By Jong Chin
Last Thursday we interrupted Hillary Clinton’s first open-to-the-public town hall in NH. Our proposition was simple – that she commit to an action based on the same science she mocked Republicans for denying. The same science that compelled her to call this an existential issue. She of course rejected our ask to commit to banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands, saying that we needed to wait for the solutions to be ready.
There exists the sort of climate denial that Secretary Clinton spoke of – the sort that causes Republican candidates to say “I’m not a scientist but…” But there’s another kind of climate denial – the kind that acknowledges that climate change is an “existential issue” but denies the science that plainly and clearly shows what action must be taken to avoid said existential crisis.
The fact of the matter is, we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. That’s a baseline- coming from the agreed upon 2 degree limit. A limit that was put together with concessions given from countries most susceptible to climate change. 2 degrees is not safe, it’s the maximum allowable change. By definition, moving forward on climate is nothing short of keeping 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. Anything less is global injustice.
Digging a little deeper, Secretary Clinton was unwilling to commit to banning the extraction of fossil fuels on public lands because she has said that we need an all-of-the-above solution (one that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also supports) until the solutions exist. I say the solutions for a just transition exist. It’s just that there hasn’t been the political will, because those in power are in bed with the fossil fuel industry and have the race and class privilege for inaction.
The people most impacted by the fossil fuel industry and at high risk of the negative impacts of climate change are poor communities, communities of color and the global south. These communities, both in the U.S and globally, have limited decision-making power because of historic and systemic structures and because of the pervasive influence of the fossil fuel industry in our political system. Without exposing the power of the fossil fuel industry in Congress, the White House and global climate negotiations, we cannot be realistically talk about the strong leadership on climate.
We need strong leadership on climate. But strong leadership exists. The folks on the front lines – indigenous groups, black groups and poor communities have been fighting this fight for a long time. Leadership to me looks like lifting up and amplifying what is already happening and what needs to happen. Whoever is elected in 2016 can take strong action to do that.
If Hillary Clinton wants to show strong leadership on climate, her positions will need to change. She will need to show that she is able to truly represent the people and science she claims to represent. She has shown signs this is a possibility, and I hope that she and all the other candidates will rise to this challenge.