Warren and Sanders on Environmentalism

I’m not normally impressed by Elizabeth Warren. I don’t have any particular reason to dislike her, but I haven’t felt convinced that she has what it takes. Still, she is able speak strongly at times that perks up my ears. At CNN’s climate town hall, she responded with exasperation to a question about energy-saving lightbulbs:

“This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about…They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers.”

That was refreshing. I’m very much in support of the environment. As an example, I’d like for life on earth to continue. And if possible, it might be nice to maintain human civilization without collapsing in ecological catastrophe and mass suffering. On the other hand, I hate how environmentalism can get used as a political football on both sides that distracts from actually doing anything that makes a difference, which is precisely what big biz wants.

Giving a far different kind of response while in North Carolina, when asked about a meat tax, Bernie Sanders refused to give a straight answer. He talked in vague generalities by not making any statement that would offend anyone or commit him to anything. Unlike Warren, he didn’t challenge the premise of the question. It was quite disappointing to hear this kind of waffling.

To be fair, the right-wing media was being dishonest in reporting that he supported a meat tax. He didn’t say that. He simply said as little as possible. But it is true that he accepted the framing without challenging or questioning it. His was an answer one expects from a professional politician pandering to potential voters, in allowing people to hear what they want to hear while not stating any clear position:

“All that i can say is if we believe, as i do and you do, that climate change is real, we’re going to have to tackle it in every single area, including agriculture. Okay?

“And in fact, one of the things we want to do with our farmers out there is help them become more aggressive and able to help us combat climate change rather than contribute to it.

“So we will certainly.. — you’re right, we got to look at agriculture, we got to look at every cause of the crisis that we face.”

I understand. There was no way for him to come out looking good in that situation. He has never shown any evidence of wanting to tax food in order to control the dietary habits of Americans. It’s certainly not part of his political platform. Yet when confronted with a direction question, it put him in a corner that he didn’t want to be in. Disagreeing with a supporter can lead to all kinds of problems, especially in how the media would spin it and obsess over it.

Still, it is disheartening that we so rarely can have honest political debate where people speak their minds. If campaign season doesn’t force public awareness into uncomfortable issues, then what good does it serve? Very little. That is why Warren’s short but effective tirade against the fossil fuel industry was a breath of fresh air. She shifted the focus away from artificially-created division and toward the problems that are common among us.