Climate Change and renewables in an election year—where do the presidential candidates stand?

When you’re passionate about sustainability generally and solar in particular—and deeply concerned about the latest climate news—what’s the experience of this year’s election cycle?

Chances are you don’t hear as much as you’d like about climate or renewables, even from the more substantive candidates. And not so much from the election-focused media, either.

We’re setting records for temperatures globally month after month (global temperature in March shattered a century-long record, and by the greatest margin yet seen for any month). Noted climate scientists have been sounding louder, shriller alarms as they project Antarctica and Greenland melting even sooner and faster than predicted. And the Great Barrier Reef appears bleached beyond repair (when the water is too warm, coral expels the algae necessary for the coral’s survival and turns completely white, leaving it vulnerable to disease and death).

That’s just for starters.

Some candidates and voters seem to grasp that all this and more represents a key issue that trumps (sorry!) nearly all other issues—that we’re truly teetering on the precipice of no return (no crying wolf here). But the media certainly don’t seem to focus on it as much as we’d like, given the alarming signs and signals.

We thought we’d share a roundup of what we’re seeing on key issues related to climate and renewables, from the candidates who remain standing at this point.

Donald Trump: The Republican presidential presumptive nominee has repeatedly has said he isn’t “a believer” in human-caused climate change. He told “Fox & Friends”  that climate change “is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money.”

In his own tweets, Trump has called the concept of global warming everything from a “hoax” to “bulls—” to a scheme “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He’s also said, “I believe It goes up and It goes down” and ”unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather.”

He has called wind energy “not good” economically. He says “Wind is destroying the environment in many, many places” and windmills are “disgusting.”

And solar? He told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto “solar is weak and has not been effective and is very, very expensive.”

He has promised to open shuttered coal mines in Appalachia.

‘Nuff said?

Hillary Clinton: Clinton has promised to install half a billion solar panels by 2021. However, solar energy is already growing rapidly—the U.S. solar market grew by 17 percent in 2015—so this increase might happen even if Clinton’s plan were not enacted. Clinton also supports production tax credits for wind and solar power.

Clinton has been criticized by environmental groups and stakeholders for taking campaign donations from fossil fuel interests, raising concerns about her ability to stand up to these companies when it comes time to regulate them and to deny them access to fuels that should stay in the ground.

While she has denied taking fossil fuel money (including in an infamously angry outburst at a Greenpeace activist), Greenpeace has defended its allegation that she does so by producing documentation of where its numbers were derived.

Clinton also supports fracking, and increased the practice extensively around the world while serving a Secretary of State. And finally, she does not support a tax on carbon.

Given her oft-noted predilection toward walking back controversial proposals when it’s politically expedient (last November she announced that she would do away with the coal industry if elected president; last week in a confrontation at an Ohio town hall, she said she wanted to see coal “continue to be sold and continue to be mined” and that her previous comments were taken “out of context.”)  This leads one to wonder what might happen to her solar proposal as well.

As Naomi Klein wrote in The Nation on April 6, Clinton’s corporate worldview—not just the cash she receives from fossil fuel interests—is the real issue. That’s because the climate threats facing the nation and world require swift and decisive action, not incremental change. And the changes most urgently needed may not be a win-win that makes corporations happy—and the president we need now must be free and willing to make the hard decisions.

“If we’re to have any hope of avoiding catastrophe, action needs to be unprecedented in its speed and scope… A president willing to inflict these losses on fossil-fuel companies and their allies needs to be more than just not actively corrupt. That president needs to be up for the fight of the century—and absolutely clear about which side must win.”

Bernie Sanders: Among the three major candidates remaining, Bernie Sanders has proposed the most urgent and specific policies for shifting rapidly toward 100 percent reliance on renewable fuels. He proposes a tax on carbon and insists that fossil fuels must stay in the ground. He has referenced statements by Pope Francis to support his argument that moving away from fossil fuels toward renewables is a moral imperative to protect the planet.

He is also patently opposed to any fracking whatsoever, as succinctly noted in his March 16 debate with Clinton:

In the Senate, Sanders has introduced multiple bills designed to expand access to renewable energy, including the Low-Income Solar Act, the Residential Energy Savings Act and the Green Jobs Act. Sanders has also proposed legislation to ban all new fossil fuel production leases on public lands, and supports production tax credits for wind and solar power.

“If we want a chance at protecting our nation’s coastal cities—including New York, where this week’s Democratic debate is being held—then we must keep fossil fuels in the ground,” the climate group 350 Action has written, pleading with the Clinton Foundation to forswear donations from fossil-fuel interests. “That’s going to take a lot of backbone.”

Sanders has taken no money from fossil-fuel interests and said publicly he will implement policy immediately to keep fossil fuel in the ground. Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, when he stepped up to endorse the Vermont senator in a New York Times op-ed, wrote: “[Bernie Sanders] has passionately advocated for pivoting from fossil fuels to renewable energy to save our planet from global warming — the greatest threat facing humanity,”

What do you think? Is climate being addressed enough in this election cycle? Are you happy with the media’ coverage of this issue in the context of elections? Who do you think will do most for renewables and for solar in particular? Who’s the best candidate for climate and the planet? What issues are most important to you? Join us on Facebook or Twitter and tell us what you think.


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