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Climate Finally Gets A Debate Spotlight

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, and Hillary Clinton speak during the CNN Democratic Presidential Primary Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Thursday, April 14, 2016 in New York. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, and Hillary Clinton speak during the CNN Democratic Presidential Primary Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Thursday, April 14, 2016 in New York. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton talked more about climate change in Thursday’s debate than in any previous debates.

Sanders highlighted Clinton’s work as Secretary of State supporting fracking globally and said her plan to address climate change was “incremental.”

“Now, what I think is when we look at climate change now, we have got to realize that this is a global environmental crisis of unprecedented urgency,” the Independent senator from Vermont said. “We have an enemy out there, and that enemy is going to cause drought and floods and extreme weather disturbances. There’s going to be international conflict.”

Clinton hit back that her plan was more realistic than Sanders’.

The two have both made addressing climate change a key part of their platforms, but Sanders’ plan undoubtedly goes further than Clinton’s does. Sanders supports eliminating new leases for drilling in the Gulf, halting programs to extract coal, gas, and oil on public lands, and banning fracking nationwide.

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Clinton has said that banning fracking outright would keep the United States’ electricity sector tied to coal, which, when burned, emits nearly twice as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide as natural gas does. Asked why, given her support for fracking worldwide as Secretary of State, her position on fracking has changed, Clinton denied that it has.

“I don’t think I’ve changed my view on what we need to do to go from where we are, where the world is heavily dependent on coal and oil, but principally coal, to where we need to be, which is clean renewable energy, and one of the bridge fuels is natural gas,” Clinton said.

The argument for natural as a bridge fuel has been heavily criticized by environmentalists. The process of extraction, transporting, and storing natural gas has significant climate implications, as well. In fact, studies have suggested that the methane emissions associated with fracking for natural gas completely negate any climate benefit of using the “cleaner” fuel.

“I have big, bold goals, but I know in order to get from where we are, where the world is still burning way too much coal, where the world is still too intimidated by countries and providers like Russia, we have got to make a very firm but decisive move in the direction of clean energy,” Clinton said.

Clinton, a former senator from New York, where the debate was held, said that Sanders’ proposals would not be able to get the support from Congress necessary to, for instance, ban extraction on public land.

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Clinton did not respond to Sanders’ repeated allegations that she does not support a carbon tax, which the socialist-leaning Sanders has proposed.

Ironically, many economists think a carbon tax — the so-called market approach — is likely the best way to curb carbon emissions.

Despite their differences, the two Democratic candidates are worlds away from where the Republican field has been on climate. None of the Republican candidates even accept the scientific consensus that, yes, the planet is warming, and, yes, humans are causing it.