News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

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East Bay DSA

February 21, 2020

Bernie is the climate candidate

By Stephanie Hung

The Australian bushfires. Hurricane Dorian. Record floods in the Midwest. California wildfires.

These climate events all happened in a single year. In 2019, we watched our homes burn to the ground and entire towns flattened by wildfires. We have seen hurricanes and flash floods completely destroy our farmlands and entire cities. Fire has ravaged millions of acres of land, and unprecedented levels of rainfall have devastated millions more.

We are already feeling the effects of climate change, and it will only get worse. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a group of climate experts that advise governments around the world on the issue — says we must keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid catastrophe. That means we have just 10 years, as a planet, to halve our carbon emissions and 30 years to fully decarbonize our economy.

Most presidential candidates have put forth plans to tackle climate change, but many of these plans fail to reflect the urgency and the scale of the crisis. We need to rapidly and radically transform our economy. Our lives literally depend on it.

Only one presidential candidate has a plan and the public support to do that: Bernie Sanders. 

Bernie Sanders revealed his Green New Deal proposal in Paradise, California, a town that knows climate disaster firsthand. Sanders’ proposal to tackle the climate crisis is by far the boldest in the Democratic presidential field. It’s no surprise that he has earned the praise and endorsements of leading climate organizations, like Sunrise Movement and Climate Justice Alliance, and renowned environmental activists like Naomi Klein and Josh Fox. Sanders also consistently receives the highest scores from environmental groups like Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity for being the best candidate on climate and environmental issues.

In a nutshell, Sanders’ Green New Deal will

  • Transform our energy system to 100% clean energy and create 20 million jobs by 2030
  • Fully decarbonize our economy by 2050
  • End the greed of the fossil fuel industry and hold it accountable
  • Ensure justice for frontline communities and a just transition for all affected workers

There is a big price tag: $16.3 trillion. Pundits are calling it “too radical” and saying Americans won’t be on board with it. They are dead wrong. In fact, Sanders’ Green New Deal is the only plan that treats climate change as a real international emergency. This is the only plan that is realistic enough and the only plan that actually matches the scale of this existential crisis. So, it is the only plan that will save us from immense human suffering, thousands of lives lost, and trillions of dollars in irreversible damage.

The realism of Sanders’ Green New Deal

Sanders’ climate plan is the most realistic in five crucial respects.

1. It puts justice first.

As Naomi Klein put it, “we have to get out of this ‘my crisis is bigger than your crisis: First, we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women.’ That doesn’t work.” Sanders understands why that doesn’t work. He knows we cannot put climate change before other issues that are at stake in this election because those issues are also existential crises for the most marginalized and oppressed in our society.

That is why Sanders does not just want to slash emissions but to address economic, gender, and racial injustice at the same time. Sanders’ plan puts justice first by weaving climate and environmental justice principles throughout the entire 35-page document. In fact, he is the only candidate in the Democratic field to incorporate the Jemez Principles, a set of environmental justice principles adopted at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, into their climate plan. 

2. It creates 20 million new jobs and does the most to take care of workers.

We have drastically transformed the energy sector once before. As part of the New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt built infrastructure to deliver electricity throughout the U.S. while creating millions of jobs in the process. If we could radically overhaul our energy system then, we can certainly do it now. Since Sanders’ vision of a green economy is the most ambitious, his plan will create the most jobs: 20 million to be exact.

Sanders has also committed $1.3 trillion to help workers in fossil fuel and other high-emitting industries find work with a living wage and good benefits. Under this plan, workers would have a five-year wage guarantee, job placement assistance, relocation assistance, healthcare, and a pension based on their previous salary. Sanders’ Green New Deal also provides four-year college education or vocational training to these workers, with all expenses covered, if they wish to pursue a different career.

3. It is internationalist.

Sanders has not only committed to reducing the carbon footprint of the U.S. but has also vowed to help countries in the Global South (excluding China) reduce theirs by 36%. This is important because it will not matter if the U.S. goes carbon-neutral or carbon-negative while other countries continue to burn fossil fuels. There needs to be a concerted global effort to collectively reduce emissions. Most countries in the Global South have contributed the least to climate change, while nations like the U.S. have been expelling carbon into the atmosphere for over a hundred years. Sanders states, “we have an outsized obligation to help less industrialized nations meet their targets while improving quality of life.”

This sets Sanders apart from his opponents — like Elizabeth Warren, for example, whose strategy for getting the rest of the world to cut their emissions is to export American-made green technology to poor countries and turn a profit for U.S. companies. This approach is fundamentally different from Sanders’ because Warren’s “economic patriotism” does not acknowledge any moral obligations to other countries. By allowing U.S. companies to profit from “greening” other countries, Warren’s plan will exacerbate unjust inequalities between the U.S. and poorer countries. Historically, the U.S. has contributed more to climate change than any other country in the world. We must own this responsibility and help other countries, especially less industrialized and more vulnerable countries, combat the problem that we helped to create.

4. It includes a mechanism to take polluters to court and make them pay.

Another major difference between Sanders and other candidates is his willingness to stand up to corporations. Just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of the world’s carbon emissions. ExxonMobil knew about climate change since the 1970s and intentionally hid it from the public. It would be outrageous not to make these companies pay for the problem they created. Other candidates have vowed to hold fossil fuel companies accountable, but Bernie Sanders has gone the farthest to make these polluters pay: he would authorize his Department of Justice to take fossil fuel companies to both civil and criminal court, similar to how the federal government prosecuted tobacco companies in the 1980s.

5. It calls for public ownership of our energy system.

Sanders’ plan exceeds those of other candidates in democratizing and decommodifying energy. Sanders supports the public ownership of all renewable energy generated under his Green New Deal plan, as well as the expansion of public utilities. Grassroots organizations have already made efforts to take power companies into public ownership all over the country, including in Maine, Chicago, and New York City.

In California, organizations have been mounting pressure to turn Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the major investor-owned utility that serves most of northern California, into a public utility. PG&E has come under fire for its direct involvement in 1,500 wildfires over the past six years — including the deadliest wildfire in California history — and its decision to shut off power to millions of people last year, which most severely impacted the medically vulnerable and people with disabilities. It is no secret that PG&E has prioritized their investor dividends and executive profits over ensuring the fire safety of their power lines.

Sanders refuses to let corporations like PG&E take control of and profit from our transition to renewable energy because these companies have repeatedly put profit over people. Putting all renewable energy in the hands of the public — not investors and CEOs — allows us to make decisions about our energy system, prioritize our health and safety, and redistribute concentrated wealth from shareholders back to ratepayers.

The trillion dollar question: How are we going to pay for it? 

Sanders’ Green New Deal is the only climate plan that measures up to the New Deal or the Marshall Plan in scope and magnitude. None of his opponents come close. Put simply, the Green New Deal is too big to talk about in terms of any single issue because it not only lays out a clear path to stabilize the climate but also aims for clean air, clean water, a regenerative economy, healthcare, affordable housing, and good-paying union jobs for everyone. 

Achieving these goals requires a big budget. Bernie’s Green New Deal includes full funding over 15 years with revenue from 20 million new jobs, revenue from publicly owned renewable energy and utilities, cuts in funding for the military (which is currently used to protect oil shipping routes), taxing the wealthy, eliminating billions of dollars in annual federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and making oil and gas companies pay for their pollution through litigation, taxes, and fees. 

Sanders continues to fight for our future on the campaign trail and in Congress. Just last month, for example, he introduced a bill to ban fracking. We need someone we can trust to tackle climate change and fight for a better future for everyone — someone who we know will not succumb to corporate pressure because they have stood up to billionaires and corporations their entire political career. We must elect the climate candidate for president.