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.
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 plan – criticized 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.
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.