The Iowa caucuses are just over a week away, and Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are neck and neck in the polls. In the past few days, the two have sparred over corruption and Social Security and gun control, and earlier this week, both campaigns released videos coming after the other candidate.
But things escalated further on Friday when Biden brought up Sanders’ climate plan while talking with reporters in Iowa. When asked about Bernie Sanders’ climate plan on Friday, he said, “there’s not a single solitary scientist that thinks it can work.” Here’s the thing: He’s wrong.
Earther spoke with scientists who support the plan, including members of the newly formed Sunrise Movement scientists caucus. But more importantly, it’s clear that Sanders’ plan is soundly grounded in what science says is necessary to avert the worst impacts of climate change.
Sanders’ $US16 ($23) trillion climate plan would move the U.S. energy and transit sectors to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030, move toward 100 per cent publicly owned power, and create millions of sustainable jobs. The sweeping set of proposals received the highest score of any presidential candidate’s from Greenpeace, 350 Action, Data for Progress, and the Sunrise Movement, who also endorsed Sanders with the support of 76 per cent of its members who voted. Its goals also aligns with those outlined in a 2018 United Nations report showing how fast emissions will need to drop in order to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
“I think Biden doesn’t understand what an emergency this is,” Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist who endorsed Sanders last month, told Earther. “[Sanders’] is the climate plan that’s commensurate with the problem. It’s the one fit for an emergency. And this is an emergency.”
Biden camp has largely avoided hitting back at Bernie but the candidate occasionally can’t seem to help it.
Biden hits Bernie’s climate plan: “There's not a single solitary scientist that thinks it can work."
— Alex Thompson (@AlxThomp) January 24, 2020
When Earther spoke to researchers at the time Sanders’ plan dropped last August, some expressed concern about the plan’s commitment to forego nuclear. But on many other aspects, they said the plan also rung true and that it presented important milestones to strive for given the risks climate change poses.
“The recognition that electrifying vehicles and decarbonizing the grid entirely are not only both entirely possible, but they are cost-effective and are doubly so when done together,” Daniel Kammen, an energy researcher at the University of Cailfornia, Berkeley, told Earther at the time. “The 2030 goal for 100 per cent clean electricity and 100 per cent EV use will draw the most fire, but it is a goal worth fighting for.”
Kalmus similarly noted the plan would likely change. It’s the start of a conversation and not the final note that will require tussles with Congress among other things. “But fundamentally, Bernie gets what an emergency this is, which is what’s important,” he said.
Biden has a climate plan, too. It’s got some good stuff in it like banning fossil fuel development on public lands. But at $US1.7 ($2) trillion, it’s far narrower than Sanders’, and it’s got some big problems like not banning fracking and overemphasizing the role of technology in solving the climate crisis. His ties to the fossil fuel industry and record also don’t bode well for him to enact serious climate policy if elected.
“It’s like, Do you trust this guy to actually do this thing? I don’t know. I don’t think so,” Isaac Larkin, a PhD candidate in biology at Northwestern University and member of the Sunrise Movement’s newly-formed scientists caucus, told Earther (Larkin was also at the centre of a heated exchange at CNN’s climate crisis town hall last year about Biden’s attendance at a fundraiser hosted by a fossil fuel executive). “But I think Bernie’s plan [and] coalition support make him the candidate most likely to actually address climate change...because it’s going to take a lot of support to take on the fossil fuel industry. They’re going to fight even the most modest changes to protect...their profits.”
You can argue about some of the details of Sanders’ climate plan, but you can’t argue about the seriousness of the crisis it will have to take on. The climate crisis is already causing heat waves, wildfires, storms and floods. And unless we take serious action, it’s going to get far, far worse. On that, the science is clear and the Sanders’ plan is absolutely in line with what’s needed to address it.
“To have any chance of getting to net-zero by 2030, we certainly need a plan that looks a lot more like Sanders’ than Biden’s,” Kalmus said. “I don’t know if we can get to net-zero emissions by 2030, no one knows. But I do know that it’s up to us, and if we don’t try, then we certainly will fail.”