Bernie Sanders: We must move on climate as we would if we were at war

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On 14 April 2016, US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke out about the need for a Word War Two-scale climate mobilisation to resounding cheers during the New York debate with Hillary Clinton, broadcasted live to the American people on CNN. 

In the debate, Sanders compared global warming to warfare, and the vocal response among his fans and followers was remarkable. The United States should respond to melting icecaps like it would respond to a foreign invasion, Sanders said:

“If we approach this, Errol, as if we were literally at a war — you know, in 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years, within three more years to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now. Lead the world.”

“Here is a real difference. This is a difference between understanding that we have a crisis of historical consequence here, and incrementalism and those little steps are not enough. Not right now. Not on climate change.”

“Look, here’s where we are. Let me reiterate. We have a global crisis. Pope Francis reminded us that we are on a suicide course. Our legislation understands, Errol, that there will be economic dislocation. It is absolutely true. There will be some people who lose their job. And we build into our legislation an enormous amount of money to protect those workers. It is not their fault… It is not their fault that fossil fuels are destroying our climate.

But we have got to stand up and say right now, as we would if we were attacked by some military force, we have got to move urgency — urgently and boldly.”

ERROL: ….With less than 6 percent of all U.S. energy coming from solar, wind and geothermal, and 20 percent of U.S. power coming from nuclear, if you phase out all of that, how do you make up that difference?

SANDERS: Well, you don’t phase it all out tomorrow. And you certainly don’t phase nuclear out tomorrow. But this is what you do do. [APPLAUSE]. What you do do is say that we are going to have a massive program — and I had introduced — introduced legislation for 10 million solar rooftops. We can put probably millions of people to work retrofitting and weatherizing buildings all over this country. [CHEERING]. Saving — rebuilding our rail system. [APPLAUSE]. Our mass transit system. [APPLAUSE]. If we approach this, Errol, as if we were literally at a war — you know, in 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years, within three more years to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now. [APPLAUSE]. Lead the world”

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

» Full transcript

The word “climate” was mentioned 19 times during the debate. When CNN published what they found to have been “the most memorable lines” from the debate, Sanders’ climate change and renewables statements were not even mentioned. 


The Altantic Magazine took notice, though, and called it “The Democrats’ Most Substantive Climate Debate Yet”.


» Read more about Bernie Sanders’ stand on climate change:

» EcoWatch – 26 July 2016:
Bernie Sanders: ‘This Election Is About Climate Change’

» Pacific Standard – 27 April 2016:
Whether or Not He Wins, Bernie Sanders Has Already Changed the Climate Debate
“From his critique of the Paris Agreement last December to his ongoing, insurgent crusade against fracking, Sanders has brought serious climate activism into the mainstream”

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See also:

Climate war room in the White House

Hillary Clinton intends to equip the White House with a situation room just for climate change

If she’s elected president, Hillary Clinton intends to equip the White House with a situation room just for climate change, inspired by the Map Room where Franklin D. Roosevelt managed World War II, her campaign chairman, former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, said Friday.

Podesta was one of nine veterans of seven previous administrations who spoke Friday at a Stanford University conference on “Setting the Climate Agenda for the Next U.S. President.” He cited a technologically sophisticated Climate Map Room as an example of planning for resilience—the capacity of the country to withstand and adapt to climate-change effects.

“Hillary’s been talking about creating a climate war room in the White House,” Podesta said, then correcting himself that he meant to say climate map room. “To be able to see where effects are taking place, to keep it real time, to use the technologies that are available, to try to imagine what is happening in the natural world and what the impact of that is going to be on the economy and the society.”

» Forbes – 9 May 2016:
Hillary Clinton Plans To Have A ‘Climate Map Room’ In The White House, Podesta Says

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Sanders: “I look at climate change almost in military terms”

Published on on 15 March 2016

On 14 March 2016, at a MSNBC Town Hall with Chuck Todd, Senator Bernie Sanders said:

“This is the way I look at it — I know people will disagree with me. In WWII for example, the United States had to fight a war on two fronts in a very short period of time. And within three years, actually we had essentially won the war. I look at climate change almost in military terms. I look at the fact that if we do not significantly reduce carbon emissions, there is going to be massive damage done to our country and this planet. But I have absolute confidence…”

Chuck Todd: “So you would marshal that kind of resources?”

Bernie Sanders: “I think you need to look at it as a warlike… we are being attacked and the attack is coming from climate change. And that is going to mean more extreme weather disturbances. Look at what’s going on in California in terms of drought. You’re gonna have…The CIA tells us we will have more international conflict as people fight over limited natural resources.”

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President Roosevelt’s mindset

“Bernie has correctly come out and identified this as the number-one security threat to the United States. And he invoked FDR [president Franklin D. Roosevelt], who overhauled the entire American economy to defeat fascism in Europe, and that is the correct mindset. We need that kind of FDR-like mobilization on renewable and on climate.

The story goes like this: FDR identified that we were going to have to fight. And he went to the auto industry and he said, “We’re going to need you to start building planes, and tanks, and guns, because we have to defeat this enemy in Europe. And the auto industry looked at him and said, “Alright, Mr. President. We’ll try. But it’s going to be hard to do that while we’re making all these cars for Americans.” And FDR said, “You don’t understand. We’re gonna ban the sale of private automobiles in this country.” And they were like, “Oh.” And at that moment, Americans realized, “OK. The only way we get through this is if we win this war.”

And that’s the same crisis now with climate change. We have to win the war against emissions. The only way we do that is by a radical and very fast overhaul. Is it possible? Of course it’s possible. The only thing we can do at this late stage, at this stage of emergency, is a complete overhaul.”
Josh Fox

» Read more:

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Crisis of historical consequence

“Sanders wants to think bigger when it comes to climate politics. “This is a difference between understanding that we have a crisis of historical consequence here,” he said. “Incrementalism and those little steps are not enough. Not right now. Not on climate change.”
Grist Magazine

» Yes Magazine – 27 April 2016:
The Pragmatic Impacts of Sanders’ Big Dreams
“Even with Tuesday’s campaign setbacks, Bernie Sanders’ pledge to make the country more equitable and sustainable is more realistic than some people are letting on.”

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Bernie: Mobilizing Against Climate Catastrophe Is Your Greatest Opportunity for Heroism Yet

Letter to American presidential candidate, senator Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders,
The movement you have inspired for economic, social, and environmental transformation could not have arrived at a more significant moment in human history. Your emergence as the great American populist of the early 21st century comes at a time in which heroic political leadership, above all, is required to avert the collapse of civilization.

Abrupt global warming threatens to destabilize the climate system for tens of thousands of years, sending the Earth into a hot state inhospitable to humanity. If business as usual continues for much longer, a chain reaction of proliferating droughts, famines, and subsequent state failures will cause the unraveling of an organized human community. Furthermore, the global economy’s overshoot of the planet’s limits has initiated the 6th mass extinction of species, which threatens to wipe out much of life on Earth within this century. If allowed to unfold, it could take some 10 million years for life to fully recover.

The legendary biologist E.O. Wilson compares humanity’s collective impact to the 9-mile wide asteroid that 65 million years ago slammed into the Chicxulub coast of Yucatan at a speed of 45,000 miles per hour, exterminating the non-avian dinosaurs and causing the 5th mass extinction of species. While humanity has become a force of destruction on the scale of the Chixculub asteroid, Wilson argues that there is a small window of time left to prevent a full-blown “biological holocaust.”

The truth is that you now have it within your power to catalyze the process that will prevent the collapse of civilization and the holocaust on all life. Whether you become president or not, your incredible success fomenting a genuine political revolution across America has made it possible for you to lead the movement to save life on Earth. 

It’s now well understood that what’s needed to stop this unfolding apocalypse is an emergency transformation of the global economy — a WWII-scale mobilization to rapidly restore a stable climate and reverse ecological overshoot.

You recognized this truth in one of the finest moments of your campaign so far, your April debate with Hillary Clinton at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the eve of the New York primary. You denounced the Paris climate agreement as a disastrously incremental approach to the climate emergency and called for a World War II-scale effort instead:

“In 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years, within three years to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now.”

Ian Dunlop, a global sustainability leader, hailed your call for WWII-scale climate mobilization as historic: “This is the first time I’ve heard anybody politically, honestly starting to talk about what the problem really is and the type of speed of reaction we have to make,” he said. “Finally, we’re getting the truth.”

Your courageous statements of climate truth have been greatly energizing to the nascent movement for emergency climate mobilization. However, the climate emergency has not been the primary focus of your presidential campaign or your career. Your unwavering dedication to economic and social justice has been.

We are writing to implore you to make the immediate commencement of a WWII-scale mobilization to restore a safe climate your overriding priority in the coming months and years. All of our ideals and goals – a fair economy and a functioning democracy that empowers ordinary Americans to participate in the governance of our nation – will be for naught if we fail to stop the climate catastrophe.

Prioritizing a climate mobilization provides the most immediate path to social, economic, and environmental justice. As with the WWII home front mobilization, the climate mobilization will create full employment and drastically reduce inequality, with the principle of fair and shared sacrifice embraced by all Americans. In 1944, top marginal tax rates were raised to 94% on incomes above $200,000 (about $2.7 million in 2016 dollars) and unemployment dropped to 1.2%. All Americans received “fair shares” equal rations of food and energy. Women, African-Americans, and workers made large gains as Americans came together to defeat the Axis powers. A few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt even unsuccessfully pushed for a 100% tax rate on incomes above $25,000 (about $350,000 in today’s dollars) in the name of wartime equality! A full-scale climate mobilization would heed Pope Francis’s directive to “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor!”

During the last great crisis of American life, FDR faced a similar imperative to shift priorities to combat the existential threat of fascism. At a 1943 press conference, a reporter asked the President to address a rumor that he no longer liked the term “New Deal.” He responded that a physician, Dr. New Deal, had remedied America’s “grave internal disorder” during the ‘30s. But the attack on Pearl Harbor had “broke his hip, broke his leg in two or three places, broke a wrist and an arm, and some ribs; and they didn’t think he would live, for a while.” Dr. Win-the-War had since stepped in, and Patient America was now on the road to recovery: “He has given up crutches. He isn’t wholly well yet, and he won’t be until he wins the war.”

Just as FDR shifted his approach to defeat fascism, it is an absolute moral imperative that we all pivot comprehensively to fight off the existential threat of civilizational collapse and biological holocaust. You have been “Dr. New Deal” your entire career. But now, at this late hour, humanity badly needs you to become “Dr. Win-the-War.”

You and your supporters face immense pressure to endorse Secretary Clinton and her “politically realistic” yet scientifically catastrophic climate plan in order to defeat Donald Trump and his “America First” (sound familiar?) energy plan. But, as Stephen Hawking recently said, runaway climate change poses “a more immediate danger” to America and the world than even Trump’s neo-isolationism.

Secretary Clinton, like the vast majority of the public, politicians, and the media, is still stuck in the mentality of “carbon gradualism.” While the need for an emergency, WWII-scale climate mobilization is a hidden consensus among climate leaders and thinkers, not even the mainstream climate movement is fully prepared to demand one. Instead, they appear paralyzed by the enormity of the task, unable to integrate scientific reality into their advocacies and organizational strategies.  

You are in a unique position to change that. Your millions of supporters are anxiously looking to you to hear what comes next in the political revolution. In the coming weeks and months, you will face a series of tremendous opportunities to rouse America from the trance of carbon gradualism and climate denial, and onto the war footing we so desperately need. You could, for example:

1)     Demand that a WWII-scale climate mobilization appear on the Democratic Party platform.

2)     Make the need for an emergency, WWII-scale climate mobilization the theme of your convention speech.

3)     Demand that Hillary Clinton advocate an emergency, WWII-scale mobilization to restore a safe climate in exchange for your endorsement, if you do not win the nomination.

4)     Lead a march on Washington calling on President Obama to declare a climate emergency and gear up for the climate mobilization. You could occupy the National Mall with hundreds of thousands of Americans until the president declares a climate emergency.

5)     All of the above

Whether or not you are nominated, we implore you to take up the banner of climate mobilization. You have fought your entire career to protect Americans from exploitation and destitution. Once again, Americans sorely need your protection and leadership. We need a heroic leader to build an enormous movement for an immediate climate mobilization and we need him or her to step up very soon. We can overcome the climate emergency, but we need Dr. Win-the-War to step up with great haste.


Jean Arnold, Development Director, Association for the Tree of Life

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Chairperson, Buddhist Global Relief

Ryan Brill, Co-Founder, The Climate Mobilization

Myron Buchholz, Congressional Candidate, Wisconsin CD-03

Stan Cox, Author, “Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing” (2013)

Wesley Clark, Jr., Veteran; Host, The Young Turks

John Davis, Candidate for Iowa State Legislature; Iowa Climate Advocate, Bernie Sanders for President 2016

Laura Dawn, Founder, ART NOT WAR

Laurence L. Delina, Author, “Strategies for Rapid Climate Mitigation: Wartime Mobilisation as a Model for Action?” (2016); Citizen, The Philippines; Visiting Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Ian Dunlop, Former Chair, Australian Coal Association; Member, The Club of Rome

John Ellis, Founder,

Ed Fallon, Director, Bold Iowa

Grace Feldmann, Founder, Lead Organizer, Santa Barbara County for Bernie 2016

Heidi Harmon, Director, 350 San Luis Obispo; Bernie Sanders delegate, 24th Congressional District of California

Nicole Harris, Deputy Director, The Climate Mobilization

Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Coordinating Lead Author, Oceans, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Michael Hoexter, Research Scholar, Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity; Campaign Volunteer, Bernie Sanders 2016 

Lee-Sean Huang, Co-Founder & Creative Director, Foossa

Veronica Jacobi, Santa Rosa City Council Emeritus; Founder,

Bruce Jones, Climate Activist; Pledged Delegate for Bernie Sanders, 14th Congressional District of California

David Kaiser, Author, No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War” (2014)

Andy Kunz, President & CEO, U.S. High Speed Rail Association

Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine

Kelsey Lopez, Director of Operations, Transit Oriented Development Institute

Mary Lupien, Delegate, 25th Congressional District of New York; Steering Committee Member, Monroe County for Bernie Sanders 

Patrick Mazza, Sustainable Solutions Co-Facilitator, 350 Seattle; Member, Delta 5 Direct Action Team

Abigail McHugh-Grifa, Ph.D., Founder & Lead Organizer, Rochester Climate Action 

Brian D. McLaren, Board Chair, 

John McLeod, Founder,

Michael Mielke, Strategist, Association for the Tree of Life

Stephen Mulkey, Ph.D., President Emeritus, Unity College

Trevor Neilson, Founder, i(x) investments

Adam Sacks, Executive Director, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate

Margaret Klein Salamon, Ph.D., Founder & Executive Director, The Climate Mobilization

Ashik SiddiqueCo-Founder, The Climate Mobilization

Ezra Silk, Co-Founder and Director of Policy & Strategy, The Climate Mobilization

David SprattCo-Author“Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action” (2008)

David Suzuki, Co-Founder, David Suzuki Foundation

Alina Valdes, M.D., Congressional Candidate, Florida CD-25; Proud Progressive & Bernie Sanders Endorser

Lise Van Susteren, Advisory Board, Center For Health And The Global EnvironmentHarvard School Of Public Health*

Marie Venner, Chair, National Academies’ Transportation Research Board Subcommittee on Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability

Ken WardCo-Founder, Climate Disobedience Center

* Institutional affiliation listed for identification purposes only


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