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Bernie Sanders: The Environment Deserves a Debate

Climate

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is speaking out against the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) decision to hold only four general primary debates before the nomination, saying there needs to be room for specific topics, such as the environment.

In an interview with CNN's State of the Union (H/T ThinkProgress) on Sunday, Sanders explained, “I think environmentalists deserve a debate so we could talk about how we move aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel.”

The Vermont senator, who is catching up to Hillary Clinton in Iowa a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll shows, also went against his party's leadership and called for as many debates as possible.

“I think that that is dead wrong and I have let the leadership of the Democrats know that,” Sanders told CNN's Jake Tapper (as noted by The Nation). “I think this country benefits, all people benefit, democracy benefits when we have debates and I want to see more of them. I think that debates are a good thing.”

Sanders' words come after fellow Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley called the DNC's decision to limit the number of primary debates "undemocratic" and "rigged" to aid Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, since the low number of debates makes it more difficult for him and other candidates to win the nomination.

“Four debates and only four debates—we are told, not asked—before voters in our earliest states make their decision,” the former Maryland governor said at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Summer Meeting last week. “This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before. One debate in Iowa. That’s it. One debate in New Hampshire. That’s all we can afford.”

Sanders reportedly said he agreed with O’Malley on this position, but clarified on CNN, "I think 'rigged' is a strong word," and added, "I would like to see more debates."

Sheril Kirshenbaum, executive director of ScienceDebate, told ThinkProgress that she thinks voters should know where presidential candidates stand on a variety of science-related issues such as climate change, health and energy.

“People talk about these issues as if they’re just science issues and they’re really just human challenges,” she said. “No matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, they’re going to affect you and your family.”

As Evan McMurry wrote for AlterNet, Sanders is recognized for his glowing record on climate change, and even if he does not win the nomination, he can influence the debate, in part by framing climate change as a primary issue.

Also during his interview with CNN, Sanders further expressed the urgency to address the planet's climate crisis and the necessity to shift away from dirty energy.

“I believe, along with Pope Francis and almost all scientists, that climate change is threatening this planet in horrendous ways, and that we have to be aggressive in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel and defeat the Keystone pipeline," he said. For emphasis, Sanders (once again) called out the former Secretary of State's noted silence on the controversial Keystone XL.

At a press conference in July, the Vermont senator said, “I have helped lead the opposition against the Keystone pipeline. I don’t believe we should be excavating or transporting some of the dirtiest fuel on this planet. I think Secretary Clinton has not been clear on her views on that issue.”

Watch Sanders' entire State of the Union interview here.

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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."

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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."