The Candidates' Climate IQ

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton at the NHDP annual Jefferson Jackson dinner in Manchester, N.H., Sunday, N
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton at the NHDP annual Jefferson Jackson dinner in Manchester, N.H., Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

As the world gathers in Paris to hammer out a new comprehensive agreement to tackle climate change, the success or failure of that deal will rest to a great degree on the next President of the United States. Regardless of one's political or economic views, or scientific understanding of the topic, a lot is at stake for the world's environment and its economy, so our next choice of President matters. Here then is a summary of the candidates' "climate IQ" (focused on those most likely to win their party's nomination based on current polls*):

Candidate: Hillary Clinton (D)
What She Said on Climate Change: "The most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world."
Renewable Energy Policy: Would generate enough renewable energy to power every home in the U.S. within 10 years. (Please see: Hillary Clinton Climate Change Fact Sheet)
On President Obama's Clean Power Plan: Strongly supports
On the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline (from Canada to the US): Opposes

Candidate: Bernie Sanders (D)
What He Said on Climate Change: "Climate change is the greatest threat facing the planet ."
Renewable Energy Policy: Would add 30,000 megawatts of renewables and 200,000 solar waterheating systems in the U.S. within 10 years.
On President Obama's Clean Power Plan: Strongly supports
On the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline (from Canada to the US): Opposes

Candidate: Donald Trump (R)
What He Said on Climate Change: "Obama thinks it's the number one problem of the world today. And I think it's very low on the list. So I am not a believer."
Renewable Energy Policy: "‪@whitehouse‬‬‬ continues to defend the billions it pissed away on 'green energy' failures ‪http://bit.ly/11n5PGy ‬‬‬ Your money was wasted."
On President Obama's Clean Power Plan: No stated position
On the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline (from Canada to the US): Supports but wants "a better deal" for the US before approving

Candidate: Ben Carson (R)
What He Said on Climate Change: "There's always going to be either cooling or warming going on. As far as I'm concerned, that's irrelevant."
Renewable Energy Policy:Wants the USEPA to work with businesses to "to find the most eco-friendly ways of developing our energy resources."
On President Obama's Clean Power Plan: No stated position
On the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline (from Canada to the US): "It's perfectly safe, so I can't really see a good reason not to do it."

Candidate: Ted Cruz (R)
What He Said on Climate Change: "I'm a big believer that we should follow the science, and follow the evidence...there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years."
Renewable Energy Policy: Opposes any support, saying government should "not pick winners and losers."
On President Obama's Clean Power Plan: Voted twice to block it
On the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline (from Canada to the US): Strongly supports

Candidate: Marco Rubio (R)
What He Said on Climate Change: "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it."
Renewable Energy Policy: His energy plan supports an "all of the above" strategy, but is mostly weighted to fossil fuels.
On President Obama's Clean Power Plan: Opposes it
On the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline (from Canada to the US): "When I'm president, Keystone will be approved"

Candidate: Jeb Bush (R)
What He Said on Climate Change: "Human activity has contributed to it. I think we have a responsibility to adapt to what the possibilities are without destroying our economy."
Renewable Energy Policy: His energy plan does not mention renewables.
On President Obama's Clean Power Plan: Would repeal it
On the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline (from Canada to the US): Supports, calling it "a no-brainer"

Of course there are many more nuances to climate change and our energy choices than the few presented in this snapshot, but it does make clear which candidates are planning for a more sustainable future and which ones would keep us hostage to 19th century technology and energy sources. To be sure, some candidates have more detailed views on the subject, especially Republicans who know they might appeal to their primary election voters with fossil-fueled rhetoric, but will need a greener view to win a general election.

For example, in 2008 when I worked with Florida Governor Charlie Crist and State Assembly Speaker Marco Rubio on clean energy and climate change policies, both Republicans embraced the challenge, largely because of the opportunity to develop more solar power in the "Sunshine State;" use the abundant biomass from Florida's citrus and sugar cane industries to make cleaner fuels; and save money with energy efficiency programs like the ones we had pioneered in California.

I assume Senator Rubio's current preference for "brown" energy over "green" may change back to his earlier colors if he wins his party's nomination next year and needs to appeal to voters who want action on climate change. Was he trying to thread this tricky needle when he co-sponsored two bills to block implementation of President Obama's Clean Power Plan this year, but then skipped two votes in the Senate on resolutions that would have done the same thing?

In truth, there should be no disagreement here. The technologies that address greenhouse gas reductions are also massive domestic economic opportunities, especially those applied to renewables and clean fuels; energy efficiency; and waste reduction and reuse. The only real question is whether our next President has a high climate IQ and uses that wisdom, along with nearly 200 nations that will reach an agreement in Paris this month, to take meaningful action before its too late to avoid the worst environmental and economic consequences.

*All candidates views on the Clean Power Plan come from here