For anyone who pays attention to current politics, Bernie Sanders is a big name. Whether he is seen as a frightening radical, an admirable political revolutionary, or a pitiable underdog with no chance of winning, he is certainly being talked about. While opinions on his economic and social theories are entirely subjective, one area where it can be proven that he is in the right is his stance on scientific issues – particularly global warming. When compared with three other key figures in the race (Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush) his stance on global warming is the most comprehensive and science-based.
Before going into the political nature of the global warming question, one must clearly understand the science behind it. According to an article on Scientific American, gases we call "greenhouse gases” such as methane, carbon dioxide and others, have become more concentrated in the atmosphere due to human activity. These gases “trap [heat] within the atmosphere by means of the well-known greenhouse effect, leading to global warming” (Collins et al).
This is clearly caused by humans because of evidence that gas concentrations have increased dramatically post-industrialization – methane levels, for example, have increased so much they are two and a half times pre-industrial levels (Collins et al).
The main political debate surrounding this issue stems from a fundamental liberal-vs. conservative ideology clash. Conservatives tend not to believe in global warming, or, if they do, they tend not to acknowledge its man-made nature. This is likely due to an inherent skepticism in conservative ideology.
Without concrete proof, they tend to not be eager to jump to action. The problem with global warming is that, while there is plenty of evidence for global warming and its man-made nature, the progress of climate change happens on such a slow timeline and in relation to so many subjective ideas about the nature of our world that it cannot be observed in a controlled study. Additionally, conservatives tend to be more economically-driven, and industry is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases. Liberals, on the other hand, are traditionally more progressive and environmentally aware, and tend to jump on social justice bandwagons.
The politicians mentioned above represent a pretty wide range of modern political
ideologies. Bernie Sanders is radically liberal, bordering on (and often self-identifying as) socialist. Hilary Clinton is a rather more "traditional” democrat. Jeb Bush is a more middle-of the-road republican, at least in regards to climate change, and Donald Trump represents a fierce conservative foundation.
Donald Trump has not issued any official statements outlining his stance on climate change. However, he has discussed global warming on his Twitter Account, and this is outlined in the CBS article "Where the 2016 Republican Candidates Stand on Climate Change”. It quotes Trump's Twitter account with such gems as “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and “this very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice" ("Where the Republican Candidates Stand on Climate Change"). Clearly, he is dismissing scientific arguments for or against global warming and is simply using scare tactics, going so far as to say that global warming is a hoax. Not only is this categorically untrue, it shows a weak grasp of the phenomenon of climate change and a lack of basic understanding that there can be multiple temperatures across the globe, and not all of them have to be warmer than usual to reflect an upward trend in temperature. Additionally, because he has failed to release an official statement of his own, there is not much to do with him in terms of the climate change discussion except hope that he decides to pick up a science textbook sometime soon.
The next conservative candidate is Jeb Bush. He has, fortunately, a good deal more to say about global warming as an issue. As previously stated, he takes a somewhat more moderate stance on global warming than many of his peers – that is, he is willing to recognize that the global trend exists at all. The same article quotes Bush as saying "the climate is changing [but] I don't think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and…what percentage is natural. It's convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant.” Bush's statement loses credibility when one reads the quote, published by NASA, stating that “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities” (“Scientific Consensus: Earth's Climate is Warming"). Whether he is not aware of this or has chosen to ignore it is unclear, but even his “moderately conservative” stance directly contradicts the overwhelming scientific majority.
Hilary Clinton, a Democratic candidate, believes in climate change and acknowledges its man-made nature, which puts her ahead of the two Republicans. She outlines in a New York Times article her plan to deal with it. She says "the reality of climate change is unforgiving, no matter what deniers say" ( Gabriel et al). She called for a goal of 33% of the nations electricity coming from renewable sources by 2017, and she focused on wind and solar energy in particular. However, she has not gone as far as saying that she opposes the Keystone Pipeline – a pipeline delivering oil all the way from Canada to Texas which has the potential for some real environmental damage (not to mention that oil is not a clean source of energy!). It appears that she is headed in the right direction, but not quite there. Sure, she talks big – but talk can be cheap, and if she won't commit, who's to say that her talk is not just an angle at the typically very environmentally-conscious Democratic voter base.
Bernie Sanders not only publically agrees with climate change and wants a change, he strongly and vocally opposes the Keystone Pipeline. This is a main reason why Bernie Sanders' stance is superior. While it is good that they both agree with global warming and want to combat it, it appears that Clinton is still in the political game, shying away from making any real radical commitments. Sanders, however, is unafraid to take bold action regarding this issue (as he is with others), which makes him the most objectively environmentally-friendly candidate but also the most unpopular for members of the Republican party.
In addition to actively opposing the pipeline, Bernie Sanders also makes climate change a major talking point. On his website under Climate Change and the Environment, he is quoted as saying "Unless we take bold action to address climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn't the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientificcommunity told us would surely come?" ("Climate Change & Environment – Bernie Sanders'). He then goes on to outline the explicit action he has taken, including "[introducting) the gold standard for climate change legistlation…to tax carbonand methane emissions”, “[leading] the opposition to the keystone pipeline”, and [securing] $3.2 billion in the economic stimulus package for grants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” (“Climate Change & Environment – Bernie Sanders”).
Personally, I consider myself rather politically involved, and so I enjoy researching topics such as this to see where the candidates stand. I also care a great deal about the environment and keeping it around for future generations, so I can confidently say that learning that Bernie Sanders not only talks the talk but walks the walk when it comes to environmental issues is definitely a big deal for me. There are lots of other issues I care about that will contribute to my final voting decision, but learning that Bernie Sanders' stance on climate change is so closely aligned to science and to my own is definitely going to influence my final decision, and I will think twice about Bernie Sanders and continue to monitor all his policies.
In comparison to the three other frontrunners (Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, and Hilary Clinton), Bernie Sanders’ platform regarding climate change is the one that most closely aligns with science. From Donald Trump, who does not believe in climate change at all, to Jeb Bush who recognizes its existence but chooses not to believe we humans caused it, to Hilary Clinton who agrees something should be done but talks big without real action to back it up, all these candidates leave something to be desired when it comes to their interpretation of the real scientific problem of global warming. While Sanders does not have any immediate or magical solutions, his combination of talk and action based in science make him the most comprehensively science-friendly candidate in terms of the climate change issue.