(Mother Jones) - California's Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday is a make-or-break moment for Sen. Bernie Sanders, who needs a big win in the state to take anything resembling momentum to the Democratic convention in July. His rival, Hillary Clinton, has a narrow edge, leading him by about two points in the RealClearPolitics polling average as of Monday morning.
But in addition to its role in the delegate math—after Tuesday, Clinton will likely have secured a majority of the delegates, when unbound superdelegates are factored in—California's Democratic primary could also be a referendum on how voters in the state want to deal with climate change.
California is home to some of the country's most progressive climate policies, strong industries for both fossil fuels and renewable energy, and high vulnerability to some impacts of climate change, such as droughts like the one that is still ravaging the state (Donald Trump's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding). According to Yale University polling, 62 percent of Californians are worried about global warming, compared to a national average of 52 percent. A recent poll of California voters in both parties found that clean air and water ranked among the top issues in the presidential election.
In other words, California is uniquely suited to be a prime proving ground for differences between Clinton's and Sanders' approaches to issues like fracking and nuclear power.
"I think it's fair to say overall that California is known nationwide as being an environmental leader," said Michelle Chan, vice president of programs at Friends of the Earth in California. "And it's very much part of our identity as Californians: Our environmental values are part and parcel of how we identify politically."
Both candidates appear to be acutely aware of this. Last week, they courted the environmentalist vote in California. Sanders focused on climate change at a series of rallies, lambasting Trump as a "climate change denier" and calling on Clinton to up her game by coming out in favor of a tax on carbon emissions. Meanwhile, Clinton published an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News that focused on wilderness conservation.
Environmental groups are split between the Democratic candidates. Friends of the Earth endorsed Sanders nearly a year ago, and the Vermont senator also has the support of 350.org founder Bill McKibben. (350.org itself has not yet made an endorsement.) The political arms of the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council both support Clinton, as does Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been a forceful advocate for action on climate change. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace remain on the sidelines.Read More . . . .