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State of the Union: Bernie Sanders says Trump lacked the 'courage' to mention climate change during speech

In Donald Trump’s lengthy State of the Union speech to Congress, he spoke about the US economy, took aim at Democrats’ plans for healthcare funding, and defended gun rights, but he failed to mention perhaps the biggest issue the planet faces: the climate crisis.

The US president has had an inconsistent and contradictory record on the subject, previously dismissing it as a “Chinese hoax”, “mythical”, “non-existent” and pulling America out of the Paris agreement, though he has also described climate change as “very important”.

The glaring omission from Mr Trump’s Tuesday night speech did not escape the notice of Bernie Sanders, who along with Pete Buttigieg, is now apparently leading the race to become the Democrats’ next presidential candidate.

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“As important as it is to respond to what President Trump said tonight, it is equally important to discuss what Trump refused to talk about. In the year 2020, how can a president of the United States give a State of the Union speech and not mention climate change?” Mr Sanders said to supporters following Mr Trump’s address.

The climate – long relegated to the bottom of the list of concerns – is now a major issue in American politics. Late last year, polls revealed over two thirds of US citizens now believe climate change is either a crisis or a serious problem.

This has also been bolstered by several years of extreme weather events, including terrifying wildfires in California and the damage wreaked by ever larger tropical storms.

Over 120,000 weather records were broken across the US in 2019, including for daily high and low temperatures as well as for levels of rain and snow.

Heat waves hit Alaska raising temperatures to over 30C (90F) and sparking wildfires, winter storms brought snow to Hawaii, and heavy rains brought widespread flooding to the Midwest destroying crops. 

Also in 2019, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg was made Time magazine’s person of the year, lending the climate movement considerable prominence. 

The accolade did not impress the US president. Mr Trump responded on Twitter: “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!”

As Mr Sanders chases the Democrat nomination, he did not miss the opportunity to hammer home the differences between himself and Mr Trump, with the climate crisis a key weapon with which to wallop the president. 

He said: “How do you give a speech – a State of the Union speech – and not mention climate change when the leading scientists of the world tell us that climate change is the greatest existential threat facing humanity, and that they as scientists have actually underestimated the speed and the severity with which climate change is wreaking havoc on our country and the entire world.

“I did not hear President Trump say one word about what it means when Australia is now on fire because of severe drought. And about the unprecedented level of flooding and extreme weather disturbances that we are experiencing. And he failed to talk about how many American communities could be underwater in the next century as a result of rising sea levels.

“By ignoring and in fact exacerbating the crisis of climate change, President Trump is turning his back on the children of America and on future generations and dooming them to live on a planet increasingly unhealthy and uninhabitable.”

He added: “It is truly sad that we have a President of the United States who lacks the courage to stand up to his billionaire friends in the fossil fuel industry.”