by Samuel Murray, columnist
In such a crucial election, it can be difficult to focus directly on the issues, rather than simply voting in opposition to the other major party candidate. But issues are important and can be defining features of a campaign or presidential legacy. Focusing on key issues could in theory detract from blind partisanship and force voters to confront their positions on policies that may contradict major party platforms or interact across party lines.
One key issue facing Americans is what the next president will do to address global climate change. This presidential campaign marks a potential turning point in how the lead executive determines a climate agenda, as this was the first election cycle that featured climate change in the presidential and vice presidential debates.
The American public, now more than ever, views climate change as a major threat, one that must be considered a top priority for the president and Congress. However, this prioritization is explicitly divided on a partisan line. While on the uptick for both parties in 2020, Democrats in 2020 score an 85% support for “protecting the environment” and 78% for “climate change” as being the pressing issue. Republicans, however, share these priorities at 39% and 21% respectively. This interesting dichotomy can be expressed too through the divergence of Democrats and Republicans about the concern for climate change since 1990. Democrats’ concern has gradually increased, whereas Republicans have their concern diminish. Interestingly, some of the most sweeping legislation to regulate and combat air and water pollution emerged during the early 1970s, under the Republican administration of President Richard Nixon and through bipartisan votes in Congress.
Climate change is very much a heated issue. On Friday September 20th, 2019, the largest global march for climate action occurred. Youth activists led these efforts, demanding governments spanning all political ideologies act swiftly to combat climate change. Climate action is now on the agenda of the youth constituency and expanding across age demographics, whether the major parties in the United States like it or not.
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are pushing very different approaches to climate change. Joe Biden’s climate plan is ambitious, passionate, and attempts to tackle what he feels is “the number one issue facing humanity… [an] existential threat.” His plans are profoundly opposite to the incumbent’s challenge to the validity of climate science, and the very notion that President Trump seeks to plant one trillion trees as a primary solution to climate change.
The Biden Plan
Former Vice President Biden has presented the most ambitious climate plan of a major party candidate in United States history. He is doing so in a time when we need a strong economic recovery strategy, funded by jobs that promote sustainability and green enterprise. This stance diverges greatly from the incumbent’s strategy of deregulation and the expansion of the oil and gas industry in vulnerable wildlife refuges.
In his climate plan, Joe Biden states outright that “the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” Leading up to the formal creation of his plan, he established a climate policy panel where Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was co-chair, incredibly important for progressive victories due to her co-authorship of the Green New Deal.
Some of the key proposals the Biden plan is the goal of 100% clean energy and net zero emissions by 2050, while maintaining a position as world leader in this initiative. Additionally, an important proposal is to incorporate aspects of climate justice in this plan. Climate justice is an increasingly popular term for actionable change in promoting environmentally sustainable actions while also addressing the systemic racial and ethnic disparities of polluting, resource extraction, and service accessibility. Joe Biden making this a part of his plan is important due to the persistent demands of organizations with a prominent influence in voting and the youth demographic such as Sunrise Movement, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace, or Extinction Rebellion. These organizations are calling for protection of biodiversity, preventing pollution of land and sea, global peace, indigenous rights, investing in communities, fighting against racism and injustice, and a transition to a fossil fuel free future.
This proposal is not without a substantial financial backing: Biden’s team estimates it will cost $2 trillion as an investment to rebuild infrastructure, domesticize production for vehicles, improve public transportation, transition to clean energy, weatherize four million buildings, construct 1.5 million sustainable homes, invest in innovative clean technology, create sustainable agriculture jobs, and again invest in environmental justice measures in the DOJ and among polluting sites. These proposals are coming at a time when Americans need jobs, with unemployment hovering around 8% from the September jobs report. A substantial green jobs program will be a needed stimulus for our economy.
Overall, the Biden plan aims for substantial infrastructure improvement and the modernizing of the green industry, as well as providing a jobs program in a time of economic stress.
The Trump Plan
One thing is certain: Donald Trump sees any form of green jobs programs as problematic, detrimental to American industry, costly, and unnecessary. He is largely focused on the stance of deregulation, EPA Superfund cleanup, and expanding the United States domestic drilling capabilities. Significantly, the President signed an executive order to remove two regulations for every additional regulation added, as a measure of cutting bureaucratic red-tape.
President Donald Trump presents an inherently non-environmental agenda. In a sharp contrast to Joe Biden’s transition from fossil fuels, President Trump’s agenda has been focused on expanding oil and gas capabilities in the United States. Rescinding Obama-era regulations is additionally a primary focus of the administration, arguing they are costly and hurt industry.
However, this is nearly it. The Trump climate plan follows a free-market, limited intervention approach. Rolling back protections is the primary initiative. This deregulatory attitude, promoting American oil and gas enterprise, and industrial job creation is the platform of the status quo – unlikely to change if the incumbent wins a second term. Perhaps, with less voter accountability due to term limits, the president may act unrestrained in dismantling prominent environmental regulations and continue to open up areas for oil and gas drilling.
Vice President Mike Pence has taken the tone that “the climate is changing”, but refusing to acknowledge this is due to human activity through the combustion of fossil fuels and subsequent buildup of greenhouse gases. This is a reference to the scientifically proven cyclical nature of the climate cycles, but entirely fails to account for the disproportionate amount of influence human activity has had over the last two centuries.
Further enforcing the notion that humans are substantially affecting this cycle is the level (in parts per million (ppm)) of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas and heat insulator, in the atmosphere. Prior to human industrial activity, the last 800,000 years have had increases and decreases of CO2 atmospheric concentration, reaching a previous maximum of 300ppm. The average has drastically exploded over the last hundred years, reaching an ever-increasing high of 414ppm as of September 2020.
After the presentation of the two major party candidate plans, the focusing point should be on how fundamentally distant they are. The Donald Trump plan of deregulation and expanding fossil fuel industry, paired with a passive denial of humans as the primary driver of climate change, is lightyears away from Biden’s plan of innovation, green jobs programs, and the gradual transition away from all fossil fuel consumption.
According to some scientists, the deadline for irreversible climate change is rapidly approaching. We have until 2030 to cut all carbon emission by 50%, and subsequently to become net-zero by 2050. These deadlines are closely followed in the Biden plan.
Both parties have opposing views on what must be done for the environmental and energy sectors. But it is important to emphasize how climate change is an important issue for this election, and it is unlikely that we will see a decrease in issue salience. We will only live through larger wildfires, droughts, flooding, hurricanes, ice storms, and so many other changing weather patterns with unpredictable outcomes. Without a plan, it will get worse, and even with a fantastic plan for the United States, it is pointless without global cooperation and pressure for nations to act.
Joe Biden’s plan works for the future, President Trump’s works for the immediate profits earned by fossil fuel companies. Only one stands the duration of time. We must come together as a planet to solve this crisis, for the future generations to come.