For everyone who understands climate change as humanity’s gravest existential threat ever, there was ONLY ONE winner of Democrats’ first presidential debate—Bernie Sanders. Frankly, so immeasurably superior is Bernie’s understanding of humankind’s climate emergency that no one else belonged on the same stage. If these debates were really about informing voters rather than providing a façade of democracy while Democrats coronate Hillary Clinton, the moderators would have silenced all other debaters while Bernie elaborated at length on his courageous, astute identification of climate change as our nation’s gravest security threat.
Clinton, by contrast, with characteristic spinelessness and hidebound views, gave no thought to climate as a security threat, and simply rubber-stamped the Beltway’s lunatic, unspoken consensus on continuing Bush’s “long war” on terror that will prove Obama’s worst legacy—with some gratuitous saber-rattling at Iran to boot. This at a time when our globally overextended military, needlessly making new enemies daily, is the world’s foremost burner of dirty fossil fuels. And when peace between nations is an essential prerequisite for addressing humanity’s encroaching climate catastrophe.
Unsurprisingly, news of Bernie’s overwhelming superiority on climate has filtered through to opinion leaders like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, who best understand our climate emergency, being in close, speed-dial touch with the world’s best climate scientists. They know which candidate will best defend climate; they form our sturdiest defense against mainstream media’s criminally irresponsible refusal to frame elections in climate rather than “horse-race” terms—a refusal that allowed Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to waltz nonchalantly through their whole series of presidential debates without mentioning our planet’s gravest crisis at all. Unfortunately, the climate movement they lead has a virtual allergy to brass-knuckle, in-the-trenches politics. Because Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein routinely dodge the controversy of endorsing candidates and naming reprehensible names—perhaps understandably, considering their desire to build a “big tent” climate movement—we have to discern their preferences by more subtle signs.
But given their global stature as climate change educators and their ready access to cutting-edge science, their preferences—however indirectly we must discern them—should be our foremost guides in deciding which candidates are and are not serious about climate. And, with nearly minimal reading between the lines, those preferences unmistakably favor Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.
So, while McKibben, to maintain an impartial appearance, understandably avoids stumping for Bernie on the campaign trail, he did speak at Sanders’ Vermont campaign launch and, shortly thereafter, wrote a scolding open letter to Hillary Clinton explaining why climate activists deeply distrust her. For those of us who publicly chastised McKibben for his excessive leniency with Barack “All of the Above” Obama, his gestures, already so implicitly critical of Clinton, read like an open declaration of war.
Naomi Klein, McKibben’s close associate and ally in climate education, has even weightier reasons for avoiding taking sides in U.S. politics. She is, after all, Canadian, and so, outside the “big climate tent” motive she shares with McKibben, probably feels uncomfortable pronouncing on U.S. politics, having no personal skin (aside from climate justice, which impacts all of humanity) in our political game. Nonetheless Klein, acutely attuned to the central role our hegemonic U.S. superpower plays in global policy, can indirectly express her strong preference—for example, through her blog “The Leap,” closely associated with her groundbreaking book This Changes Everything and edited by her longtime research assistant Rajiv Sicora. Sanders’ supporters’ hearts should virtually leap from their chests to discover a recent article there (not by Klein, of course) describing a global electoral swing toward climate justice and openly describing Bernie Sanders as the U.S. “climate justice candidate.” And in case anyone missed the signal, the article, beyond stressing how Bernie took courageous climate stands later aped by Clinton, features a photo of Bernie at the podium, arms stretched wide (as if embracing the planet), as its “grabber” illustration.
Nor should McKibben and Klein’s recent conferrals of favor on Bernie cause any surprise. They reward Bernie’s long history of pioneering courage on climate, dating to the days (even predating McKibben and Klein’s educational efforts) when climate was a fledging issue and persevering through the long years (hardly yet over) when it was a politically orphaned one.
Perhaps no moment better expresses Bernie’s dauntless championship of climate than his politically daring appearance with McKibben and Klein (along with journalist Chris Hedges and socialist Seattle mayor Kshama Sawant) on a panel at the People’s Climate March. What other national mainstream pol—a U.S. Senator contemplating a run, to boot—would risk appearing in such controversial company, every one of them loathed by global Wall Street and fossil fuel interests—the same ones that donate daily to Hillary Clinton? Even more striking, what national politician would risk appearing on a panel with Hedges, America’s conscience and moral scold, knowing (as Bernie did) that Hedges was sharply critical of both his foreign policy and his likely decision to run for president as a Democrat?
Could anyone picture Hillary Clinton voluntarily exposing herself to the hostile presence of a critical journalist for the sake of a vital cause she believed in? For someone so fickle in beliefs and so allergic to journalistic scrutiny, the question is obviously rhetorical, and it forcefully illustrates the stark difference between a fearless climate champion like Bernie and a spineless, self-serving political hack like Clinton. Yet why, then, are leading progressive Democrats like Sherrod Brown and Bill De Blasio, and environmental organizations like the League of Conservation Voters (despite giving Bernie better grades), rushing like lemmings to place Clinton in charge of our nation’s climate policy, likely for the next eight utterly critical years?
Why indeed? The answer, subject of the next article in this series, is depressingly familiar and unspeakably ugly—and shows we have zero chance of saving the climate without open revolt (the subject of its third and last).
NOTE: This article is part of a three-part series, “Climate’s Deadliest HIDDEN Enemy: The Clinton Political Machine.” The series explains how, Hillary Clinton’s political machine, if unchecked by climate-activist revolt, will undemocratically crush Bernie Sanders’ presidential chances and will foist on us a candidate, Hillary Clinton, provably inadequate by policies and character, to address our planet’s climate emergency. Part 1 is titled “Sanders Correctly Rattles Sabers—at the Climate Change Enemy”; Part 2, “Clinton’s Updated Tammany Hall: Destroying Democracy AND Climate Too”; and Part 3, “Wake Up Zombie, Kick Up a Big Stink.” The first two parts establish the case for revolt against the Clinton machine urgently pleaded for in Part 3—the call-to-arms finale of the series.