Climate action depends on who gets to the White House next November. Photo: David Maiolo/Wikimedia Commons. (Lic: CC BY-SA 3.0)

Let US vote for Climate

Climate has finally made its way into a US presidential debate. What are Donald Trump and Joe Biden planning to do about it?
Climate has finally made its way into a US presidential debate. What are Donald Trump and Joe Biden planning to do about it?

This article represents its author’s opinion, which are independent from Climate Tracker

The first question about climate change asked in 20 years of Presidential debates was asked by Fox News’ anchor Chris Wallace to Donald Trump last September 29. Wallace asked the incumbent candidate: “What do you believe about the science of climate change and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?”.

The question seemed to leave the reality of climate change up for speculation. We have come a long way, but clearly not long enough to still question the existence of the manmade climate crises, leaving it to the citizens to pick sides on the matter. The debate touched upon many pertinent climate change concerns but did not take its known factors as a foundation to build upon. It put up for discussion the cost of action but ignored the cost of inaction.

The US has taken some drastic steps to move away from the climate agenda in the past few years. It is, therefore, a matter of great significance to know what the presidential candidates have to say on the matter. While Trump’s views were limited to explaining his stand on the issue, Biden went into the details of his plan and investment towards it. 

Donald Trump’s skepticism on the matter of climate change is no secret. He has tweeted 115 times displaying his denial on the matter since 2011 —long before he even ran for President. His belief on the topic has no scientific grounding, and he often shows confusion between climate and weather, or, of late, with the quality of local air and water. In 2012 he tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make the U.S manufacturing non-competitive”. Even after taking charge as President his stand did not change and he condemned the spending by previous presidents while continuing the narrative of it being a hoax. 

But is it just his rhetoric, or do Trump’s actions showcase the same narrative? This qualm was clarified after a momentous decision was taken under his regime in 2017 when the US pulled out of the Paris Agreement. The agreement, which came into existence in 2015 with 200 other signatories, puts onus on the countries to act towards adaption and mitigation of climate change.

Photo: Gage Skidmore. Adapted by Emma Kaden/Flickr. Lic: CC BY-SA 2.0

President Obama had envisioned “a world that is safer and more secure, more prosperous, and more free” while committing to this ambitious action plan in 2015. Trump, however, saw it in a different light. He feels that the agreement imposes an unfair economic burden on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers while countries like China have little accountability.

In the past he has called climate change “mythical”, “nonexistent”, or “an expensive hoax”, but as the elections are approaching his tone seemed to have softened where he has described it as a “serious subject” that is “very important to me”. Even so, his understanding is limited to provision of clean air and water or he relates it to the cost of business. 

It must however not be negated that Trump’s biggest influence towards climate change is not only his inaction, but his strides to move away from the issue so much that he has brought it back into prominence.

In the 2016 presidential debates, the issue of climate change was discussed for a total of five minutes and twenty-seven seconds, which accounted for 2% of the total time —all of which was Hillary Clinton’s time. Climate change has been a non-issue since 2012 when, along with other environmental issues, got no time at all.

It was most spoken about at the time of Al Gore and George W Bush in 2000 when fourteen minutes three seconds were spent on environmental issues during the debate. 

This year-round the candidates and the moderators have given a lot more attention to the issue during the presidential as well as the vice-presidential debates. The 2020 Democratic candidates discussed the environment for almost forty-three minutes, which is something not seen before. 

Speaking of the Democratic party’s stand on climate change, we have seen the Obama government’s initiatives around climate and environmental issues. “There’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,” said US President Barack Obama at the UN Climate Change Summit in 2014. “And that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.” 

President Obama’s work towards the cause of environment is a legacy in itself and has been the most any president has ever done against climate change. A few glimpses from his exemplary work include the Clean Power Plan which was the first-ever national limit on carbon pollution from the largest sources. The plan compelled states and utilities to think of alternatives to energy production. The Paris agreement was originally signed under his leadership. The work done by Obama has shown the pathway to the Democratic Party for the fight against climate change, and with Joe Biden being the Vice President at the time only gives more hope for a better future. 

Trump’s government, on the contrary, rolled back some high-profile initiatives. The withdrawal of Paris climate agreement, which was a commitment to keep rising global temperatures below 2 degrees, was most symbolic of all. The Clean Power Plan was replaced with a much weaker Affordable Clean Energy rule, with less rigid regulations. The attitude of Donald Trump and the Vice President Mike Pence in the ongoing debates have confirmed that not much will change should they be reelected. 

Joe Biden and Democratic party’s vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris are the flagbearers against climate change, and consider it an important issue to tackle should they be elected. Not just their words, but their proposal and investment plan demonstrate their commitment. Biden has proposed a Green New Deal with a commitment of $2 trillion towards it, where the focus is on cutting emissions and creating new job opportunities.

The party, however, does not address fracking, which involves practices harmful to the environment, and has taken the trouble of especially coming forward and stating that fracking will not be banned. The prime reason for this is to not alienate moderate voters from Pennsylvania and Ohio, who rely on oil and gas drilling to a great extent. However, when the choice is between action and inaction, the choice to vote remains obvious.