Climate Change

Who will best lead the US response to climate change?

Go straight to the Bottom Line

AP Photo: Noah Berger

In the past four years, Trump has scaled back or eliminated more than 150 environment measures; mocked, denied or minimized the established science of human-caused climate change; and installed a well-known climate denier to a top position with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Yet the explosive effects of climate change, most recently in the form of wildfires and hurricanes, continue to wreak havoc. And the costs—to life, health, and the economy—are enormous. There is no longer any doubt about the reasons for the crisis, its dire consequences for life on earth, or the need for immediate and dramatic action.

What will the next four years bring?

Since we can extrapolate Biden-Harris’s approach from the actions taken under the Obama-Biden administration, and the tactics of Trump-Pence are well documented, let’s examine four key aspects with each lens.

Clean Power

The Clean Power Plan announced by Obama-Biden in 2015 set the very-first limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the largest source of pollution in the country. And the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama-Biden enhanced fuel efficiency and sensible pollution standards for vehicles.

Trump-Pence swapped out the Clean Power Plan in favor of a replacement rule that has been challenged in the courts because of its limited standards and potential to hamstring future restrictions on pollution. Critics say it’s tailored to please the coal industry. Trump and Pence have also rolled back regulations on energy suppliers at a rapid pace and auctioned off millions of acres of new drilling leases on public land.

Renewable Energy Sources: Solar and Wind

Obama-Biden’s Recovery Act—the largest single investment in clean energy in U.S. history—made way for significant change. During that administration, wind power in the U.S. tripled, and solar power increased by 2500%—offering autonomy and freedom from government-created monopolies.

In December 2019, Trump said, “I never understood wind,” and he has consistently made unfounded claims about the dangers of wind farms. Trump-Pence has also hobbled the progress of solar power, championing fossil fuels instead.

Photo: American Wind Energy Association

The Paris Climate Agreement

In 2015, under Obama-Biden, the U.S. formally entered the Paris Agreement, an unprecedented and groundbreaking international commitment to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to slow down global warming. Countries around the world—including virtually all the industrialized nations—signed on.

In 2017, Trump-Pence announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the Paris Agreement, although the treaty’s terms will not allow withdrawal until November of this year.

Biden has said that rejoining the agreement would be among his first priorities if he is elected.

Clean Water

In 2015, Obama-Biden clarified the 1972 Clean Water Act’s safeguards by issuing the Clean Water Rule. The move ensured that the critical protections provided by the act would apply to important streams, wetlands, and drinking-water sources across the country.

In April 2020, Trump-Pence rolled back key parts of the Clean Water Rule, threatening drinking water sources for 117 million people in the U.S.

The Bottom Line

According to a landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming beyond even half a degree above the maximum of 1.5C will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

That report came out two years ago. Since then, we have already raised the temp by 1 degree, and the resulting changes are not reversible. As Bill McKibben points out, no one has a plan for refreezing the poles…. [The upcoming election] is not just about what will happen for the next four years. It’s about what will happen for the next 10,000 years.

For any voter who accepts the well-documented science of climate change and is worried by it, the differences between the two candidates could not be more stark – or have longer or more serious consequences. Climate change should, by all rights, be the defining issue in this campaign, for the White House and for races in the House and Senate as well. It is the immediate existential threat to the planet and all of life on Earth. It is hard to think of anything a whole lot more important than that.