Most in Democratic primaries mum on campaigns’ carbon emissions, Sanders first to pledge offsets

March 21, 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders weathered criticism last year after he flew on a greenhouse-gas-spewing private jet to campaign during the midterm elections.

He promised to make things right by offsetting those emissions, and his campaign shelled out more than $5,000 to a leading offset provider.

Mr. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who led the party’s march to the left, on Thursday became the first Democratic presidential contender to announce that he would offset all the carbon emissions from his campaign.

“Bernie Sanders is a champion in the fight for climate justice and, like him, we know we need to address our emissions through action, not just rhetoric,” said Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir. “We are proud to lead the way in the fight against climate change.”

For Mr. Sanders, it was par for the course. His 2016 presidential operation also paid to cover for his emissions, paying more than $14,000 to Native Energy, his preferred offset company.

But the other 2020 Democratic hopefuls, who like Mr. Sanders call global warming an existential crisis, have been reluctant to put their money where their mouth is.

After inquiries from The Washington Times, only one other the campaign of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said it would consider proactive steps to make up for the dirty business, carbon-speaking, of a campaign.

“He’s pledged not to take contributions from fossil fuel industry and we’re looking into ways to reduce the carbon footprint,” said Buttigieg spokeswoman Lis Smith.

Every other campaign contacted by The Times blew off the inquiries, making it anyone’s guess at this point how seriously they take their emissions.

Those ducking the question included Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who made climate change the centerpiece of his campaign.

Environmental groups including the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project gave the Democratic hopefuls a pass for not addressing their campaigns’ emissions.

They did respond when asked about campaigns using carbon offsets.

A spokesman for the Citizen’s Climate Lobby said carbon offsets wasn’t really their thing.

Under the theory of offsets, an organization calculates its “carbon footprint” or the volume of greenhouse gases it pumps into the air and then pays for someone else to prevent or remove an equal amount of emissions from the atmosphere.

Popular offsets include planting trees that absorb carbon dioxide and capturing methane gas emitted from landfills.

The use of carbon offsets by campaigns came into vogue in the 2008 cycle when Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and John Edwards championed the idea. It fizzled since then.

The 2008 campaigns paid major offset providers, including Native Energy and Climate Trust, a total of $230,917, according to federal records.

In the 2012 cycle, when there wasn’t a Democratic presidential primary race, expenditures on carbon offset were just over $2,000.

The payments to major offset companies increased in the 2016 cycle but at $14,347 remained dramatically below the 2008 level.

In the first two years of the 2020 cycle, candidates spent $8,978 on carbon offsets.

Since 2008, only Mr. Sanders and fellow Vermonter Rep. Peter Welch consistently made large expenditures on carbon offsets.

The Democratic presidential candidates issue dire warnings about climate change.

They offer powerful prescriptions to fix it, including a carbon tax and the Green New Deal that seeks to transform the energy sector and the entire economy to eliminate carbon emissions.

“Climate change is the most serious threat to humanity today, and we need immediate and bold action to address it,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, said Americans have a “final chance” to act or else face a climate apocalypse in 12 years.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts proposed rebuilding all of the country’s infrastructure in a way that deals with climate change.

“The urgency of the moment on climate change cannot be overstated. It’s upon us and we need to make a change and make change fast. And that means in part rebuilding our power grids, our entire infrastructure system. We need to harden against the coming storms. Underpasses and overpasses and bridges. We need a 21st-century infrastructure that accounts for coming changes in climate, and we need it fast,” she told National Public Radio.

Mr. Inslee called for an “all-out national climate mobilization” to defeat climate change.

“Sounds like most Democratic candidates want to talk the talk of the Green New Deal, but no one is ready to walk the walk,” said Michael McKenna, an energy lobbyist and Republican Party strategist.