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Bernie Sanders: 'If the Environment Were a Bank, It Would Have Already Been Bailed Out'

Climate

A meme on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' Facebook page has already drawn more than 125,000 likes since it was posted two days ago. It reads: "If the environment were a bank, it would have already been bailed out." The comment, which he has made in the past, marries two issues at the heart of Sanders' presidential campaign: environmental stewardship and reform of the financial industry.

In a recent campaign video, Sanders said his presidential campaign is about "a grassroots movement of Americans standing up and saying: Enough is enough. This country and our government belong to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires." The Vermont senator has repeatedly railed against a financial system that only benefits the top one percent of Americans, while the Middle Class disappears. He claimed that "99 percent of all new income is going to the top one percent, and the grotesque level of wealth and income inequality today is worse than at any time since the late 1920s."

He has directed that ire particularly towards Wall Street, whose "greed, recklessness and illegal behavior," Sanders said, resulted in the 2008 Financial Crisis, the resulting Great Recession and the largest bank bailout in U.S. history. "If banks are too big to fail, then they are too big to exist" has become Sanders' campaign mantra. Earlier this year, he introduced legislation, the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act, and has co-sponsored bills such as the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act to rein in Wall Street bankers.

The government gave $9 trillion to financial institutions in order to prevent their collapse, according to the New York TimesIn Sanders' eyes, we spent trillions to bail out people who chose to "chase profit by gambling and making risky investments," and yet, so far only one banker is facing jail time for his actions.

“It is an outrage that not one major Wall Street executive has gone to jail for causing the near collapse of the economy," Sanders said last month. "The failure to prosecute the crooks on Wall Street for their illegal and reckless behavior is a clear indictment of our broken criminal justice system."

Just as the U.S. government has failed to hold Wall Street bankers accountable for its actions, Sanders believes, it has also failed to hold big polluters accountable. In contrast to Wall Street's massive bailout, the U.S. government's action on climate change continues to lag behind the recommendations of top scientists. When President Obama announced his Clean Power Plan in August, he hailed it as the "biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change." But Vox calculated that "if all goes as planned, the Clean Power Plan amounts to a six percentage point cut in current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030." That number is far below the 80 percent reduction that climate experts believe the U.S. needs to cut by that date.

On the legislative side, congressional action on addressing carbon emissions and, more generally, protecting the environment is continually stifled by partisanship. While some Republicans have embraced climate action—even going so far as to introduce legislation that put the climate challenge in the broader context of conservation, stewardship, innovation and conservatism—many continue to block efforts to enact meaningful climate change policies, such as a carbon fee and dividend.

Slate's Eric Holthaus analyzed the climate plans of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley. He said, "the O’Malley plan is almost a perfect example of what going all in looks like" and Clinton's plan was "rhetorically grand," but "scientifically unambitious." As for Sanders, the senator hasn't formally laid out a climate plan, but his voting record in the Senate and his positions on hot button issues from Keystone to Arctic drilling to renewable energy show that he is a strong environmental advocate.

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Protesters holding signs in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en Nation outside the Canadian Consulate in NYC. The Indigenous Peoples Day NYC Committee (IPDNYC), a coalition of 13 Indigenous Peoples and indigenous-led organizations gathered outside the Canadian Consulate and Permanent Mission to the UN to support the Wet'suwet'en Nation in their opposition to a Coastal GasLink pipeline scheduled to enter their traditional territory in British Columbia, Canada. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images

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California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.

The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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