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On Solar and Fossil Fuels, Trump, Clinton and Sanders Imagine Starkly Different Futures

Posted by Matt Power, Editor-In-Chief

May 13, 2016 11:44:10 AM

Three Approaches to Global Warming: Pretend it Doesn't Exist; Take it Slowly, or Act Immediately.Trump-Clinton-Sanders-Energy-Green-Builder.jpg

If you believe that addressing Climate Change is the most pressing issue of our time, you may wonder how our would-be political leaders plan to tackle it. The best indicator of their policies, of course, is their past affiliations, statements and comments on the matter. So let's make this short and simple:

Donald Trump. It's no secret that Trump doesn't believe in Climate Change. That's not what you'd call a sense of urgency about converting to clean energy. He's bizarrely passionate in his dislike for wind energy, perhaps because he's angry about a failed attempt to keep wind turbines away from one of his properties in Scotland. As for transitioning from fossil fuels to solar, like so many issues, he's vague and inconsistent. And his staff mirrors that ambiguity. For example, Corey Lewandowski, his campaign manager (the one charged with battery for a videotaped assault) is something of a double agent. He once lobbied against green energy while also trying to collect subsidies for a solar company. Is he a secret solar advocate or merely completely without an ethical compass? We don't really know. So what would a Trump presidency mean for energy. First,based on comments he has made on the campaign trail, we're likely to see a business-as-usual continuation of fracking, coal mining and burning. He would likely endorse the Keystone XL Pipeline. That move alone, if successful, might according to Bill McKibben, be the final straw for global warming. He rarely mentions solar, and his past statements suggests it's "not exactly what I would call a good investment," Clearly, he's not very knowledgeable on the topic, nor making an attempt to become. Suffice it to say, Trump is likely to worsen the crisis of global warming, and provide little support for clean energy, including solar.

Hillary Clinton. Last summer, Clinton published a plan in support of a gradual transition to solar, which includes a general plan for increasing solar installations over the next decade. The plan is relatively conservative when compared with the current growth trajectory of soar, and has been described by many as "unambitious." Certainly it's far beyond what Trump might support. Clinton's voiced support for solar is good news of course, but the concern among environmentalists is that her sense of urgency about Climate Change is lacking, and that her incremental "All of the Above" approach to energy needs to be scrapped. Clinton, who, as Secretary of State, leveraged fracking to countries around the world, they fear, may lack a genuine moral compass on Climate Change. She has also taken in huge sums from the fossil fuel industry to underwrite her campaign. Will she be willing to stand up for winding them down? Clinton falso was slow to take a position against the XL Pipeline, The question for voters has to be, is the slow transition from dirty to clean fuel viable, or merely playing a soothing tune on the deck of the Titanic?

Bernie Sanders. Sanders consistently gets high ranks for his environmental positions, and sees Global Warming as the challenge of our time. He's on record saying that global warming is "already causing devastating problems in this country and around the world," And he's way ahead of the curve on Solar. In fact, in 2011, he sponsored a bill that passed the Senate, only to be killed by the Congress. The bill was reintroduced in 2014 and is still sitting in committee.

The 10 Million Solar Roofs Act would establish a goal of powering 10 million homes and businesses with solar energy by 2020. The measure also would incorporate a Department of Energy initiative called SunShot to make solar more competitive with conventional energy technologies. The bill would provide grants to communities to help them make their solar energy permitting process less costly and more efficient, and would recognize and reward communities that have adopted common policies on solar permits.

Sanders' plan for clean energy goes well beyond solar roofs. He says his goal would be to "create a clean-energy workforce of 10 million good-paying jobs by creating a 100% clean energy system—Transitioning toward a completely nuclear-free clean energy system for electricity, heating, and transportation.

The Choice

The results of this fall's election may be the most important in world history. The right leader could, in theory take on the challenge of Climate Change, and help move the country—and the world—toward a real clean energy portfolio, and reversal of global warming—in the process creating new jobs, new technology, and a better quality of life. The alternative is to play Russian roullette with nature. To continue burning fossil fuels is on the verge of pushing us into runaway global warming.

The Earth's climate is measurably changing at a frightening pace. Do we really want to live in a world of decade-long droughts, city-wrecking storms, huge rises in sea level, and ultimately, displacement of millions of people worldwide? This election matters.

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