Hillary Clinton portrayed herself as a crusader against climate change Monday, making a moral push for the importance of renewable energy production. Then she glided onto a private jet that burns 387 gallons of fossil fuel an hour, touching down in New Hampshire for another campaign event.
The former first lady’s journey was caught on film by America Rising, which backs Jeb Bush’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The group gleefully mocked Clinton for the apparent contraction between her words and deeds.
“It's that kind of hypocrisy that makes the majority of voters say Clinton is not honest or trustworthy," America Rising Communications Director Jeff Bechdel told the Daily Mail about the video. Social media erupted with more mockery.
But the Clinton campaign intends to put that in the past tense with a new pledge: “We are committed to a carbon-neutral campaign,” Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon told msnbc this morning.
The campaign did not respond to a request for detail, but Clinton’s 2007 bid for the presidency involved a similar pledge.
In that cycle, the campaign said it would take several steps to conserve energy, including “buying 100 percent recycled paper products; recycling paper, glass, cans and cardboard; installing motion-controlled lights to reduce energy when offices are not in use; and locating its headquarters next to a subway station to encourage staff to use public transportation.”
But the biggest portion of the earlier campaign's carbon-neutral pledge was the purchase of “carbon offsets” through NativeEnergy, a Vermont-based company that produces renewable energy.
The provided information on its energy use — the square footage of its office, aircraft and ground transportation, hotel accommodations and other sources — and the company calculated the campaign's total "carbon footprint." Then, with funds from the Clinton campaign, the company paid for renewable energy production that would not have otherwise existed.
“Yes, NativeEnergy did provide carbon offsets to both Clinton and Edward’s presidential runs,” spokesperson Kevin Hackett tells msnbc. “The Clinton campaign made a strong commitment to offsetting the emissions associated with campaign travel in 2008.”
However, he added: “We have not heard from the campaign.”
He may now.
In the 2008 election, both Republican and Democratic campaigns rushed to put themselves on a carbon diet, following the likes of celebrities (George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio) and former vice president Al Gore. The doomed John Edwards campaign lead the way.
“Global warming is an emergency and we can’t wait until the next president is elected to take action,” Edwards said in a 2007 press release. “Each of us can take responsibility in small ways to make a big difference.”
The NRDC Action Fund, an affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Council, helped make carbon neutrality cool, as well. It estimated that in the 2004 campaign season, the candidates flew millions of miles each, spewing a colossal amount of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere.
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To help counteract this literal pollution from modern politics, it sent letters to all the major declared candidates in early 2007, urging them to contribute to “the first carbon neutral presidential campaign.” The group called on the campaigns to use hybrid cars, energy-efficient light bulbs, and recycled products, in addition to buying credits to offset carbon emissions.
And lots of candidates bought in — at least to some degree.
Barack Obama’s campaign leased a “fuel flex” vehicle, which can run on gasoline or a cleaner burning blend of ethanol and gasoline. But it admitted that it didn’t always find it practical to drive the extra miles need to find a rare ethanol-ready pump.
At the time, Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani pitched voters on the greater use of hybrid vehicles, and occasionally made a show of walking between events rather than riding in his Cadillac Escalade. Even Mitt Romney got into the act, launching his campaign in front of a hybrid Ford Escape.
Of course, what a difference a few years can make.
The Clinton campaign may go carbon neutral, and it seems likely that her Democratic competitors will do the same. But there seems to be less than no interest on the Republican side — in part because all the major contenders deny climate change, the human role in it, or the need to act in response.
Is the carbon neutral movement just a gimmick anyway? The green world is divided on this point. NRDC calls it “a tool, not a golden ticket.” But purists compare it to the “indulgences” once sold by the Catholic Church, arguing that we all need a reformation on carbon.
“A carbon neutral campaign is nice,” Karthnik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for 350 Action, told msnbc in a statement. “But it wouldn't even slightly lessen the need for Hillary Clinton to show us a real plan that ends our dependence on dirty fuels and averts catastrophic climate change.”