LAS VEGAS, Nevada, October 14, 2015 (ENS) – Climate change was among the important issues debated by the Democratic presidential candidates on Tuesday when they met in Las Vegas for a primetime event broadcast on CNN.
At the debate were former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, who is also a former secretary of the Navy, and former Governor and U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.
The moderators were CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN en Espanol anchor Juan Carlos Lopez.
Chafee was the first to mention the dangers of Earth’s warming climate, which many viewers consider to be the defining issue of our time. In his opening remarks, the former Rhode Island governor, who has been elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican and to the governor’s mansion as an Independent, said, “I want to address climate change, a real threat to our planet.”
O’Malley, a former Mayor of Baltimore and former governor of Maryland, also mentioned the climate in his opening, saying, “We must square our shoulders to the great challenge of climate change and make this threat our opportunity. The future is what we make of it. We are all in this together. And, the question in this election is whether you and I still have the ability to give our kids a better future. I believe we do, that is why I am running for president…”
Later in the debate, O’Malley named climate change as one of the greatest security threats to the United States today.
Sanders also gave the climate a place in his opening remarks. “Today, the scientific community is virtually unanimous: climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and we have a moral responsibility to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy and leave this planet a habitable planet for our children and our grandchildren,” the Vermont senator declared.
Sanders said climate change is the greatest security threat facing the country.
“The scientific community is telling us that if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable. That is a major crisis,” said the Vermont senator.
Clinton too included climate change in her opening. “I’ve put forward specific plans about how we’re going to create more good-paying jobs: by investing in infrastructure and clean energy, by making it possible once again to invest in science and research, and taking the opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy,” she said.
Clinton has just come out in opposition to the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which needs a Presidential Permit to cross the Canada-U.S. border carrying diluted bitumen from the oil sands of Alberta. Pipeline critics warn that the extraction, transport and burning of this heavy oil will accelerate planetary warming.
President Barack Obama has put off signing a permit for years while environmental assessments and litigation were ongoing.
O’Malley challenged her on that reversal, to which Clinton replied, “We know that if you are learning, you’re going to change your position. I never took a position on Keystone until I took a position on Keystone.”
The exchange brought out a behind-the-scenes story from the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 during which then Secretary Clinton said she and the president were motivated to get commitments from large emitters to limit their greenhouse gases. At the time the Obama Administration was under pressure to bring the large developing countries to agree to work on climate change before Congress would allow the United States to make further commitments.
So on the last day, after they were told the Chinese delegation had already left for the airport, Clinton and Obama discovered them in a secret meeting at the Copenhagen conference center.
Clinton told the debaters, “I have been on the forefront of dealing with climate change, starting in 2009, when President Obama and I crashed a meeting with the Chinese and got them to sign up to the first international agreement to combat climate change that they’d ever joined.”
“So I’m not taking a back seat to anybody on my values, my principles and the results that I get,” she said.
Then, the CNN moderators turned to a question posed via Facebook. Anna Bettis from Tempe, Arizona asked, “As a young person, I’m very concerned about climate change and how it will affect my future. As a presidential candidate, what will you do to address climate change?”
O’Malley answered that he has a plan “to move America forward to a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2050” and he would sign an order on his first day as president to implement such a plan. He said the plan would extend the investor tax credits for solar and for wind.
Webb said the question really is “how are we going to solve energy problems here and in the global environment if you really want to address climate change?”
As a U.S. senator from Virginia, Webb said he was “an all-of-the-above energy voter.”
“We introduced legislation to bring in alternate energy as well as nuclear power. I’m a strong proponent of nuclear power. It is safe, it is clean. And really, we are not going to solve climate change simply with the laws here,” said Webb, the most right-leaning of the five debaters.
“We’ve done a good job in this country since 1970,” said Webb. He blamed China and India as the world’s greatest polluters, and said “the so-called agreements that we have had with China are illusory in terms of the immediate requirements of the – of the Chinese government itself.”
Sanders said he agrees with the position taken by Pope Francis in his recent encyclical on climate change, that, “This is a moral issue. The scientists are telling us that we need to move extremely boldly.”
Sander was one of the senators who introduced the first piece of climate change legislation that called for a tax on carbon.
“Let me also tell you that nothing is gonna happen unless we are prepared to deal with campaign finance reform, because the fossil fuel industry is funding the Republican Party, which denies the reality of climate change,” Sanders said to applause.
“This is a moral issue,” Sanders repeated. “We have got to be extremely aggressive in working with China, India, Russia. The future of the planet is at stake.”
Clinton expressed support for Obama’s climate change work, saying, “I do think that the bilateral agreement that President Obama made with the Chinese was significant. Now, it needs to go further, and there will be an international meeting at the end of this year, and we must get verifiable commitments to fight climate change from every country gathered there.”
Finally, when asked to name their greatest enemy, only one of the candidates for the presidential nomination brought up the climate. Chafee said, “I guess the coal lobby. I’ve worked hard for climate change and I want to work with the coal lobby. But in my time in the Senate, tried to bring them to the table so that we could address carbon dioxide. I’m proud to be at odds with the coal lobby.”