In a recent exchange, Greenpeace activist Eva Resnick-Day thanked Clinton for tackling climate change then asked her to forgo fossil fuel funding, earning an odd response: “I have only taken money from employees of the oil and gas industry. I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me.” Later on Meet the Press Clinton said she voted against Dick Cheney’s 2005 energy bill (which she slammed candidate Obama for although it gave a huge boost to renewables.) She also added she “feels sorry for young people who don’t do their own research,” echoing earlier patronizing statements by her supporters. On Monday, she said in an interview with Time Warner Cable News, “I couldn’t believe it when Sanders opposed the Paris agreement,” blatantly misrepresenting the Vermont senator’s position, which reflects a global consensus that the accord’s voluntary commitments don’t go far enough to meet established scientific limits.
Clinton’s strategy of obfuscation and deception must be partly reflective of a 55- to 45-percent pledged delegate split in a race that was supposed to be a cakewalk. Sanders has now won seven of the last eight primaries and caucuses by an average of 44 points. Her lashing out may also reflect her own campaign which has been filled with deception that often deftly and narrowly skirts illegality and falsehoods: subliminal self-directed comments, like that of husband President Bill Clinton about President Obama’s “awful legacy,” that seem instead to slam policies now tied to skyrocketing mass incarceration, the financial crash, trade-related job losses, and a frayed social safety net. Surely, as well, her attacks are an implicit recognition that the rigged establishment system isn’t working effectively for her. Liberal institutions and big funders — from the mainstream media, to colleges, to the Democratic National Committee, to think tanks, to corporations — have for years excised the role of perpetrators from gross societal injustices and shut down a progressive agenda. But their blacking out and disparagement of Sanders is now fueling his rise.
More importantly, however, this incident highlights the candidates’ records on the most pressing task of our time – the transition to renewable energy and grounding of the vast majority of fossil fuels for climate sustainability.
First, funding. Greenpeace maintains Clintons campaign and SuperPAC has taken $4.5 million from those connected with fossil fuel interests (she cites a lower number using a much more narrow definition), and she failed to sign a Greenpeace pledge to not take fossil fuel money. The Clinton Foundation accepted between $2.5 to $3 million from big fossil fuel companies. According to Miami Herald reporting, it also accepted, since 2001, as much as $40 million from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – nations that represent 23 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves – far more than comparable charities. They are part of 40 percent of top foundation donors based in foreign countries. One article cites her campaign as saying: “There is no explicit quid pro quo between major donations and public policies pushed by Clinton.”
Maybe not. Yet most would argue while this country’s corruption has transcended bags full of cash and clandestine conversations, it is even more pervasive and harmful.
CLINTON’ S CLIMATE RECORD
Clinton’s primary touted strength is her experience. And she has an impressive resume – serving as a “two for the price of one” First Lady, New York Senator, U.S. Secretary of State and the head of a global multi-billion-dollar family foundation. Such leadership roles would presumably translate to major impact on critical issues, especially climate, an overarching phenomenon that affects virtually every policy area and aspect of human life. Of course, leadership often has a price. For climate – and other issues – there might be a cost to championing the people’s interests over the short-term profits of exploitative power structures. Unsurprisingly, on trade, fracking, and climate goals, she has lacked the audacity to be a climate leader.
As Secretary of State, she was a major advocate for corporations seeking profits at the expense of climate security. She positively invoked the Trans Pacific Partnership 45 times and said it was the “gold standard” (one of many deceptions during the first Democratic debate which allowed the media to call it a “win,” giving her crucial momentum.) Clinton announced her opposition to this corporate crafted trade deal – and the Keystone XL Pipeline – less than a month before the October debate. The TPP expands the rights of foreign corporations, allowing them to use a separate judicial process favorable to the ultra-wealthy and big businesses to challenge new laws, including those to slow climate change. This could be used at many fossil fuel sites in the US. In fact, President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which followed the largest American environmental protests in decades, was met with a lawsuit from TransCanada for $15 billion that cites NAFTA investment provisions like those in the TPP.
The Clinton-led State Department also approved the Alberta Clipper pipeline, a 400-mile conduit of heavily polluting oil sand energy. Executives and lobbyists for major companies involved donated to her family foundation and her 2008 presidential campaign.
As Secretary of State, she and other state department officials also repeatedly pushed fracking by US fossil fuel giant Chevron in Europe, despite government bans and popular uprisings. The technology, tied to drinking water contamination, also represents a shift in focus from renewables. Investment in them at that time could have provided important momentum in the fight for climate security.
Are these relevant precursors for presidential decisions, should she win the nomination and general election?
Let’s also review other global actions. In the first debate, she told a wild story of her and President Obama chasing down and coercing the Chinese to sign the “first international agreement they’d ever joined.” Yet those talks are widely regarded as an enormous stumbling block in pursuit of fair, timely climate action. More generally, she has been slow to champion scientifically based targets of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius and keeping 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves grounded. These are all the more important in light of impending climate destruction: the Gates’ Foundation massive work program has been predicted to be undone by climate change.
Finally, what of women’s rights, an area she often touts as a strong priority? What has she said in response to The New York Times report of Canadian case of the gang rape of Guatemalan women they were seeking to evict by men saying they were from Canadian mining company, a case said to “sent shivers through the vast Canadian mining, oil and gas industry?” Where is her call for accountability after the recent murder of Goldman (Green Nobel) prize winner indigenous activist Berta Cáceres and other activists? In the absence of overdue, concerted climate action, indigenous women are often on the front lines of the struggle for a safe and sustainable planet.
While Clinton’s campaign rhetoric has improved, her climate plan, which builds on Obama’s plan aimed at Paris targets, is insufficiently ambitious and specific. According to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, her TPP position is temporary. She rarely, if ever, addresses the tradeoff between unfair trade and climate protection, a key stain on President Obama’s legacy also.
Even as she calls for campaign finance reform, she’s aggressively sought donations of key wealthy and corporate contributors through the Hillary Victory Fund. The fund, which takes full advantage of the increased campaign contribution limits resulting from the McCutcheon vs. FEC Supreme Court case, benefits 33 state political parties, breaking with Obama’s and other precedents of no corporate money, particularly this early in the process. Wall Street and other interests prizing the short-term profits of the current energy infrastructure and unfair taxation are now becoming even more embedded in Democratic party politics.
Overall, her leadership has involved strong ties to corporations deeply vested in climate inaction, and the apparent execution of their climate agenda.
In contrast, Sanders has made climate change a central issue in his election and time in Senate. He has been a longtime opponent of the Keystone XL and TPP. He has co-sponsored bills to reduce climate destroying “super pollutants;” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050; to tax greenhouse gas emitters; and to end corporate welfare for oil, gas and coal companies. He has doesn’t take corporate money and has no SuperPAC — for him, the Greenpeace pledge is only a starting point. He attended the 2014 People’s Climate March of 400,000 in New York City. In climate, like other matters, he understands the importance of integrity between funding and policy. In this, as in other critical priorities like inequality and taxes, he has been a model of consistency.
Climate change action have been described as the only policies that will matter 100 — or 10,000 — years out. The next four to eight years will be a crucial test of our commitment to humanity. Clinton’s record, which is not for maintaining the status quo but, worse, for advancing corporate priorities to accelerate climate change, leaves serious doubt that she would pass that test. Sanders’ leadership stands him in good stead to promote sustainability, life, and true security to citizens worldwide.