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

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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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