of voters within both the Democratic and Republican parties (as well as Independent voters) accept that climate change is real and that human activity is a contributing factor. The discrepancy between the desires of voters and the views of the candidates can best be seen in the contributions from the fossil fuel industry, which will be described in detail later.
As for the candidates remaining in the race, only Republican frontrunner Donald Trump lacks a record to verify his statements on climate change. But judging on his statements alone, he will not be a friend to the environment if he secures the nomination and subsequently wins the White House.
In recent days, Trump told The Washington Post: “I think there’s a change in weather. I am not a great believer in man-made climate change. I’m not a great believer.”
Trump’s language implies that climate change is more like a religion than a scientifically proven phenomenon. By using words like “believer” he’s able to turn the argument into one of faith rather than science, a common tactic among climate change deniers. The truth is that it is not a matter of “believing.” You either accept science or you reject it. Whether or not you believe in it doesn’t change the fact that it is happening.
Compared to his previous statements on climate change, the Washington Post interview was tame. Here is a Tweet from Donald Trump’s verified Twitter account from November 2012 where he espoused his real feelings about climate change:
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Trump has also suggested in interviews that he would completely do away with the Environmental Protection Agency (but we shouldn’t worry because the “environment will be just fine.”)
As for Senator Ted Cruz, who currently resides in a distant second place in the Republican race, his attacks on climate science have been well documented during his tenure in office. In December 2015, while the rest of the world was focused on the Paris Climate Talks, Cruz was holding a hearing in the Senate where he attempted to disprove climate change with the help of climate denying scientists. Science Magazine laid out what happened at those December hearings:
Cruz believes that carbon dioxide (CO2) “is good for plant life,” that the planet “is greener right now” than in the past, and that “for significant periods in history, prior to the industrial revolution, there has been markedly more CO2 in our atmosphere that could not have come from the burning of fossil fuels.” He also believes that “for the past 18 years … there has been no significant warming whatsoever” and that the current computer models used to understand global climate trends “are profoundly wrong … and inconsistent with the evidence and the data.”
At the same time, Cruz did not acknowledge that carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning have more than quadrupled since the 1950s and that the amount of C02 in the atmosphere has climbed by one-third, to nearly 400 parts per million, over that period. Asked by ScienceInsider whether he agrees that such data are correct, Cruz declined to comment.
As Science pointed out, the hearing had less to do with debunking climate science for the public and everything to do with scoring political points for his presidential bid. And if his campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry are any indicator, his moves are paying off in a big way.
Senator Cruz’s legislative record shows that he not only disavows science, but he also has no regard for the health of the environment. He tried to reverse the moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion; he has voted against protecting ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems; and he is in favor of allowing state governments to lease federal lands for energy exploitation.
According to his campaign website, Cruz is also not a fan of the Environmental Protection Agency and would make the Department of Energy focus on extraction, rather than innovation:
The Department of Energy has never discovered a barrel of oil. Instead, it actively hinders innovation and discovery as it selects “winners” – that frequently go on to lose millions of dollars, even going bankrupt – while making it harder for entrepreneurs to succeed. Created by the Carter Administration in 1977, the Department of Energy was designed to direct a national energy policy. Two years later, those directives included mandating room temperatures and distributing rationing coupons for gasoline. The Department of Energy has since caused taxpayers to fund politically motivated programs that prop up favored interests.
In August 2015, for example, the White House announced the start of the Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Impact Investment Center, an effort to raise public awareness of climate change. This program, along with the EPA’s job-killing, cost-inducing Clean Power Plan, exemplifies the ways in which the Obama Administration has used the Department of Energy as a partisan tool for furthering its agenda, at taxpayer expense.
Cruz is using the typical anti-environmental talking points that have been thoroughly debunked by experts for years, but again, his political life is dependent on fossil fuel money, so they are effectively paying him to be ignorant on this issue.
How about the Democrats?
The candidates from the Democratic Party hold considerably different views from the Republican candidates, but there are still some very important differences between the two remaining Democrats that need to be discussed.
Both former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders accept that climate change is happening and that it is a threat that needs to be addressed.
In November, Secretary Clinton laid out a very ambitious plan to get America off of coal and focus on an energy plan that relies on renewable energy. Clinton’s plan would spend $30 billion on renewable energy projects in coal industry-dependent states to train and educate industry workers to work in the renewable energy field. This move would not only help significantly cut carbon emissions, but it would also silence the talking point about job loss related to the coal industry’s decline.
In December 2014, Clinton told a crowd at a League of Conservation Voters dinner, “Sea levels are raising, ice caps are melting, storms, droughts and wildfires are wreaking havoc, 13 of the top 14 warmest years in recorded history have happened since 2000, and this past summer scientists found levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere not seen in hundreds of thousands of years.”
There’s no question that Secretary Clinton understands the risks posed by climate change, but there are some questions remaining about her sincerity in addressing the issue. Just a few months before finally coming out against the Keystone XL Pipeline, she told a crowd that she would not be taking a position on the issue and that the project was in the process with the government and that’s where it belonged.
But during her time as Secretary of State, Clinton was the one who had the power to veto the project before the debate even began. Instead, members of her staff went on to become lobbyists for TransCanada, where they enjoyed a direct line to Hillary Clinton to help influence her decision. DeSmogBlog has documented the conflicts of interest that Clinton had with the project in detail, and you can read about them here.
Senator Bernie Sanders has the longest record as an elected official, and therefore we’re able to get a very clear picture of what he’s done to help the environment and address climate change. And that’s quite an impressive record.
According to On The Issues, Sanders has long been on the side of the environment. Here are just a few snippets from his impressive record:
- Climate change partly causes rise of terrorist groups. (Nov 2015)
- Address climate change so we can leave planet to our kids. (Oct 2015)
- Climate change is a moral issue: tax on carbon. (Oct 2015)
- Opposed Keystone Pipeline from day one. (Oct 2015)
- Combat climate skeptics with overwhelming evidence. (Sep 2015)
- Keystone pipeline transports the dirtiest fossil fuel. (Sep 2015)
- Charge companies for carbon emissions; then fund renewables. (Apr 2015)
- Transform to sustainable system & away from fossil fuels. (Mar 2015)
- Voted NO on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. (Apr 2011)
- Voted YES on removing oil & gas exploration subsidies. (Jun 2007)
- Voted YES on factoring global warming into federal project planning. (May 2007)
- Voted YES on keeping moratorium on drilling for oil offshore. (Jun 2006)
- Voted NO on scheduling permitting for new oil refinieries. (Jun 2006)
- Voted NO on authorizing construction of new oil refineries. (Oct 2005)
- Voted NO on passage of the Bush Administration national energy policy. (Jun 2004)
- Voted NO on implementing Bush-Cheney national energy policy. (Nov 2003)
- Voted YES on raising CAFE standards; incentives for alternative fuels. (Aug 2001)
- Voted YES on prohibiting oil drilling & development in ANWR. (Aug 2001)
- Voted YES on starting implementation of Kyoto Protocol. (Jun 2000)
- Sign on to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. (Jan 2007)
- Climate change will lead to international security crises. (Nov 2015)
- Protect important watersheds and wildlife areas. (Sep 2015)
- Very large farms raise questions about animal cruelty. (Oct 2012)
- Voted YES on protecting ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. (May 2013)
- Prohibits commercial logging on Federal public lands. (Apr 2001)
- Rated 100% by HSLF, indicating a pro-animal welfare voting record. (Jan 2012)
- Require labeling genetically engineered food. (Apr 2013)
It is important to note that while Sanders does support labeling GMOs, he has said that GMOs should be allowed (but only if labeled.)
As mentioned earlier, the contributions from the fossil fuel industry play a larger role in the stances of some of the candidates than the will of the American public.
Senator Cruz has received more direct money from the fossil fuel industry than any other candidate during this presidential election, pulling in a grand total of more than $932,000. Secretary Clinton ranks third in total receipts, trailing Cruz and Marco Rubio, who has now dropped out of the race.
Clinton has received close to $270,000 in this cycle in direct contributions, but she has also received “bundled contributions” from lobbyists and executives within the fossil fuel industry, effectively making her the largest recipient of dirty energy money in this election.
As for both Sanders and Trump — the two candidates running on “people-powered” campaigns — they have pulled in $37,000 and $10,000 respectively from fossil fuel interests. Since 1989, Sanders has received $172,000 from the energy industry, meaning that he has received less money from the industry over his entire career than almost any other elected official in the House or Senate.
The positions of these respective candidates are immensely important during this election, as scientists are now warning that climate change is occurring much faster than originally anticipated and that we may have already reached the point of no return.
The next U.S. president must take the climate issue seriously before things get worse.
Image credit – The Warrior Online.