NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Bernie Sanders unveils bold plan for securing climate justice in the 2020s and beyond

Until he dropped out of the race on Wednes­day, Wash­ing­ton State Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee was the unri­valed Demo­c­ra­t­ic cham­pi­on of cli­mate jus­tice.

On Thurs­day, either by acci­dent or design, Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders unveiled the most expan­sive, bold cli­mate action plan of any­one left run­ning for pres­i­dent.

Bernie Sanders walking in a parade

U.S. Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders walk­ing in the Inde­pen­dence Day parade with sup­port­ers in Ames, Iowa. (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Sanders chose Par­adise, Cal­i­for­nia – the epi­cen­ter of wild­fires that took over 80 lives last year – to lay out a $16.3 tril­lion plan of nation­al mobi­liza­tion.

By com­par­i­son, Inslee’s far-reach­ing plan allo­cat­ed around $9 tril­lion to avert­ing cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe.

None of the oth­er cur­rent can­di­dates’ plans come any­where close to the ambi­tion of the Senator’s pro­pos­al. Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s cur­rent plancrit­i­cized fierce­ly for its insuf­fi­cien­cy by Jay Inslee in the sec­ond night of the July debate – ded­i­cates $1.7 tril­lion to cli­mate action and aims for pol­lu­tion neu­tral­i­ty (which is zero net emis­sions, not zero emis­sions over­all) by 2050.

Even Eliz­a­beth Warren’s plan is small in com­par­i­son to Sanders’. Her pro­pos­al calls for the invest­ment of $2 tril­lion in green research, man­u­fac­tur­ing and export­ing.

Sanders’ plan – which draws heav­i­ly from Green New Deal con­cepts being devel­oped by pro­gres­sive Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers in Con­gress – aims to elim­i­nate U.S. emis­sions by 2050, in line with the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Unit­ed Nations’ Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change.

The plan specif­i­cal­ly tar­gets the elec­tric­i­ty and trans­porta­tion indus­tries (the two biggest pol­luters in the U.S. econ­o­my), aim­ing to reach 100% renew­able pow­er for both by 2030. The plan goes even fur­ther for the elec­tric­i­ty sec­tor.

Draw­ing from his left wing roots, Sanders wants to expand pub­lic own­er­ship of pow­er com­pa­nies until elec­tric­i­ty is “vir­tu­al­ly free” in 2035.

His plan address­es pol­lu­tion both at home and abroad. Coun­tries in the Glob­al South will be giv­en assis­tance to reduce their emis­sions by over a third by 2030, through the estab­lish­ment of a $200 bil­lion Green Cli­mate Fund.

On the morn­ing of Novem­ber 8th, 2018, the Camp Fire erupt­ed 90 miles (140 kilo­me­ters) north of Sacra­men­to, Cal­i­for­nia. The Oper­a­tional Land Imager on Land­sat 8 acquired this image on Novem­ber 8th, 2018, around 10:45 AM local time (06:45 Uni­ver­sal Time). The nat­ur­al-col­or image was cre­at­ed using bands 4–3‑2, along with short­wave infrared light to high­light the active fire. (Pho­to: NASA).

While $16.3 tril­lion is a mind-bog­gling amount of mon­ey – an amount Repub­li­can pro­pa­gan­dists will undoubt­ed­ly have a field day with – it pales in com­par­i­son to the costs of cli­mate dam­age if we do not act.

Research projects that cli­mate dam­age will shat­ter the U.S. econ­o­my by the end of the cen­tu­ry, knock­ing off as much as $34 tril­lion in Amer­i­can pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.

What’s more, Sanders’ team plans to make the poli­cies pay for them­selves. The way to do that is by “mak­ing the fos­sil fuel indus­try pay for their pol­lu­tion through lit­i­ga­tion, fees, and tax­es, and elim­i­nat­ing fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies.” While this seems over­ly puni­tive on its face, the pol­i­cy should be tak­en in the con­text of decades of ener­gy cor­po­ra­tions sup­press­ing cli­mate sci­ence to boost prof­its.

Besides the pop­ulist appeal of puni­tive mea­sures against destruc­tive fos­sil fuel cor­po­ra­tions, Sanders’ plan could have huge ben­e­fits for the broad­er Amer­i­can pub­lic. The Sanders cam­paign claim that this pro­pos­al could effec­tive­ly “end unem­ploy­ment” by cre­at­ing over twen­ty mil­lion new clean ener­gy jobs and help­ing work­ers to tran­si­tion to more envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly indus­tries.

Sanders’ plan also includes mea­sures tar­get­ed at increas­ing envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, promis­ing to put mar­gin­al­ized groups at the front of the line when it comes to reap­ing the ben­e­fits of the planned tril­lions of dol­lars of invest­ment.

While Sanders’ plan is clear­ly a chal­lenge to the oth­er can­di­dates to step up, parts of it are like­ly to cause future con­tro­ver­sy even among envi­ron­men­tal activists, per­haps chiefly its anti-nuclear pro­vi­sions and the fact that it rules out invest­ment in pol­lu­tion cap­ture and stor­age tech­nolo­gies.

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