Be Bold for the Climate on Super Tuesday

On Super Tuesday, voters will indicate the direction of the country for the next four or eight years. The Presidential Primary election will reveal whether they think small incremental steps are sufficient, given the major issues we face as a nation.

The issues are especially acute for young people:

  • lack of stable, middle-class jobs
  • disparity between the haves and have-nots growing larger every year
  • the health care system, although improved by the Affordable Care Act, is still run by insurance and drug companies whose billing procedures make no sense, and where costs for minor procedures or prescription drugs run into the tens of thousands of dollars
  • need for criminal justice reform, and the ongoing issues of racial profiling and the use of lethal force against unarmed black people, which gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement
  • enormous costs of a college education, threatening families with financial ruin, and the debt a constant source of stress among Millennials

There are solutions to these problems, but they will never be enacted unless we harness the collective will, as expressed in our elections, for larger-scale, non-incremental solutions and in ongoing citizen engagement with the political process.

Lessons from Copenhagen and Keystone XL

For climate change voters, important lessons can be found in the Obama Administration's response to two of the biggest leadership tests on climate change over the past eight years: the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December 2009, and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposal. The results are not comforting to environmentalists looking at the "status quo" candidate in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

After Copenhagen, the White House's story was that President Obama swooped in on the last day and "saved" the talks. But the supposed saving did not do much for anyone or anything. Six precious years of climate action were irretrievably lost until the Paris talks, which finally achieved what Copenhagen should have. The main difference between Copenhagen and Paris was that under Secretary Hillary Clinton's watch, the State Department was not committed to success at the international climate talks. Some think their actual goal was to scuttle the talks. Paris succeeded where Copenhagen failed because this time the Administration conducted bilateral talks with the Chinese in advance and spent political capital when it counted. Perhaps this is because President Obama is now more concerned with his green legacy, or he is no longer as afraid of Republican opposition as he was in 2009. But some credit for Paris' success is due to Secretary of State John Kerry, and some blame for Copenhagen is due to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On Super Tuesday voters should ask themselves, how many more years will be lost if a status quo candidate who cannot articulate a clear vision for international climate action is elected president.

The other major issue, the Keystone XL pipeline, was a no brainer if you care about climate change. Until just a few months ago Secretary Clinton still had not taken a position. Maybe the fault lies with President Obama's "all of the above" energy policy. If Secretary Clinton was fine with it before, will she continue with "all of the above" for another four or eight years? Waiting so long to take a position on Keystone XL looks plain cowardly in retrospect. Bill Clinton's presidency was known for his constant political calculations while liberals waited for him to reluctantly do the right thing after all other options were exhausted.

Perhaps it was President Obama's, Rahm Emanuel's, or another political operative's idea to leave the environmental constituency hanging out there in limbo for so long, so that the party could raise funds from Tom Steyer and his wealthy green friends. Meanwhile, climate activists were deluged for seven long years with countless online petitions, email alerts, and clogged inboxes from and others, just so he could finally make an obvious decision he should have made years before. Super Tuesday will be a referendum on whether this status quo approach is acceptable to voters anymore.

We have no time to waste. The business as usual scenario will use up the global carbon budget by 2030. At that point, the climate science would mandate imposing a ban (not just a cap and tax) on fossil fuel extraction. A ban would put all fossil fuel companies immediately out of business and likely cause a global recession, to be followed by a political backlash that returns us to the business as usual environmental catastrophe scenario. A better plan would be a carbon price under a declining cap, with revenues returned to households as a climate dividend. In 2013 Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (along with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)) introduced a bill that returns 60 percent of carbon revenues to households. A bold policy like that would only succeed if pushed by a bold President.

In the Democratic primary, there is one candidate who has shown indecision and another who has shown leadership. Be bold: the planet is at stake. In other words: #FeeltheBern.