If you follow the politics of climate change, you know that Bernie Sanders has the support of the hard-core environmentalists. Despite the practical challenges to his plans and the incredible costs predicated ($16.3 trillion over 10 years), the Sanders followers are proclaiming the rainbow.
Joe Biden’s plans will cost $1.7 trillion over 10 years and tackle the same issues as Sanders does—but in much broader, less time-restrictive strokes. Since his big Super Tuesday win, the environmentalists are getting on Biden’s case. Here are the major differences between the two:
- Fracking, the two-edged sword: natural gas has been a big factor in taking down coal-burning plants but makes its own contribution to global warming. Bernie wants to end fracking immediately; Biden wants to limit the release of methane, fracking’s by-product, and fund research into carbon capture.
- Nuclear: Sanders would end all nuclear energy production (some 20 percent of all U.S. energy now). Biden would explore development of advanced nuclear technologies, relying on perhaps promising innovations in the works. No target dates.
- Emission deadlines: for Sanders everything must run on renewable energy by 2030; Biden calls for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Biden’s climate plans aren’t less thorough than Sanders’s. He makes detailed recommendations for action, but they are less time-bound if not less urgent. Yet they seem to have been a factor in winning him Super Tuesday votes. He’s building a broader coalition.
One explanation is that
most voters don’t meaningfully distinguish between the candidates’ climate plans. Although some voters take cues from green groups who score candidates’ plans or provide endorsements, last night demonstrated the limits of their power—at least for the moment.
. . . Biden’s climate plan was scored at or near the bottom of the field by the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace, 350 Action, Data for Progress and the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund. The Sunrise Movement endorsed Sanders and campaigned for him aggressively.
That didn’t stop Biden from winning a plurality of climate voters across Super Tuesday states, according to a Washington Post compilation of exit polls.
Biden took 33% of those voters compared to 28% for Sanders, 16% for Sen. Elizabeth Warren and 11% for billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
The climate movement may be finally taking shape politically. More people are paying attention, and the upcoming two-person contest will generate still more interest in climate. That may well redound to Bernie’s credit, though Biden will surely highlight the unfeasibility of his plans.