O'Malley emerged from the Iowa Town Hall as the greenest of the three candidates with Sanders trailing some distance behind. O'Malley bluntly stated that "this planet is worth saving," and Sanders reaffirmed his commitment to tackle climate change. Hilary remained silent on climate and clean energy and let her rivals steal the green thunder.
As in previous debates, Hilary did not mention climate change or the clean energy economy once. Perhaps she is taking her cues from Republican presidential hopefuls or perhaps she knows that this is one area where she cannot hope to compete with her Democratic rivals (see the climate positions of the Democratic presidential candidates: O'Malley, Sanders and Clinton).
Alternatively, Hilary's silence on green issues may be part of a clever strategy. According to a poll conducted towards the end of 2015, Americans do not think climate change is anywhere near as important a concern as the economy. Only 3 percent of Americans said that they thought global warming was the most important issue facing the country today.
Climate is not a priority issue for the vast majority of voters so Hilary has nothing to gain from being a climate champion. Conversely embracing climate action risks alienating voters who are worried about the economic costs.
By allowing O'Malley and Sanders to own the climate spotlight she may be trying to entrench herself as the most "moderate" Democratic candidate. Her campaign may be betting that this will appeal to independent voters or even soft conservatives. Hilary's shrewd politics may win a general election, but she must first secure the Democratic nomination. With her lead shrinking and Sanders ahead in some states, it remains to be seen whether Hilary's strategy will succeed in getting her through the primary process.
Both O'Malley and Sanders made it clear that there is no cause to doubt the scientific veracity of anthropogenic climate change. Early in the evening Sanders got in a good shot at Republicans when he said, "in terms of climate change, which everybody here knows - and apparently everybody in the world knows except Republican candidates for president, is one of the great environmental crises facing this nation." O'Malley followed up by reiterating that he thinks climate change is the single biggest issue we face.
Green Energy Economy
The emerging green energy economy will be worth trillions by the time it replaces fossil fuels. However of the three Democratic hopefuls, only O'Malley appears to understand the scale of the economic opportunity this transition represents. "Climate change is the greatest business opportunity to come to the United States in 100 years" O'Malley said. "And I am the first candidate in either party to put forward a plan to move us to a 100 percent clean electric energy grid by 2050, and create 5 million jobs along the way."
O'Malley, cited the fact that Iowa gets 30 percent of its electricity from wind power. He also pointed to the 5000 jobs the wind industry has created in that state. He indicated that he wants to manufacture cleantech components like wind turbines in America. He wants to train people to retrofit buildings and install distributed energy systems. He also said that he wants to put American cities at the center of the low carbon economy, or as he put it, be at the, "leading edge to this clean green environment."
O'Malley indicated that all three Democratic hopefuls aspire to do right by the planet, but he was quick to distinguish himself as the most focused on clean power. In a shot that appeared to be directed towards Hilary's moderate stance on green energy, O'Malley said:
"And we're not going to get to 100 percent clean electric grid with an "all of the above" strategy, any more than we got to the moon with an "all of the above" strategy. It was an engineering challenge. And we are up to this as Americans. But incrementalism, half steps, splitting the loaf, that's not going to get us. And that's not what your generation wants. You want the straight truth and you want us to face our challenges fearlessly and make this new reality ours."
O'Malley was the only candidate who spoke to the importance of sustainable agriculture:
"The ability to consume and to grow, and to do that within the footprint of this place that we call home. So, I would like to work with congress, and I plan to work with congress, to do more in the Farm Bill to reduce the barriers of entry to new farmers as they start up. Huge capital costs that go into buying the land and buying the equipment. But it's also what's best for keeping our rural economies, and it's best for America. So I've seen in my own state a whole movement to the "buy local" movement and the sort of farming that you describe. We need to do more as a nation to encourage young farmers to go into farming to reduce those barriers and those capital costs, even at the same time that we push back against the concentration monopoly power in the agricultural sector. And that's what I intend to do."Fossil Fuels
Sanders has repeatedly come out against fossil fuel pipelines. He spoke about his opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, the Bakken Pipeline and pipelines in Vermont and New Hampshire. "I think we've got to break our dependence on fossil fuel." Sanders said. He then asked the question, "Why did it take Hillary Clinton such a long time before she came into opposition to the Keystone Pipeline?"
Climate and Energy Excerpts from the Fourth Democratic Primary Debate
Climate Excerpts from the CBS Democratic Primary Debate
Climate and Clean Energy in the Third Democratic Debate
Climate all but Absent from the Republican CNBC Presidential Debate
Climate Change a No-Show in the First Republican Debate
Republican Presidential Candidates Say the US Should Not Do Anything to Combat Climate Change
Opposition to Climate Action in the November Republican Primary Debate