The back-and-forth among seven Democratic candidates during a high-stakes presidential primary debate in New Hampshire Friday evening veered into the connections between the climate crisis and the United States’ massive military budget and trade relations.
“As in previous debates, there was only one direct question on climate change from the moderators,” Grist reports. But “during a discussion on the recent assassination of Iranian Major General Qassim Suleimani, billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer abruptly veered towards international climate policy,” arguing that the assassination would undercut any ability the U.S. might have to build a global coalition for climate action.
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The climate crisis “cannot be solved with guns and tanks and planes,” Steyer said. “It can only be solved with diplomacy, and allies, and interactions with other countries.”
Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders (I-VT) weighed in in response, arguing that global military budgets could be redirected to climate solutions. “This is not an American issue, it’s a global issue,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, given the crisis of climate change, the world can understand that instead of spending US$1.8 trillion a year collectively on weapons of destruction designed to kill each other—maybe we pool our resources and fight our common enemy, which is climate change.”
Grist notes that the U.S. alone accounted for $700 billion of that total last year, and its military “also emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases, more than some small countries. It’s unclear exactly how much the U.S. government spends on addressing climate change, but best estimates have it somewhere in the $13 billion range. (And let’s not mention America’s continued fossil fuel subsidies, though Sanders later did.)”
When debate moderators paid any attention to climate change, it was to ask Sanders about his decision to withhold support for the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal on climate grounds. “There is not one word in that trade agreement that deals with climate change,” Sanders replied. “I don’t know how in 2020 you could do that.”
Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), both of whom voted for the USMCA, responded that a North American trading bloc is a cornerstone for climate action.
“As president, yes, I’ll work to make [climate] a part of every major trade agreement,” Klobuchar said. “But the best way to take on climate change is by getting back into the international climate agreement. It is bringing back the clean power rules. It is bringing back the gas mileage standards. And it is introducing sweeping legislation to put a price on carbon.”
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