Bernie Sanders’ Climate Plan: Huge Emissions Cuts, Emphasis on Environmental Justice

The Democratic presidential hopeful announces a plan later than his rivals, but one that takes on the fossil fuel industry.

Bernie Sanders announced a climate plan calling for steep cuts in greenhouse gases
Bernie Sanders' climate plan was called ambitious by environmental groups on Monday. Credit: Reuters

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Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders released a climate and energy plan on Monday, calling for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

To achieve that goal, Sanders pledged that if elected to the White House next year he would work to institute a tax on carbon, ban oil and gas drilling on public lands, offshore and in the Arctic, halt fracking for natural gas, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and invest heavily in renewable energy, adding 10 million clean energy jobs over the next several decades.

The release of the 16-page agenda, titled “Combating Climate Change to Save the Planet,” comes during United Nations treaty talks in Paris, where delegates from 195 countries are working to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius—the threshold after which scientists expect climate impacts to become calamitous.

Sanders described the negotiations as “an important milestone,” but one that “will not put the world on the path needed to avoid the most catastrophic results of climate change. We must think beyond Paris.”

Sanders’ strategy will use money from a carbon tax and savings from oil and gas subsidies to expand renewable energy, improve energy efficiency and invest in infrastructure projects like high-speed rail and other mass transit systems. He also placed a strong emphasis on environmental justice, vowing to defend minority and low-income communities expected to be hit the hardest by climate impacts like rising seas, heavy rain events and heat. Fossil fuel lobbyists will also be banned from working in the White House, the plan states.

The Vermont senator is the last of the Democratic presidential contenders to release a climate change plan. Hillary Clinton released hers in July and Martin O’Malley announced his in June. Unlike his opponents, however, Sanders took direct aim at the fossil fuel industry for slowing action on global warming through disinformation campaigns and political donations.

“Let’s be clear: the reason we haven’t solved climate change isn’t because we aren’t doing our part, it’s because a small subsection of the one percent are hell-bent on doing everything in their power to block action,” the plan states. “Sadly, they have deliberately chosen to put their profits ahead of the health of our people and planet.”

He also pledged to “bring climate deniers to justice” by launching a federal probe into whether oil and gas companies purposefully misled the American public on climate change. The plan credits the call for an investigation to ongoing reporting from InsideClimate News, and a separate but related project by the Los Angeles Times. InsideClimate News found that Exxon scientists conducted rigorous climate research from the late-1970s to mid-1980s and warned top company executives about how global warming posed a threat to Exxon’s core business. The company later curtailed its research program before leading a decades-long campaign to create doubt about the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Environmental activists applauded Sanders’ plan. Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard called it “a powerful call for climate justice” and Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune described it as “ambitious.”

“Climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet,” Sanders said in the plan. “This is every kind of issue all at once: the financial cost of climate change makes it an economic issue, its effect on clean air and water quality make it a public health problem, its role in exacerbating global conflict and terrorism makes it a national security challenge and its disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities and on our children and grandchildren make acting on climate change a moral obligation. We have got to solve this problem before it’s too late.”