By Kim Brown, Real News, October 10, 2016
KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
Climate change was only mentioned once during the second presidential debate of the 2016 race held Sunday night at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. This comes only days after the United Nations announced that the Paris Climate Agreement has been ratified and will go into effect in November.
Joining us to talk about the lack of climate discussion debates, from New York City, Chris Williams is joining us. He is a long time environmental activist. He’s also professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University. He’s also the chair of the science department at the Packer Collegiate Institute. He’s the author of the book titled Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis.
We’re also joined this morning from Washington, D.C. with Janet Redman. Janet is the former director of Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, and currently works with Oil Change USA, a group dedicated to exposing the cost of fossil fuels and creating a clean energy future.
Thank you both for speaking to us today.
JANET REDMAN: Thank you very much for having us.
CHRIS WILLIAMS: Thank you.
BROWN: To get started let’s hear actually directly from the candidates themselves regarding the very tiny mentioning of anything relating to the environment or climate change. Let’s hear first from the GOP republican nominee Donald Trump.
DONALD TRUMP: There is a thing called clean coal. Coal will last for a thousand years in this country. Now we have natural gas and so many other things because of technology. We have unbelievable--we a have found that over the last 7 years, we have found tremendous wealth right under our feet. So good. Especially when you have 20 trillion in debt.
CLINTON: We are now for the first time ever energy independent. We are not dependent upon the Middle East. But the Middle East still controls a lot of the prices. So the price of oil has been way down and that has had a damaging effect on a lot of the oil companies, right. We are however producing a lot of natural gas which serves as a bridge to more renewable fuels and I think that’s an important transition.
BROWN: Janet let’s get started with you. Let’s start with first Donald Trump’s comments. What exactly is clean coal? Is that a thing? I’m not sure that’s a thing.
REDMAN: No it’s not a real thing. The idea of clean coal is that we can somehow make burning coal less climate polluting. Some ideas that have been put forward for example are carbon capturing sequestration. That’s the idea that we can capture some of the CO2, carbon dioxide coming out of the power plant and pump it back underground. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been, in terms of technology it has not been proven at scale. And it’s been shown to be incredibly expensive and energy intensive. So it kind of shoots itself in the foot.
I think the most important thing that we’re hearing from Donald Trump is that he doesn’t take climate change seriously. He’s denied climate change in the past. It’s clear that he doesn’t have a grasp of the science. Clearly doesn’t have a grasp of how the energy markets work here in the United States. So I think what we learned from last night is that he is not a reasonable candidate if you care about climate change.
BROWN: Donald Trump has tweeted in the past that he believes that climate change is a hoax from China and his VP nominee Mike Pence during the vice presidential debate, repeatedly mentioned the war on coal. But Chris let’s move on to what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to say about the natural gas revolution as we are experiencing here in the United States and she says that we’re are no longer dependent on foreign countries for our oil and for our energy resources. She talks about natural gas being a bridge. Of course she’s talking about fracking here.
WILLIAMS: Very much so. She as Secretary of State was responsible for expanding fracking internationally. Lobbied hard in Eastern Europe, also in Mexico on behalf of the oil and gas companies to make sure that fracking became a major economic player in the world. Not just in the United States to backup really what President Obama has done. He has doubled oil and gas production in the United States so that the United States is now almost producing as much as Saudi Arabia.
So if that’s a bridge to the future it’s going to be a bridge to hell because the world is already--it’s astonishing that they didn’t even really talk about climate change at all in any kind of meaningful sense until right at the end of the debate it got briefly mention at the same time period where we just had hurricane Matthew devastate Haiti and cause enormous damage, floods, etc. This is the most critical issue. Hundreds of thousands of people ask the moderators. The real problem is the moderators didn’t even bother asking about it.
So I think that’s really indicative of the fact that you can’t believe anything that Donald Trump says but Hillary Clinton it’s just going to continue Obama’s all of the above which is just more production of fossil fuels. If you really want something to be done about climate change, neither candidate is going to take it seriously and you’d have to be looking at the Green Party and Jill Stein’s campaign.
BROWN: Isn’t it interesting, both Janet and Chris, that when discussing the idea of moving away from a fossil fuel based dependence on energy, that the democrats including as you said Chris, President Obama and now the democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They don’t seem to be tying fracking and hydraulic fracturing and fossil fuels together. It’s almost like the present them as separate entities.
REDMAN: What we’re seeing is the result of the way that campaign finance rules operate in the United States. We know that democrats and republicans both receive incredible amounts of contributions from fossil fuel industries and they’re lobbying associations and groups. So it’s not surprising to me that we’re hearing both the democrat and the republican candidates talk about fracking as a solution to climate change. We’ve actually just shown oil changed international houses, crunched the numbers and researched a report two weeks ago that actually if we want to stay below 2 degrees, that’s the goal, the temperature goal that countries agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement that you noted was ratified and what reached ratification because of last week’s critical mass of countries agreeing yes we need to ratify this agreement.
That means we actually can’t burn, not only out of the fossil fuel reserves we know about, it means we can’t even burn all the fossil fuels that are currently in development. We need a managed decline around fossil fuels and so putting new natural gas infrastructure both wealth but also pipelines in place does not get us where we need to go who want avert climate disaster. I really appreciate what Chris brought up. That climate change question was the fourth most popular question on the website which the opening debate was collecting questions. But it shows that neither candidate right now is in step with the American public.
So whatever candidate wins, that person will have to take on the [inaud.] republican and the American public, particularly millennials, are saying that climate change is one of the most critical issues they’re facing today. That means we have to get out of fossil fuels. We have to stop subsidizing with tax payer dollars. We have to shift that money and that energy to adjust transition to a clean energy economy. It’s just what we have to do.
BROWN: How are voters able to convey the importance of this issue to these candidates when as you both mentioned, they’re not really being asked about it by the media and they don’t seem to have a tenable plan moving forward from either candidate. I mean Chris as Janet just said, a lot of people feel this issues very deeply and are very concerned about the future of the environment here in the US. But it doesn’t seem our elected officials or even our nominees are prioritizing this issue at all.
WILLIAMS: Well that’s exactly right. I mean both candidates are the most unpopular presidential candidates in US history so really most people not want to vote for neither of these candidates. The problem is that the election has been stitched up so we don’t get to hear ordinary people. I mean Hillary Clinton has admitted in her private sessions on Wall Street where she gets paid $250,000 to give a speech to Goldman Sachs that she’s completely out of touch with ordinary Americans and as is obviously the loathsome Donald Trump. So if we’re talking about these two candidates, we’re not getting any election where we’re choosing--we’re not getting democracy. We’re not choosing what we actually would like to see happen, what most Americans would like to see happen which is a far stronger focus on how we’re going to build the wind turbines and solar panels and stop constructing pipelines across Native American land and across the whole country.
At the same time when people are being devastated by the aftereffects of coal burning, I mean the national academy of sciences has done a study saying that we could pay off every coal miner and give them full pension of $50,000 a year for a tenth of the cost of the health impacts of burning coal because it’s not just carbon dioxide, it’s mercury, it’s all kinds of other toxins that are released. So if we’re really serious about urgently addressing this scale and scope of this problem of climate change then neither the candidates offer any solutions that anyone should be voting for who’s concerned about saving the climate and really generating the hundreds of thousands of jobs that could be generated through improving the infrastructure in the United States which is I think a D from the core civil engineers. Those things are collapsing and people are suffering all across the country where we will not get any of these things addressed by these candidates.
BROWN: Indeed. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave the conversation there. We’ve been speaking with Chris Williams who is a long time environmental activists, also professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University. We’ve also been joined with Janet Redman. Janet, former director of Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. She currently works with Oil Change USA. We appreciate both of your time and analysis today. Thank you
REDMAN: Thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
BROWN: Thanks for watching the Real News Network.
Janet Redman currently works with Oil Change USA, and is the policy director at Oil Change International. Previously, Janet was the director of the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies, and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, where she provided analysis of the international financial institutions' energy investment and carbon finance activities. Her studies on the World Bank's climate activities include World Bank: Climate Profiteer, and Dirty is the New Clean: A critique of the World Bank's strategic framework for development and climate change. She is a founding participant in the global Climate Justice Now! network.
Chris Williams is an educator, author and activist, and has been published in numerous U.S. and international media outlets and his work translated into several languages. He is the author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis (Haymarket Books) and the forthcoming Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation (Monthly Review Press).