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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bernie Sanders on Climate

Air Date: Week of

Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s speech revved up the crowd before she introduced Senator Sanders. (Photo: Isaac Merson)

On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, some 7500 people packed into Whittemore Arena in Durham, New Hampshire for a Bernie Sanders rally, complete with a concert. Living on Earth’s Anna Saldinger reports on attendees’ support for the Democratic presidential candidate and his proposed iteration of the Green New Deal, and revisits Senator Sanders’ decades-long history with climate issues.


CURWOOD: From PRX and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

As we go to broadcast, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the front runner in the Democratic primary race for President, after a virtual tie in Iowa and a win in New Hampshire. Key to the plurality Senator Sanders commands is a core group of young voters who cite his long record of advocacy for environmental protection. For a look back at that record and how it is playing with young supporters of his bid for the White House, Living on Earth’s Isaac Merson and Anna Saldinger headed to a Bernie Sanders election night rally in Durham, New Hampshire. Anna Saldinger has our story.


SALDINGER: Senator Bernie Sanders took the stage in front of a raucous crowd of about 7500 supporters. He laid out his plan for the presidency, voiced concern for the environment and offered a solution, his vision of the Green New Deal.

SANDERS: Look at what went on in California in the terrible wildfires that took place there. That is the future not only of our country, but of the world unless we get our act together. And I'm proud to tell you that our campaign has introduced the most comprehensive climate change proposal ever introduced.


SALDINGER: The University of New Hampshire rally reflected the demographic of Bernie's supporters, with a crowd that skewed young. Many of his supporters were not alive in 1986 when Bernie was serving as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Even back then he voiced concern for the environment and criticized what he saw as misplaced national spending.

SANDERS: The environment is precious, all of us agree on that. There's no question about that. What we need now is leadership all over this country to say to Mr. Reagan, the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress, Hey, stop spending your hundreds of billions on the military and overthrowing the government of Nicaragua, let's deal with the environment. Let's not cut back on environmental protection.

Bernie’s family joined him on stage at the beginning of his speech. (Photo: Isaac Merson)

SALDINGER: Bernie was early to sound the alarm about environmental degradation.

SANDERS: We face, as all people know, an ecological crisis in our time, whether it's acid rain, the destruction of the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect.

SALDINGER: He was elected to Congress in 1991, and eventually served on the Senate Committee for Energy and Natural Resources, starting in 2007. He often spoke about the urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and create a green economy.

SANDERS: And I must respectfully disagree with my friends who say that there will be terrible economic implications if we do those things. The truth is the converse: if we do not act boldly, there will be terrible economic implications. If we act boldly, we can create millions of good paying jobs, breaking our dependency on fossil fuel.

SALDINGER: He and former California Senator Barbara Boxer had recently introduced the proposal in the Senate. And he stressed the need to listen to warnings from scientists.

SANDERS: The important issue to understand right now is that according to the scientific community, we stand the danger of seeing the planet Earth temperature rise by eight degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century. If that happens, and we've talked to many of the leading scientists who study this issue, what they are telling us is this will cause catastrophic -- underline -- catastrophic damage to the planet. And my fear is that if Congress does not get our act together, you're going to see more and more extreme weather disturbances, more and more problems, which will cost this country and this planet a hell of a lot more than the legislation that Barbara Boxer and I have introduced.

SALDINGER: These days Bernie is pitching the green New Deal, a broad-reaching plan that would rein in greenhouse gas emissions, create millions of green jobs and support vulnerable populations. A plan of this scale takes a lot of money, and Bernie says he'll pay for it by reducing military spending and raising taxes on wealthy individuals and companies.

The crowd kept the energy going during a Strokes concert after Bernie concluded his speech. (Photo: Isaac Merson)


SUNFLOWER BEAN: Give a hand up for Bernie Sanders the next President of the United States.

SALDINGER: The election eve rally in New Hampshire included a concert from a band called Sunflower Bean. And we pulled rallygoers aside to ask about the Green New Deal and their faith in Bernie as a climate reformer.

VOTER 1: The majority of my concern is about the environment and Bernie seems like he's got the most support and the best plan for it. It's mostly that he's stood firm for all of his goals his entire career. He has always done what he believes in and stays to it.

VOTER 2: And the Green New Deal is, it involves economics as well. It involves, you know, foreign policy. It involves, you know, obviously the climate. So, you know, anything that I care about can be traced back to that.

VOTER 3: I mean look, like the, the only off ramp we have towards like a course of like ecological ecological Armageddon is, I think, a Bernie Sanders presidency. Like, it's hard to imagine us staving off ecological collapse without the kind of ambitious policies we see in the Green New Deal. And Bernie is the only one offering that, right?

SALDINGER: Critics say that Bernie's plan is too expensive and ambitious, but supporters believe he has the best plan.

VOTER 4: It is feasible because when you see how many young people here are supporting things like climate, and specifically the Green New Deal, it's what the new generation that's coming up want. But outside of that, it's our only hope at saving many of the species on Earth including humanity.

VOTER 5: I think it might be tough to get support from Congress, especially if it's not flipped, if the Senate's not flipped. I feel like people will be upset initially with how much it's going to cost and if we actually were able to implement changes I think a lot of people would be taken out of their comfort zone and they wouldn't like that. But I think in the long run, it's worth the investment.

Supporters hopped a fence and skated around on the ice as they left the rally. (Photo: Isaac Merson)

SALDINGER: To cap off the night, Bernie introduced a second band.


SANDERS: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce . . . The Strokes!


SALDINGER: The lights went down, the fog machine cranked up and people began to dance. The electricity of the rally continued and a group of rally goers jumped up on stage. And then one of them dropped down into the waiting arms below and crowd surfed. As the concert began to wind down, we went back into the frigid night. There, we found something unexpected.


SALDINGER: Dozens of supporters jumped over a short fence to slide around on a small frozen pond. I grabbed one of them and asked why they got on the ice.

VOTER 6: This is such an important event, monumental so many people's lives, like, it's not just about us anymore. It's about everybody else and just sympathizing and just having morals this point, really.

SALDINGER: It was after midnight when we left the rally, and though it was late on a Monday, many people lingered, eventually forming a colossal group hug on the ice. It was a small moment on a frozen New Hampshire pond, but one that speaks volumes about the passion that Sanders supporters bring to his campaign.

For Living on Earth. I'm Anna Saldinger in Durham, New Hampshire.

CURWOOD: That story was produced with the help of Isaac Merson.



A complete video of the rally

Bernie Sanders' Green New Deal plan

A write-up of the Green New Deal in the 2020 election

Check out Sunflower Bean’s music here

More about The Strokes and their upcoming album


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