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26 April 2019

Sanders and climate change as the “Kingmaker” issue of 2020

We have mentioned before that the next US election is likely to be fought on climate change and naysayers have pointed out that it is only 11th on the list of priorities among voters when they are questioned in polls.

One of the reasons for that fact is that no-one has dared raise it because it may prevent them finding funding from the wealthy oil, coal and gas interests that tend to privately fund US politicians in a deal to keep their government privileges. Now one of his long term political opponents, Democrat Bernie Sanders has gone on record deploring Trump’s irresponsible record on climate change, opening the way for it to become at least one of the political footballs that will be thrown back and forward over the coming year.

This sets out the stall for crowd funding of political candidates which was so popular in the US mid-term elections, and that in turn will mean that lobby groups will be able to exhibit less control of the winner’s policies.

Donald Trump’s love of coal and oil and pipelines is not simply because that’s what he thinks, it is part and parcel of his campaign funding.  Murray Energy, Alliance Coal, American Airlines, Jenmar Corp (mining) the US armed forces (the largest user of oil in the country), Lockheed Martin, XPO Logistics and Boeing are among those who helped fund his campaign, each of whom have a vested interest in transport, fuels or oil or coal. To get that funding he no doubt made promises and his publicly raised doubt around renewables is part and parcel of the payback.

Trump can certainly add up, and he knows that this is not an industry that will employ more people next year, although he has positioned his support as being about jobs, and making American great again, when it is simply the fact that he has become one of the biggest predators in the “Swamp,” that he so devoutly promised to drain.

Sanders, himself perhaps too old to make good on his current popularity and make it all the way to the White House, has fired the first shot in what will be a long and dirty climate change war, making it clear that were he elected he would wage war on fossil fuel companies.

We would expect fossil fuel companies to respond in two ways – firstly to offer tons of loony anti-climate change “evidence” that has been recycled over the years, which never stands up to deep scientific scrutiny, and secondly to look for a winner to back, in either political camp, which does not have Sanders’ anti-fossil fuel priorities.

Sanders website states very clearly, “We say to Donald Trump and the fossil fuel industry that climate change is not a hoax but is an existential threat to our country and the entire planet — and we intend to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy and, in the process, create millions of good paying jobs. All of us have a moral responsibility to make certain that the planet we leave to our children and grandchildren is healthy and habitable.”

And here is what he will do about it

  • Pass a Green New Deal transforming the US energy system away from fossil fuels to 100% sustainable energy
  • Invest in infrastructure programs to protect the frontline communities most vulnerable to extreme climate impacts
  • Reduce carbon pollution emissions from transportation systems by building out high-speed passenger rail, electric vehicles, and public transit
  • Ban fracking and any new fossil fuel infrastructure and ban fossil fuel leases on public lands
  • End exports of coal, natural gas, and crude oil.

Politics is cyclic in that the outrage that Trump has created by being flippant about Climate Change in various tweets, has come home to roost and if Sanders is not the candidate to attract all the benefits of that outrage it will only be if another candidate in the 2020 Presidential Election does an even  better job.

The rant was one of 22 issues on the Sanders website, and it has not been frontline in any major speech as yet, and other issues may overtake it in priority, but it leverages from the attention that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reaped around her Green New Deal idea, which almost became law in the current administration.

To us at Rethink this type of rhetoric becoming law in say three years would stimulate a response from other major countries particularly over the continued investment in coal plants (in China, Indonesia, India and Brazil) and the continued push that almost treats natural gas and fracking as if it were a renewable – simply because it burns with less CO2 than coal. A tightening of the political regime in the US would lead to the extension of solar subsidies, greater willingness for finance to engage with wind power, the abandoning of a comeback for the nuclear industry, all of which would lead to greater public awareness of renewables both home and abroad. The Renewables industry would get richer and US companies would benefit from the increased funding and begin to export any know-how they develop – until now the US has almost no specialist renewables skills outside a few engineering groups and the troubled GE which has a considerable renewables arm.

However this outcome is pretty much assured anyway if the current level of investment continues, and even if President Trump is re-elected, which let’s face it currently looks as likely as any outcome, it is US money that is largely seeking renewables funding opportunities both inside and outside the US. The next wave of Bifacial solar projects by then would be under way, and suitably more profitable than existing subsidized deals and closer to parity with gas.

But if any candidate continued to embrace the Green New Deal, much of that funding could be found from federal coffers as well, sweetening existing renewables deals – making renewables even more profitable, more urgent and even have the potential to bring the US in line with the Paris agreement.

Specifically putting an end to exploration on government lands and banning fracking, would have the effect of accelerating Blue Hydrogen and alternative fuels or risk eliminating the airline industry. Effectively Sanders has raised the bar – if you want to be a Presidential candidate, and make climate change one of your issues, you have to promise at least as much as Sanders, but probably more. Health may right now be the biggest issue in US politics, but climate change is in the outside lane, coming up from the rear, and making a run for home.

It goes without saying that Sanders will not be accepting any campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies.