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None of the 2020 Frontrunners Go Far Enough on Climate

We must look to the grassroots for guidance in order to ensure the survival of all life on this planet.

Thousands of students from New York City and around the world walked out of class on March 15, 2019, to protest the lack of action to protect the earth from catastrophic climate change.

2018 was the fourth warmest year ever recorded, with the only warmer years being 2015, 2016 and 2017. We are currently in the middle of what is on track to be the warmest decade since record-keeping began.

The planet is already in the 6th Mass Extinction Event that we caused. Industrial civilization is injecting CO2 into the atmosphere at a rate 10 times faster than what occurred during the Permian Mass Extinction Event 252 million years ago that annihilated 90 percent of life on Earth. Our current extinction rate is 1,000 times faster than normal, and is higher than that of the Permian Mass Extinctions.

The oceans have absorbed 93 percent of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere. If the oceans had not absorbed that heat, global atmospheric temperatures would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit (97°F) hotter than they are today. Today’s carbon dioxide levels at 412 parts per million (ppm) are already in accordance of what historically brought about a steady-state temperature of 7°C higher. The oceans are now overheating, deoxygenating and acidifying.

Since just 1970, 60 percent of all mammals, birds, fish and reptiles are gone, and nearly 90 percent of all large fish have been eliminated from the oceans.

And things will only worsen, as the International Energy Agency announced that global carbon emissions set a record in 2018, rising 1.7 percent to a record 33.1 billion tons.

Truthout decided to take a look at the leading presidential candidates’ climate disruption policies to see if they went far enough to address this global catastrophe.

Stated Policies

According to Rolling Stone, the current leading presidential candidates were, until recently, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, and Pete Buttiggieg. But with Joe Biden now having entered the race, some polls show him as the frontrunner. I have included Jay Inslee here as well, however, despite his not being near the top of the field, given he has made climate disruption as his primary platform issue.

When it comes to rhetoric, the Democratic frontrunners sound pretty good on climate.

In the past Joe Biden has said the right things about the climate crisis, but his actions haven’t come anywhere near his rhetoric. He has called climate change an “existential” threat, along with having called on the Trump administration to take action on the issue. When he was vice president, he helped to orchestrate the Paris climate accord, which he has called the “best way to protect our children and global leadership.” In 1986, when he was a senator, Biden introduced the first ever climate bill to establish a task force on the issue.

However, activists now rightly challenge Biden over his climate policy. “Joe Biden has some catching up to do if he wants to show voters he’ll be a champion for confronting the fossil fuel industry. Joe will have to prove it if he wants the climate vote,” Greenpeace climate campaign specialist Charlie Jiang told Newsweek. “It’s easy for politicians to simply acknowledge that climate change exists. What’s harder is a real plan that measures up to the urgency of the crisis, including a detailed vision for ending fossil fuel expansion and protecting workers in a rapid transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy. We hope to see that from Vice President Biden and every serious candidate in the coming weeks.”

In a video posted on February 19 where Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for president, he listed climate disruption as one of his reasons for running:

I’m running for president because we need to make policy decisions based on science, not politics. We need a president who understands that climate change is real, is an existential threat to our country and the entire planet, and that we can generate massive job creation by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

On April 16 Sanders released his climate platform with the heading “Combat Climate Change and Pass a Green New Deal.” He promises that when he is elected he will do the following:

Pass a Green New Deal to save American families money and generate millions of jobs by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100% energy efficiency and sustainable energy. A Green New Deal will protect workers and the communities in which they live to ensure a transition to family-sustaining wage, union jobs.

Invest in infrastructure and programs to protect the frontline communities most vulnerable to extreme climate impacts like wildfires, sea level rise, drought, floods, and extreme weather like hurricanes.

Reduce carbon pollution emissions from our transportation system by building out high-speed passenger rail, electric vehicles, and public transit.

Ban fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure and keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground by banning fossil fuel leases on public lands.

End exports of coal, natural gas, and crude oil.

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris, ranked number three at the time of this writing, has Tweeted: “Climate change is an imminent threat to our planet unless we correct course. It’s within our power to do so. Now is the time.”

In the Senate, Harris introduced the “Living Shorelines Act of 2018,” which, had it passed, would have directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to make grants to communities in order to mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise and stronger storms. When she was California’s attorney general, she launched an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil lied to the public and its shareholders about the risks posed by climate change.

Harris also co-sponsored Senator Markey’s Green New Deal resolution, saying: “Climate change is an existential threat, and we must deal with the reality of it. We must radically shift the conversation on how to address the climate crisis we are facing because we are running out of time to act.”

Currently at number four, Elizabeth Warren, during her Town Hall on CNN, issued a dire warning of what could happen if the U.S. does not take immediate action to address the crisis: “I have an 8-year-old grandson, and I think about what the world is going to be like when he’s 38. Will it be a place where our cities are underwater part of the time? Will it be a place where the oceans — large parts of the oceans — are dead? Will it be place where people around the world are just fighting for clean water?”

Warren has called for a moratorium on oil drilling on federal lands, and also backs the Green New Deal, saying it is a pragmatic response to the consequences that come with living on a warmer planet. She said she would re-establish the U.S. as a worldwide leader on climate issues.

As for Beto O’Rourke, during a march in El Paso in February he told reporters that Markey and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal Resolution “is the best proposal that I’ve seen to ensure that this planet does not warm another two degrees Celsius, after which we may lose the ability to live in places like El Paso…. It is on all of us — not just Congress and the president, but everyone in this country — so that we all do everything we can to get the specific laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels to match that commitment, as well as harnessing the ingenuity and innovation that comes from this great country to match that challenge.”

When Pete Buttigieg rolled out his candidacy, he told The Atlantic, “If you’re my age or younger … you’re going to be dealing with climate change for most of your adult life in specific, noticeable ways.” Buttigieg is 37. In February, Buttigieg told Jake Tapper on CNN that he endorsed the Ocasio-Cortez/Markey Green New Deal resolution. “I think it’s the right beginning. The idea that we need to race toward that goal and that we should do it in a way that enhances the economic justice and level of opportunity in our country, I believe that is exactly the right direction to be going in.”

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, ranked 12 in Rolling Stone’s candidate list as far as his chances of winning at the time of this writing, nevertheless has a strong climate crisis platform when compared to the other candidates.

Inslee has made combating the impacts of climate disruption his signature policy, and he has a track record of doing so, even though it still does not go nearly far enough given the depth and progression of the crisis. He has created a $120 million clean-energy fund, and is now directing his state government to set new caps on emissions (although this is being challenged in court) and has launched the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of 22 governors implementing the Paris climate accord.

During his formal announcement of his candidacy at a solar installation in Seattle, he gave his four primary goals:

Number one, we will power our economy with 100 percent clean, renewable, and carbon-free energy and achieve net zero greenhouse gas pollution in the United States.

Number two, we are going to create millions of good paying jobs in every community investing in clean energy. We are going to build electric cars in Michigan. We are going to build and install wind turbines in Iowa. And we are going to install solar right here in Washington State. That’s what we’re going to do.

And while we do this, we will focus on justice and inclusion as a centerpiece of this economic transformation, to ensure no group is left to bear the cost of transition and everyone benefits from new jobs and investment.

And finally we need to end the giveaways and billions in subsidies to fossil fuel industries.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post on January 17, Inslee wrote, “Confronting this change has been the driving force of my time in public life. About a decade ago [in 2007], I co-wrote a book about the need to transform our economy to one run on clean energy and the need for a national Apollo mission-style project to take on this herculean task.”

Reality Check

If you read the 2020 Democratic candidates’ platforms in a vacuum, and they may sound compelling. However, if we keep in mind the true magnitude of this crisis, they are nowhere near adequate. What is necessary is nothing short of a plan that coordinates global governments to work together to get completely off fossil fuels immediately. This must be coupled with mandated and funded programs to have farmers begin wide-scale mitigation efforts like soil regeneration and planting trees on a vast scale for natural carbon sequestration. Plus, half of the land on the planet should be designated as wilderness areas. And that’s for starters.

The best policy platforms are not to be found on the websites of political candidates of any stripe. Instead, we must look to grassroots efforts for guidance. Consider the group Climate Mobilization, which is advocating for a massive shift in climate policy. Their platform is as follows:

Reverse global warming and restore a safe and stable climate that supports the continued existence of organized human society.

Ensure a Just Transition for all disadvantaged and climate vulnerable communities and workers.

Reverse Ecological Overshoot by shrinking the ecological footprint of the global economy to approximately half a planet per year.

Halt the Sixth Mass Extinction by returning species (both vertebrate and invertebrate) extinction rates from the current highly elevated levels of 10-100 extinctions per million species per year to the previously normal baseline background rates of approximately 1 extinction per million species per year.

De-acidify the Oceans by eliminating net carbon dioxide emissions and drawing down (or removing) excess carbon dioxide.

Their mission is “to initiate a WWII-scale mobilization to protect humanity and the natural world from climate catastrophe.”

“Emergency economic mobilization is a mode of existential risk response usually adopted to fight a world war, in which defeating the opponent — and producing the munitions required to do so — becomes the overwhelming priority of the entire economy and society,” Climate Mobilization co-founder Ezra Silk told Truthout.

Some of the group’s climate mobilization strategies include: driving the economy to near-zero greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible, slashing global greenhouse gas emissions immediately, and transforming the agricultural and food system to a net greenhouse gas-sequestering and more plant-based model while phasing out fossil fuels as rapidly as possible.

While these lofty goals may sound unattainable, given the global capitalist system in which we are so deeply embedded, the group believes these must be the goals if species, including our own, are to have any possibility of continuing.

Truthout asked Silk, who is now the group’s Strategy and Policy Director, if any of the aforementioned presidential candidates were on a track that is in alignment with the aims of The Climate Mobilization. The answer was no, but surprisingly, he pointed to the climate platform of a long-shot candidate.

“Right now we are most excited about Marianne Williamson’s climate platform,” Silk said. “Her groundbreaking platform correctly identifies climate change as an ‘existential emergency,’ criticizes the dangerously high temperature targets in the Paris Accords … identifies and proposes aggressive solutions to address emissions from the agricultural sector and factory farms, promotes a more plant-rich diet and the need for family planning … and calls for a large-scale effort to sequester carbon over the next ten years.”

As unachievable as those goals might sound given the current situation, Silk points out that even these don’t “quite go all the way yet.”

Given how unlikely it is that anyone with a radical enough climate platform to generate serious climate crisis mitigation results could actually be elected in a corrupt, neo-fascist corporate electoral system, we must not see the 2020 election as the endgame in taking action on climate change. Instead, it is one small component of what needs to be a much broader approach. We each must decide what lengths we are willing to go to in order to work for the planet and live with integrity in these times.

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