“I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas,” Sanders said, referencing GOP-led efforts to bail out big banks during the 2008 financial crisis. “Please don’t tell me that we cannot take on the fossil fuel industry … nothing happens unless we do that.”
He continued: “Here is the bottom line: What do you do with an industry that knowingly, for billions of dollars in short-term profits, is destroying this planet. I say that is criminal activity. That should not be allowed to happen.”
The moment came during a heated exchange about how the 10 candidates hoped to address greenhouse gas emissions and the rapidly warming planet. Scientists have released increasingly dire predictions should the world fail to rein in the burning of fossil fuels, and the United Nations last year warned that a business-as-usual approach could bring about massive environmental crises as early as 2040.
Several candidates attacked plans put forward by progressive Democrats during Tuesday’s debate, including Sanders’ support for a Green New Deal. The proposal would lay the framework for a dramatic effort to tackle climate change, including efforts to transform the American energy system in hopes of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury, beginning as soon as possible.
But, though such efforts have garnered strong support among progressives, they remain controversial.
“Let’s not just talk about plans that are written for press releases that will go nowhere else if we can’t even get a Republican to acknowledge that the climate is changing,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said of such proposals during the debate.
Sanders rejected the characterization, saying that when it comes to tackling climate change, “there is no choice.”
“We have got to be super-aggressive if we love our children and if we want to leave them a planet that is healthy and is habitable,” the senator said.