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When former Vice President Joe Biden effectively clinched the Democratic nomination in April, one major concern for the climate movement was the fact that his plan for tackling the issue was less ambitious than that of some of his primary rivals.
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With their podiums placed six feet apart as a precaution against the coronavirus, the two leading Democratic presidential primary candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off on public health and the climate crisis at the 11th Democratic debate.
By Jessica Corbett
Octogenarian actor and activist Jane Fonda declared ahead of a climate action protest in California Friday that the U.S. needs a "climate president" and she is now backing Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is leading a grassroots movement challenging the Democratic Party establishment coalescing around former Vice President Joe Biden.
"We have to get a climate president in office, and there's only one right now, and that's Bernie Sanders," Fonda told USA TODAY prior to the Los Angeles rally. "So, I'm indirectly saying I believe you have to support the climate candidate."
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While Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been in Washington this week for the impeachment trial, he has put forth two bills to help the environment.
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Six Democratic presidential candidates squared off Tuesday night in Des Moines, Iowa for the seventh primary debate of the season and the last before voting begins with the Iowa caucuses Feb. 3. The climate crisis tied with health care for the No. 1 issue important to Iowa voters when choosing a candidate, according to the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll. So how much attention did it get during the debate?
National Security<p>The first climate mentions came in response to the first question, about which candidate was best prepared to be commander-in-chief.</p><p>Both former South Bend, Indiana Mayor <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Pete-Buttigieg" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pete Buttigieg</a> and Sen. <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/elizabeth-warren" target="_self">Elizabeth Warren</a> (D-Mass.) listed the climate crisis among new national security issues they would tackle as president, according to a transcript provided by the <a href="https://eu.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2020/01/14/democratic-debate-transcript-what-the-candidates-said-quotes/4460789002/" target="_blank">Des Moines Register</a>.</p><p>Philanthropist Tom Steyer brought up the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/australia-wildfire-deaths-2644394434.html" target="_self">wildfires in Australia</a> when asked how he would use military force as a president, suggesting that the climate crisis might require large international mobilizations.</p><p>"[T]here's a gigantic climate issue in Australia, which also requires the same kind of value-driven coalition-building that we actually should be using in the Middle East," he said.</p>
Trade<p>The next time the candidates brought up climate was during the discussion of a new trade deal struck by President Donald Trump with Mexico and Canada. Sen. <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bernie-sanders" target="_self">Bernie Sanders</a> (I-Vt.) came out strongly against it, largely because it does not mention climate change.<br></p><p>"[E]very major environmental organization has said no to this new trade agreement because it does not even have the phrase 'climate change' in it. And given the fact that climate change is right now the greatest threat facing this planet, I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very, very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions in the world," he said.</p><p>Democratic lawmakers had pushed for a commitment to the Paris agreement to be included in the deal, but that did not make it into the final draft, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/14/us/politics/fact-check-january-debate.html" target="_blank">The New York Times pointed out</a>.</p><p>Sanders also fought back when Pfannenstiel tried to shift his answer from climate to trade more narrowly.</p><p>"Well, they are the same in this issue," he said, according to the transcript.</p><p>Steyer joined Sanders in saying that he would not sign the deal because it failed to mention climate.</p>
'Managed Retreat'<p>The first question directly raised by the moderators about the climate crisis brought up last spring's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/flooding-nebraska-bomb-cyclone-2631998694.html" target="_self">disastrous flooding</a> in the Midwest and focused on what candidates would do about farms and factories that could not be relocated.</p><p>The question first went to Buttigieg, who spoke generally about the need to act on climate until the moderators repeated the question.</p><p>"We are going to have to use federal funds to make sure that we are supporting those whose lives will inevitably be impacted further by the increased severity and the increased frequency," he said.</p><p>The question then went to Steyer.</p><p>"Look, what you're talking about is what's called managed retreat," Steyer answered. "It's basically saying we're going to have to move things because this crisis is out of control. And it's unbelievably expensive. And of course we'll come to the rescue of Americans who are in trouble."</p>
Fracking<p>Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) received some pushback from climate activists when she defended her decision not to call for an all-out ban on <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/fracking/" target="_self">fracking</a>.</p><p>"When it comes to the issue of fracking, I actually see natural gas as a transition fuel. It's a transition fuel to where we get to carbon neutral," Klobuchar said.</p><p>Her remarks come less than a week after a <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/us-oil-gas-emissions-2644654513.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3" target="_self">study</a> found that new oil and gas emissions projected for the next five years could nearly cancel out the decline in coal emissions, partly enabled by the fracking boom and the falling price of natural gas.</p><p>"I cannot believe I am listening to<a href="https://twitter.com/amyklobuchar" target="_blank"> @amyklobuchar</a> talking about fracked gas as a bridge fuel in 2020," Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash tweeted in response.</p>
Climate Credentials<p>Over the course of the debate, the candidates attempted to position themselves as the best person to take on the climate crisis in office.</p><p>Steyer emphasized that climate was his top priority.</p><p>"And I'm still shocked that I'm the only person on this stage who will say this. I would declare a state of emergency on day one on climate," he said.</p><p>Warren, meanwhile, painted herself as the best person to get to the root cause of decades of climate inaction.</p><p>"Mr. Steyer talks about it being problem number one," she said. "Understand this, we have known about this climate crisis for decades. Back in the 1990s we were calling it global warming, but we knew what it was. Democrats and Republicans back then were working together because no one wanted a problem. But you know what happened? The industry came in and said, we can make big money if we keep them divided and make no change. Priority number one has to be taking back our government from the corruption. That is the only way we will make progress on climate, on gun safety, on health care, on all of the issues that matter to us."</p><p>Sanders, for his part, pointed to his plan for a <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/green-new-deal" target="_self">Green New Deal</a> to transition to 100 percent renewable energy in 10 years.</p><p>"If we as a nation do not transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, not by 2050, not by 2040, but unless we lead the world right now — not easy stuff— the planet we are leaving our kids will be uninhabitable and unhealthy," he said.</p><p>Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, pointed to his legacy.</p><p>"[B]ack in 1986, I introduced the first climate change bill — and check PolitiFacts (sic); they said it was a game-changer. I've been fighting this for a long time. I headed up the Recovery Act, which put more money into moving away from fossil fuels to — to solar and wind energy than ever has occurred in the history of America," he said.</p>
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The climate crisis had its strongest showing to date in the sixth Democratic primary debate hosted by Politico and PBS in Los Angeles Thursday.
First Mentions<p><br>As <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/democratic-debate-climate-questions-2641418575.html?rebelltitem=5#rebelltitem5" target="_self">in November</a>, Sen. <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bernie-sanders" target="_self">Bernie Sanders</a> (I-Vt.) was the first candidate to mention the climate crisis before it officially came up in the debate. That mention came when he was asked if he would vote in favor of a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that recently passed the House of Representatives.</p><p>Sanders said he would not support the new agreement, partly because it does not address environmental issues.</p><p>"And, by the way, the word 'climate change,' to the best of my knowledge, is not discussed in this new NAFTA agreement at all, which is an outrage," Sanders said, according to a debate transcript published by <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/12/20/transcript-december-democratic-debate/" target="_blank">The Washington Post</a>.</p><p>Sen. <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/elizabeth-warren" target="_self">Elizabeth Warren</a> (D-Mass.) was the next candidate to raise the issue independently when answering a question about what she would say to voters who think the economy has been strong under President Donald Trump. Warren echoed other candidates' arguments that many Americans were still struggling and said this was because the government tended to work better for the wealthy than for everyone else. The climate crisis, she argued, was a case in point.</p><p>"Works great for giant oil companies that want to drill everywhere, but not for the rest of us who see climate change bearing down upon us," she said.</p><p>After these early references, the candidates were then fielded three climate-related questions that led to a robust back-and-forth.</p>
The Question of Sacrifice<p>The first two climate questions revolved around issues of sacrifice. The first, directed at Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked if she would subsidize the relocation of families and businesses away from places vulnerable to <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/wildfires" target="_self">wildfires</a> or <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/sea-level-rise" target="_self">sea level rise</a>. The second, directed at former Vice President Joe Biden, asked if it was worth it to sacrifice immediate growth in the oil and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/natural-gas">natural gas</a> industries for the sake of transitioning to a greener economy.</p><p>The candidates mostly side-stepped the first question and focused on their climate policies. Klobuchar said she would rejoin the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/paris-agreement" target="_self">Paris agreement</a> and reinstate Obama-era policies like the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/clean-power-plan" target="_self">Clean Power Plan</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/vehicle-efficiency-emissions-2481798622.html" target="_self">higher auto-efficiency standards</a>.</p><p>Billionaire Tom Steyer said he would declare a state of emergency on day one of his administration, and challenged South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg to make the climate crisis a higher priority.</p><p>Buttigieg, for his part, promoted his plan to institute a carbon tax and use the dividends to fund <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/renewable-energy/" target="_self">renewable energy</a> research.</p><p>But the candidates also pushed back on the idea that <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-action" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate action</a> necessarily meant sacrifice.</p><p>"Not only can we clear up the air and water in the black and brown communities where our pollution is concentrated, this is also the opportunity to create literally millions of middle-class union jobs, well-paid, across the United States of America," Steyer said, according to the transcript. "Our biggest crisis is our biggest opportunity."</p><p>Biden also argued that he would sacrifice <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/fossil-fuels" target="_self">fossil fuel</a> growth — what sacrifice moderator Tim Alberta of Politico said could cost thousands to hundreds of thousands of blue collar jobs — because "the opportunity for those workers to transition to high-paying jobs, as Tom said, is real."</p><p>Sanders came out most forcefully against the notion of sacrifice, challenging the framing of the question itself, according to HuffPost.</p><p>"It's not an issue of relocating people and towns," Sanders said, to thunderous applause. "The issue now is whether we save the planet for our children and grandchildren."</p>
The Question of Nuclear<p>Alberta then focused the climate conversation on <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/nuclear" target="_self">nuclear</a> energy with a question first directed at Warren.</p><p>"Many of our Western allies rely heavily on nuclear energy because it's efficient, affordable, and virtually carbon-free. And many climate experts believe that it's impossible to realize your goal of net zero emissions by the year 2050 without utilizing nuclear energy. So can you have it both ways on this issue?" Alberta asked, according to the transcript.</p><p>Warren reiterated her commitment to keeping existing nuclear plants running while transitioning away from fossil fuels, but said she would not build any more reactors.</p><p>"We've got to get the carbon out of the air and out of the water. And that means that we need to keep some of our nuclear in place," she said.</p><p>On this issue, she differs from Sanders, who has promised to shutter existing nuclear reactors, according to HuffPost.</p><p>Businessman Andrew Yang, meanwhile, came out strongly in support of reactors that use thorium, which produces less waste than uranium.</p><p>Steyer, however, argued that nuclear was not competitive price-wise in the U.S. and raised the problems of disasters and waste storage.</p><p>"We actually have the technology that we need. It's called wind and solar and batteries. So, in fact, what we need to do, we can do," Steyer argued.</p>
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Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has entered the crowded 2020 Democratic primary, the billionaire announced Sunday. But despite Bloomberg's record of fighting the climate crisis on the national and international stage, environmental activists expressed concern over his decision to enter the race, InsideClimate News reported.
By Julia Conley
Joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Friday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders held the largest rally of any 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to date in Iowa, drawing more than 2,400 people to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.
Naomi Klein and Youth Environmental Leaders to Join Bernie Sanders and AOC for Climate Crisis Summit in Iowa
By Jake Johnson
Author and environmentalist Naomi Klein, U.S. Youth Climate Strike co-founder Isra Hirsi, and Sunrise Movement leader Zina Precht-Rodriguez are among those slated to join Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Iowa on Saturday for a "Climate Crisis Summit" focused on the urgent need for a Green New Deal.
On Tuesday night, the Democratic presidential candidates gathered for what The Guardian said was the largest primary debate in U.S. history, and they weren't asked a single question about the climate crisis.
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