Bernie Sanders Wins Climate Change Portion of First Democratic Debate

While climate change was often referenced in the first Democratic debate, few candidates actually said anything they'd do to fight it.


Tuesday night’s debate, the first between the contending Democratic presidential candidates, took place in a city that is quite likely to be sucked dry by climate change: Las Vegas.

While all five candidates addressed the topic, it was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who came out roaring, calling climate change a “moral issue” that has put “the future of the planet” at stake.

Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared her dedication to clean energy without laying out a formal plan.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made sure to address his plan for a clean energy electric grid twice, offering a 2050 target.

Clinton said she has been convinced that the nation needs to “invest in clean energy, invest in science and research, to take advantage of the opportunities posed by climate change to create clean jobs in our economy.” Clinton referenced a 2009 UN climate summit where she and President Barack Obama broke up a “secret meeting” between Chinese officials and were able to broker an agreement.

“When we met in Copenhagen in 2009 and literally, President Obama and I were hunting for the Chinese, going throughout this huge convention center. Because we knew that we had to get them to agree to something,” said Clinton.

Clinton emphasized that no effective methods against climate change will work until China and India “join the rest of the world.”


As the conversation turned to what is the biggest threat to U.S. security, Sanders took a sharp turn from his opponents and called out climate change as the single greatest threat to the nation.

O’Malley, the soft-voiced resident hottie hedged on a similar answer, stating that climate change makes foreign threats even worse. It’s likely that O’Malley was revisiting his statement that the rise of ISIS is connected to climate change, which has been mocked by the GOP but supported by science.

When asked how he would address climate change, O’Malley declared his plans to “move America forward to a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2050.” As president, he also plans on expanding tax credits for solar and wind power.

Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, predictably quiet and slightly nonsensical during the debate, spoke up when asked what political enemy he was most proud of and declared the coal lobby. His explanation, however, wavered and did not exactly sound like someone who is looking to make enemies with coal.

“I’ve worked hard for climate change and I want to work with the coal lobby,” said Chafee. “But in my time in the Senate, I tried to bring them to the table so we could address carbon dioxide.”


Coal was brought up again when former Virginia Senator Jim Webb was given the floor. Webb has been called by Mother Jones as “awful on climate change”. Being from a coal state, he has regularly stood up for coal power plants and opposed the use of EPA rules under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon emissions.

Webb dodged his poor environmental record and said that the issue is a “global problem” and “let’s solve this problem in an international way.” He also advocated for the use of nuclear power.


As has come to be his standard, Sanders made sure to highlight that the roof of all evil (i.e. climate change) is backed by big spending.

“This is a moral issue. The scientists are telling us that we need to move extremely boldly,” said Sanders. “And let me tell you that nothing is going to 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 and certainly is not prepared to go forward aggressively.”

But Sanders also stressed the personal need to combat climate change, arguing “we have a moral responsibility to transform our energy system . . .to leave this planet a habitable planet for our children and our children’s children.”

When it comes to climate change at the debate it looks like Sanders won for passion, O’Malley gets second for actually talking about a plan, and Hilary gets third for being a much better speaker than Webb and Chafee.

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