by Leslie Layton
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders brought his ambitious and sweeping plan to combat climate change to Paradise and Chico Thursday, touring fire-ravaged neighborhoods and holding a town hall in a packed auditorium.
Speaking at Chico’s Masonic Lodge to an audience of some 700 people – most of whom had probably been affected directly or indirectly by the Nov. 8 climate-driven Camp Fire — Sanders was passionate in defending a plan that he had put forth just a day earlier. Sanders’ version of the Green New Deal is now viewed as the most ambitious plan to combat climate change that the Democrats have touted.
“We have an enormous, enormous challenge in front of us,” Sanders told his audience as blue and white “Bernie” signs popped up and people broke into frequent applause. “We are fighting for nothing less, in my view, than the future of our planet. Scientists call this an existential threat, and that’s what they’re talking about.”
Sanders’ Paradise-Chico campaign stop fulfilled a promise he had made late last year, when a group that included four Camp Fire survivors and Democratic congressional candidate Audrey Denney and other community leaders traveled to Washington, D.C., for a national town hall on climate change. The group participated in 17 meetings in two days with Sanders and other lawmakers and officials.
But the campaign stop Thursday fulfilled another purpose – it gave Sanders a chance to describe in detail his plan to stem the effects of climate change against the backdrop of communities affected by California’s deadliest wildfire, the Camp Fire. The fire caused an estimated $16.5 billion in damages and killed 86 people.
Sanders is proposing a $16-trillion investment in renewable energy sources as the country transitions away from fossil fuel use. The plan would involve extensive weatherization and retrofitting, rebuilding infrastructure and de-carbonizing the transportation system.
Sanders said the country also needs to “expand the capacity to fight forest fires and respond to climate emergencies.”
Sanders said he has “seven beautiful grandchildren” that he’s worried about, and President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the role of human activity in climate change is a threat to the world.
“Donald Trump is dangerously, dangerously wrong, and his ignorance is going to impact the entire planet,” Sanders said.
“It is expensive, but the cost of doing nothing is far more expensive,” Sanders said, outlining in detail the ramifications of inaction. For example, Sanders noted that scientists predict that some coastal cities like Miami could be under water by 2045.
Sanders said that his plan would be funded by new taxes on the fossil fuel industry, the elimination of subsidies and, perhaps, reduced military spending. Later, a Nevada City woman asked how to respond to people who don’t believe the funding can be found.
“You’re talking about a lot of money for climate change reform,” she said. “People are saying, ‘We don’t have enough money to do all this.'”
Sanders noted that the federal government could itself “go into the sustainable energy business” and generate funds to supplement what is found elsewhere.
“Let Paradise, California, be the wake-up call for our entire nation,” Sanders said. “We cannot continue to let the greed of fossil fuel billionaires destroy the planet. We’re taking on a whole lot of very powerful special interests… but we cannot afford to fail.”
Mark Stemen, a Chico State professor of geography and planning, said the Paradise area had been without rain for 227 days at the time of the Camp Fire, and during briefings, fire experts said the vegetation had been drier than what they had ever before seen.
Stemen has been using a sophisticated model, Cal-Adapt, to predict wildfires and floods resulting from a changing climate, but the Camp Fire was 10 times worse than what the model had predicted and came 10 years earlier.
“The most important thing I can tell you is that climate change is not coming, climate change is here,” Stemen said. “We desperately need a Green New Deal.”
Also speaking at the town hall were Steve Marquadt from the Chico Sunrise Movement, Nirvan Mullick of Climate Uprising, Chelsea West, a nurse who worked at Feather River Hospital, and District 1 candidate Audrey Denney.
The Chico town hall – Sanders spoke for more than an hour — marked a shift toward a greater emphasis on climate change in his campaign.
But there was also a perceptible shift among his supporters who seemed more profoundly worried about climate change than they have been previously, more anxious to hear candidates talk about it, and hungry for inspiration.
video by Tania Flores
Prior to Sanders’ arrival, Tom Curran, who had traveled from El Dorado Hills, told ChicoSol he was hoping the candidate would discuss his plan for curbing the effects of climate change. Curran said Sanders’ positions on other issues, such as health care, were seeming less important.
“For me, if you don’t have a habitable planet, none of it matters,” Curran said.
Journalists arrived from mainstream media networks and major newspapers to cover the Chico town hall and people formed a line that wrapped around the building to gain entrance to today’s event.
Local activist Emily Alma left the town hall saying she felt inspired. “I was supporting him before but not as strongly,” Alma said. “I am 100 percent now.”
To see live video from the town hall, visit the ChicoSol.org Facebook page here. Leslie Layton, a freelance journalist, is editor of ChicoSol.