Global warming has its moment in the sun at Democratic debate

Climate change, a frequently overlooked topic in presidential politics, finally got some attention at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate — and, predictably, progressive and moderate candidates had differing views, notably on the transformational Green New Deal backed by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among other leading Democrats.

Co-moderator Dana Bash introduced the subject by noting that “We’ve been asking voters to weigh in on what they’d most like to hear Democrats debate. Among the topics they told us they’re most interested in, the climate crisis.”

Sanders clashed with Rep. Tim Ryan over Sanders’s bill to phase out gasoline-powered automobile sales by 2040. Ryan, a moderate Ohio Democrat representing a blue-collar district with about 96,000 auto manufacturing workers, offered up a plan “to dominate the electric vehicle market” currently led by China.

“My plan is to create a chief manufacturing officer so we could actually start making things in the United States again that would pull the government, the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, work with the private sector, work with investors, emerging tech companies, to dominate the electric vehicle market,” Ryan said.

Tim Ryan and Bernie Sanders
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, left, and Bernie Sanders. (Photos: Paul Sancya/AP)

He also addressed the environmental impact of farming.

“You cannot get there on climate unless we talk about agriculture,” he said. “We need to convert our industrial agriculture system over to a sustainable and regenerative agriculture system.

“We can move away from all the subsidies that we’re giving the farmers,” he added. “They haven’t made a profit in five years. And we could start getting good food into our schools and into our communities. And that’s going to drive health care [costs] down.”

But Sanders argued for stronger measures. “We have got to be super-aggressive if we love our children and if we want to leave them a planet that is healthy and is habitable” by moving from a fossil fuel industry to one based on sustainable energy, providing union jobs and a reformed transportation system.

“I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas,” Sanders said, referring to the big bank bailouts of 2008.

“So please don’t tell me that we cannot take on the fossil fuel industry,” Sanders continued. “And nothing happens unless we do that.”

He added: “Here is the bottom line: What do you do with an industry that knowingly, for billions of dollars in short-term profits, is destroying this planet? I say that is criminal activity. That should not be allowed to continue.”

“I didn’t say we couldn’t get there till 2040, Bernie, you don’t have to yell,” said Ryan, eliciting laughter from the audience. “All I’m saying is we have to invent our way out of this thing, and if we’re waiting for 2040 for a ban to come in on gasoline vehicles, we’re screwed, so we better get busy now.”


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