Comparing the 2016 US presidential candidates on climate change

It won’t surprise you to know that there are stark differences between the 2016 Democratic and Republican presidential candidates with regard to their positions on climate change. Democrats accept the science on climate change and, for the most part, hold strong positions on what to do to combat it. Republicans have divergent views on the science, and what, if anything, government should do about it.

Since we are concerned on this site about policy related to oil and gas drilling, it’s worth shining a light on the positions of the candidates as an indication of the willingness of each to regulate drilling.

I’ll try to update this over time as candidates refine their positions.

Update 11/22/2015: The Associated Press asked eight climate and biological scientists to grade the scijentific accuracy of what each candidate has said about climate change in debates, interviews and tweets, using a 0 to 100 scale. I’ve listed the score for each candidate after the summary of his/her views.


Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton: She clearly understands climate change. Last December she told the League of Conservation Voters, “The science of climate change is unforgiving, no matter what the deniers may say. Sea levels are rising; ice caps are melting; storms, droughts and wildfires are wreaking havoc. … If we act decisively now we can still head off the most catastrophic consequences.”

That said, it’s unlikely she will deviate much from the policies of the Obama Administration. She has said she supports the Clean Power Plan: “The unprecedented action that President Obama has taken must be protected at all cost.”

On the other hand, she has also been aggressive in her support for fracking overseas. According to a Mother Jones article, “Under her leadership, the State Department worked closely with energy companies to spread fracking around the globe — part of a broader push to fight climate change, boost global energy supply, and undercut the power of adversaries such as Russia that use their energy resources as a cudgel.” She also “helped US firms clinch potentially lucrative shale concessions overseas, raising troubling questions about whose interests the program actually serves.”

Her environmental bona fides are shaky in other areas. As a Senator she supported offshore oil drilling, the Clinton Foundation takes in loads of oil money, and she avoids saying anything about the Keystone XL.

Like Obama, Clinton will likely be a mixed bag on climate change if elected.

Update, July 27, 2015: Clinton unveiled a broad plan to promote renewables to address climate change, without addressing the Keystone XL and fracking. The plan focuses on increasing solar panels and promoting wind and other alternatives. Here is the campaign video:

Update September 23, 2015: Clinton has come out against the Keystone XL Pipeline, and announced plans for what she would do if elected President. These include:

  • Begin negotiations for a North American Climate Compact between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, intended to create strong national targets and accountability mechanisms for emissions reductions in each country. A climate pact between the three countries, Clinton said, would “[create] certainty for investors and confidence in the future of our climate, so we can all marshal resources equal to the challenges we face.”
  • Develop common infrastructure standards across the continent, expand existing regional emissions trading markets, invest in low-carbon transportation, and work to set continent-wide reduction standards for methane.
  • Focus on ensuring that fuels are transported across the country safely — whether by rail or pipeline — and unlocking new investment resources.
  • Strengthen national pipeline safety regulations and partner with local operators and regulators to fix and replace aging pipelines. To tackle the recent spike in oil that is now transported by rail, Clinton said she would speed up both the retirement of outdated tank cars and the repairing of track defects.
  • Create a new national infrastructure bank, which would be used for investments in new infrastructure projects.
  • Expand access to clean energy by making the federal permitting process more streamlined and efficient.

Update 3/7/2016: At a debate in Flint, Michigan, Clinton defined a list of conditions under which fracking should not occur, including when local government bans it, where water becomes contaminated, where methane is released, and where fracking isn’t being sufficiently regulated. She summed up by saying, “by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place. And I think that’s the best approach, because right now, there places where fracking is going on that are not sufficiently regulated.”

AP score for scientific accuracy: 94/100

Sanders-021507-18335- 0004Bernie Sanders: Mother Jones reports that he has one of the strongest climate change records in the Senate. According to rankings released by Climate Hawks Vote, a new super PAC, Sanders was the No. 1 climate leader in the Senate for the 113th Congress that ended in January.

“Sanders is very much among the top leaders,” says R.L. Miller, founder of Climate Hawks Vote. “He has a record of really strong advocacy for solar in particular.”

Among bills that Sanders has introduced are the Climate Protection Act, which would tax carbon and methane emissions and rebate three-fifths of the revenue to citizens, then invest the remainder in energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate resiliency; and the Residential Energy Savings Act to fund financing programs that would help residents retrofit their homes for energy efficiency.

Update 2/5/16: Sanders wants to ban fracking, according to the Energy Policy page on his web site.

Update 3/7/16: At the same debate in Flint, Michigan referenced under Hillary Clinton above, Sanders stated, “No, I do not support fracking.”

Moderator Anderson Cooper then asked Sanders, “To Secretary Clinton’s point, there are a number of Democratic governors in many states who say that fracking can be done safely, and that it’s helping their economies. Are they wrong?”

“Yes,” replied Sanders.

AP score for scientific accuracy: 87/100

Sanders was defeated for the nomination at the Democratic Convention in July, 2016.

Martin O'MalleyMartin O’Malley: The former governor of Maryland, a state that has been among the most aggressive in limiting fracking, O’Malley in June published a remarkable position paper on climate change that clearly establishes him as the most aggressive candidate. In the paper he says that “Clean energy represents the biggest business and job creation opportunity we’ve seen in a hundred years. Reliance on local, renewable energy sources also means a more secure nation and a more stable world.

“Given the grave threat that climate change poses to human life on our planet, we have not only a business imperative but a moral obligation to future generations to act immediately and aggressively.”

In the paper he calls for absolute opposition to fracking, to offshore and Arctic drilling, and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

AP score for scientific accuracy: 91/100

O’Malley dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

Jim WebbJim Webb: Webb deviates from typical Democratic positions on energy and warming. As Grist, a liberal environmental web site puts it, “Jim Webb sucks on climate change.”

He does not believe that reducing emissions should be a priority: “We need to be able to address a national energy strategy and then try to work on environmental efficiencies as part of that plan. We can’t just start with things like emission standards at a time when we’re at a crisis with the entire national energy policy.”

His view of an energy future: “I believe the way to go with coal is to get the technology to address the issues, rather than to put coal out of business. And I’m a strong believer, from the time that I was 18 years old, in the advantages of nuclear power.”

Webb dropped out of the race on October 20, 2015.


The Republicans fall into several camps. Only two candidates have clearly stated that they believe that humans are responsible for climate change, four have stated categorically that they don’t believe in climate change, and the rest are casting about, trying to find a position that will be acceptable to primary voters without moving them too far out of the mainstream to survive in November.

We’ll group them by their views.

Climate science believers

Graham-080106-18270- 0005Lindsey Graham: Graham has been clear that he is a believer in climate change. In an interview last month he said, “If I’m president of the United States, we’re going to address climate change, CO2 emissions in a business-friendly way. I do believe that climate change is real.”

This week he told Late Night host Seth Meyers, “I’m not a scientist, but here’s the problem I’ve got with some people in my party: when you ask the scientists what’s going on, why don’t you believe them? If I went to 10 doctors and nine said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna die,’ and one says ‘You’re fine,’ why would I believe the one guy?”

However, his plan for what to do about it is short on specifics: “We must adopt economically sound principles for reducing negative impacts on the environment and becoming better stewards of God’s creation.  This can be achieved through greater efficiency, less waste, better use of technology, and more cost-effective measures.  All of these efforts will contribute both to a cleaner environment and greater energy resources.”

Lindsay Graham dropped out of the race on December 21, 2015.

AP score for scientific accuracy: Not rated

Chris ChristieChris Christie: In May, Chris Christie told MSNBC, “I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable, and I do think human activity contributes to it.”

“The question,” says Christie, “is what we do to deal with it.” The US “can’t be acting unilaterally…when folks in China are doing things to the environment that would never be done in our country.”

From his record in New Jersey it’s not clear what if anything he would do about it. Christie closed his state’s Office of Climate Change and Energy and withdrew New Jersey from RGGI, a regional carbon reduction program

AP score for scientific accuracy: 54/100

Christie suspended his campaign after the New Hampshire primary.

John_KasichJohn Kasich: The Ohio governor told a Vermont crowd, “I know that human beings affect the climate. I know it’s an apostasy in the Republican Party to say that. I guess that’s what I’ve always been—being able to challenge some of the status quo.”

But like Christie, he hasn’t said what, if anything, he would do about it. While he feels renewable energy should be a large part of our future energy mix and encourages research into new technologies, he supports an all-of-the-above energy policy, which includes approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and oil drilling on federal lands. Kasich has joined a suit against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and would undo all federal regulation of fracking.

AP score for scientific accuracy: 47/100

Kasich dropped out of the race in June, 2016.

The flat out deniers

Ben CarsonBen Carson: “There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on,” he said in Iowa. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment.” When asked about the scientific consensus on global warming, he said, “You can ask it several different ways, but my answer is going to be the same. We may be warming. We may be cooling.”

With regard to the Keystone Pipeline, he has said, “It’s perfectly safe, so I can’t really see a good reason not to do it.”

AP score for scientific accuracy: 13/100

Carson dropped out of the race on 3/2/2016.

Mike HuckabeeMike Huckabee: On Meet the Press in June, Huckabee said, “I know that when I was in college I was being taught that if we didn’t act very quickly, that we were going to be entering a global freezing. Go back and look at the covers of Time and Newsweek from the early ’70s. And we were told that if we didn’t do something by 1980, we’d be popsicles. Now we’re told that we’re all burning up. Science is not as settled on that as it is on some things.”

This is Huckabee’s third run for the Oval Office, so it’s worth noting that in 2007, his position was “climate change is here, it’s real.”

AP score for scientific accuracy: Not rated

Huckabee dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

Ted CruzTed Cruz: Last March, Cruz told The Texas Tribune, “On the global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate. What do they do? They scream, ‘You’re a denier.’ They brand you a heretic. Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.

“I’m a big believer that we should follow the science, and follow the evidence. If you look at global warming alarmists, they don’t like to look at the actual facts and the data. The satellite data demonstrate that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years. Now that’s a real problem for the global warming alarmists. Because all those computer models on which this whole issue is based predicted significant warming, and yet the satellite data show it ain’t happening.”

Update 11/1/15: Here is Cruz telling Glenn Beck that “climate change is not science, it’s religion:”

AP score for scientific accuracy: 6/100

Cruz dropped out of the race in July, 2016.

Marco RubioMarco Rubio: As reported by Politifact, in a 2014 interview with ABC News, Rubio stated,  “‘Our climate is always evolving and natural disasters have always existed.’ He doesn’t believe that ‘human activity’ is causing the extreme changes to climate change ‘the way these scientists are portraying it.’ He does not support legislation to ameliorate what has been laid out as industrial causes, seeing them as ‘destroy[ing]” the economy.”

Like Huckabee, his position has “evolved” over time. In 2007 he almost echoed Martin O’Malley when he said, “Global warming, dependence on foreign sources of fuel, and capitalism have come together to create opportunities for us that were unimaginable just a few short years ago,” he said. “Today, Florida has the opportunity to pursue bold energy policies, not just because they’re good for our environment, but because people can actually make money doing it. This nation and ultimately the world is headed toward emission caps and energy diversification.”

Update September 17, 2015: At the most recent Republican debate, Rubio staked out a position that the United States needs to focus on economic growth because countries like China would undercut any progress we might make on climate change:

“We’re not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government we’re under wants to do. Every proposal they put forward are proposals that will make it harder to do business in America, that will make it harder to create jobs in America….America is not a planet. And we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore: China is. And they’re drilling a hole and digging anywhere in the world that they can get a hold of.”

AP score for scientific accuracy: 21/100

Rubio dropped out of the race in April, 2016.

Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks to National Right to Life ConventionRick Perry: Talking to the Christian Science Monitor in June about oil and gas exploration and the Keystone XL, Perry said, “I don’t believe that we have the settled science by any sense of the imagination to stop that kind of economic opportunity.”

He even rejected the concept of carbon emissions contributing to warming, opining, “Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice the country, and I believe a disservice to the world.”

This is the same guy who couldn’t remember he wanted to cut the Department of Energy in his last go-round in 2012.

Rick Perry dropped out of the race in September 2015.

Sitting somewhere in the middle, but it’s hard to tell exactly where

Jeb BushJeb Bush: Bush seems to be following the Mitt Romney strategy of saying whatever you need to say to get the nomination, then coming up with a viable strategy for the general election:

  • In April, he said the US needs “to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions.”
  • In May, he backtracked, commenting, “For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you.”
  • In June, Bush, a Catholic, disagreed with Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, saying “”I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”
  • A few days later, he issued a vague call for action: “I live in Miami, a place where this will have an impact over the long haul. And I think we need to develop a consensus about how to approach this without hollowing out our industrial core, without taking jobs away from people, without creating more hardship for the middle class of this country,” he said. “I believe there are technological solutions for just about everything, and I’m sure there’s one for this as well.”

Expect that if he gets the nomination, he’ll find a middle position of paying lip service to climate change without a plan to do anything about it.

Update August 3, 2015: From The Hill, Bush is already seeking a middle position:

GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush says human activity is contributing to climate change and the country has an obligation to work to stop it.

“I think it’s appropriate to recognize this and invest in the proper research to find solutions over the long haul but not be alarmists about it,” Bush said in an interview published Thursday with Bloomberg BNA.

“We should not say the end is near, not deindustrialize the country, not create barriers for higher growth, not just totally obliterate family budgets, which some on the left advocate by saying we should raise the price of energy so high that renewables then become viable,” he added.

Update October 2015: Jeb released a four point energy plan that would increase growth of the sector by:

  • Lifting restrictions on exports of oil and natural gas;
  • Reduce “overregulation,” such as on fracking or coal power plants;
  • Allow states and tribes more say over their energy mix;
  • Approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been “badly politicized.”

That’s it. Reduce federal regulation. Approve a fossil fuel infrastructure project. No mention of renewables. No concern about climate change.

AP score for scientific accuracy: 64 (Highest of Republican candidates)

Bush dropped out of the race on February 20, 2016.

Rick SantorumRick Santorum: Last January, Santorum appeared on MSNBC’s State of the Union, and said, “Is the climate warming? Clearly over the past, you know, 15 or 20 years the question is yes. The question is, is man having a significant impact on that, number one. And number two, and this is even more important than the first, is there anything we can do about it? And the answer is,…clearly, no. Even folks who accept all of the science by the alarmists on the other side, recognize that everything that’s being considered by the United States will have almost – well, not almost, will have zero impact on it given what’s going on in the rest of the world.”

In June, he weighed in on the Pope’s enclyclical: “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality. When we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, I think the church is not as forceful and credible.”

AP score for scientific accuracy: Not rated

Santorum dropped out on February 3, 2016.

Bobby JindalBobby Jindal: Jindal believes that “human activity is having an impact on the climate,” but he told the Heritage Foundation last fall that global warming is being used by the Obama Administration as a “Trojan horse…to come in and make changes to our economy that they would otherwise want to make….It’s an excuse for the government to come in and try to tell us what kind of homes we live in, what kind of cars we drive, what kind of lifestyles we can enjoy. It’s an excuse for some who never liked free-market economies, who never liked rapid economic growth.”

Jindal’s energy plan, Organizing Around Abundance: Making America an Energy Superpower , makes the case for rolling back energy regulations and environmental protections, approving the Keystone XL pipeline, repealing the renewable fuel standard, allowing oil and gas exports and opening federal land to drilling.

Not really a recipe for warming reduction.

Bobby Jindal dropped out of the race on November 17, 2015.

CarlyFiorinaCarly Fiorina: Fiorina’s position is close to Christie’s, but she stops short of saying unequivocally that global warming is caused by humans. She agrees with Christie in saying that we should not act unilaterally when other countries are not cutting back on carbon emissions. In an October, 2014 op ed in the Washington Post she said,

“When discussing climate, scientists may agree that some policy change is warranted, but they also agree that action by a single state or nation will make little difference. China and India are the biggest and third-biggest producers, respectively, of carbon dioxide emissions, and their leaders were absent from the recent U.N. Climate Summit. At a time when American families are still recovering from joblessness and the recession, should the United States commit to an energy policy that puts U.S. jobs, and the economy, at risk?”

AP score for scientific accuracy: 28/100

Fiorina suspended her campaign after the New Hampshire primary.

Rand PaulRand Paul: Despite being one of only 15 Republican Senators to vote for a resolution last January that said global warming is real and humans contribute to it, two months later he voted against an amendment saying that climate change is real and caused by human activity and that Congress must cut carbon pollution.

In terms of policy, Paul has consistently been against action to reduce our carbon footprint.

Last year he told David Axelrod that the earth goes through periods of time when the climate changes, but he’s “not sure anybody exactly knows why. He said the science behind climate change is “not conclusive,” and that people who tie extreme weather to climate change are ignorant.

AP score for scientific accuracy: 38/100

Paul dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

In a class by himself

Donald TrumpDonald Trump: Appearing on Hannity in June, Trump said, well, something. “I’m not a believer in manmade — look, this planet is so massive. And when I hear Obama saying that climate change is the number one problem it is just madness. And by the way it started this global cooling, I mean we went through global warming…they don’t even know. Now they just call it — no, they call it extreme weather.”

AP score for scientific accuracy: 15/100

Here is Trump in a recent interview on climate change with the Miami Herald.

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
This entry was posted in Community Organization and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Comparing the 2016 US presidential candidates on climate change

  1. Pingback: American acceptance of climate change growing rapidly, opening opportunities for action | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  2. Pingback: Developing countries are moving fast in developing clean energy capacity. Time for the US — and Montana — to step up | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  3. Pingback: Congratulations! You’ve just lived through the hottest year on record. Again. | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  4. Pingback: The Yellowstone River closing: this is what climate change looks like | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  5. Pingback: 10 questions for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on energy and climate change | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  6. Pingback: Tell Senator Tester what you think about Trump’s cabinet nominees | Preserve the Beartooth Front

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s