Illustration by Jim Cooke

When President Obama signed a climate-change agreement with almost 200 other nations in Paris last year, it was a major triumph for clean energy advocates around the world. But the truth is that the next US president will largely bear the burden of reducing the nation’s carbon emissions. There’s no question that climate change is the most pressing and globally significant scientific issue for the US over the next four years, and the candidates’ stances on it range from outright denial to staunch environmentalism.

Hillary Clinton

Green energy and climate change have been part of Clinton’s political career since she first ran for senate and her first attempt at the presidency in 2008. More recently, she’s called for a North American Climate Compact to buddy up with Canada and Mexico on aggressive initiatives to reduce the continent’s carbon footprint.

During the fifth democratic debate, Clinton reiterated her plan to build a half billion more solar panels in the first four years of her presidency, which would be a 700 percent increase in the US’s current solar storage capacity. Experts consider the plan “ambitious” yet attainable. Clinton’s current energy plan also calls for public investment in “clean energy R&D,” as well as federal tax incentives.

In the eighth democratic debate, Clinton and Sanders clashed over hydraulic fracturing—or fracking. To the question of “would you support fracking,” Hillary gave a long convoluted answer, ultimately saying “by the time we get through all of my conditions, I don’t think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.” In response, Sanders simply said “No, I do not support fracking” and has repeatedly attacked Clinton for taking campaign contributions from fossil fuel lobbyists.


The topic came up again during the New York democratic debate, Sanders pressed Clinton on agreeing to tax carbon while Clinton focused heavily on reiterating that she wants to get real change done and work on what President Obama has already started.

Bernie Sanders


Although both democratic candidates are “green” compared to their GOP counterparts, Bernie Sanders is a darker shade. In the third democratic debate, Sanders stood by his claim that climate change is the No. 1 threat facing America and a direct contributor to the rise of ISIS. He’s also displayed a tireless effort to debunk climate change skeptics in Congress.

Sanders’ energy plan aims to decrease carbon emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, which would include 10 million new jobs, a tax on carbon, and a moratorium on nuclear plant licenses, among other things. He also introduced legislation last year that would set aside $200 million in Department of Energy loans as grants to slap solar panels on low-income housing. The plan mimics Obama’s own announced last year. Sanders also wants more investment in high-speed rail and electric charging stations.

Oh, and he’s pledged to not support fracking (which isn’t a new stance) and to ban fossil fuel lobbyists from the White House and “bring climate deniers to justice.” His most distinctive stance from Hillary Clinton is a proposed tax on carbon, and “upstream” tax on carbon-emitting energy sources.


Donald Trump


Donald Trump has stated, repeatedly, that climate change is a hoax. Now, Trump has all sorts of outlandish positions. That’s, like, his thing. But his statements about climate change are incoherent ramblings even by Trump’s standards. “Unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change,” he said in a radio interview last year. Trump also said that climate change is “very low” on the list of major modern-day problems in the same interview.

Oh, and Trump tweeted this way back in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” Instead, Trump has said repeatedly that he’s more worried about another climate threat saying in a New York Times interview “When people talk global warming, I say the global warming that we have to be careful of is the nuclear global warming.”

Ted Cruz


Ted Cruz is an unabashed climate change denier, and he has a record of criticizing activists as “alarmists” who should not dictate public policy.

“If you look at global warming alarmists, they don’t like to look at the actual facts and the data,” Cruz said in an interview with the Texas Tribune last year. “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.”

Cruz’s climate denial stance has attracted major contributions from at least one CEO of a major coal company, according to The Intercept, and his latest tour of the Bronx, where parts are known as “Asthma Alley,” wasn’t very well-received because of his stance on climate change.


Marco Rubio


Rubio’s stance on climate change is...unclear. He’s on the recording that climate change is real, but also said that “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it” in an ABC News report. He added, “I do not believe that what they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”

And Rubio is all about cheap energy. He supports the Keystone XL pipeline, offshore oil and gas drilling, and opposes the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. In June 2015, he reportedly said, “I believe it’s in the common good to protect our economy. There are people all over this planet and in this country who have emerged from poverty in large respect because of the availability of affordable energy.” His reference to affordable energy is a term that has commonly been used by the GOP to mean fossil fuels.

Rubio is also credited for being the first modern politician to use the phrase “I’m not a scientist” to dodge a question. He first uttered the words in a GQ profile published in 2012 when asked about how old the Earth is. In the article, he said, “I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow.”


Contact the editor at; Images from AP Photo via Matt Rourke, David Becker, Gerald Herbert, Marcio Jose Sanchez, David Goldman