Even a cursory examination of recent news regarding the environment reveals that our planet is in dire straits. This year, Earth experienced the hottest August documented in history, its sixteenth consecutive record-warm month. The past few decades have seen an increase in extreme weather events, including heat waves, coastal flooding and droughts, which scientists believe are linked to climate change. What, if anything, can we do to avert or at least ameliorate further calamity? Must we stand helplessly by as temperatures soar, seas rise and natural disasters? While making lifestyle changes such as using public transit, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and reducing consumption of meat is commendable, combatting climate change requires a level of collective action only possible through politics. This sort of action begins at the ballot box, where we ought to consider candidates’ stances on energy and environmental policy of paramount importance.
In the upcoming presidential election, the contrast between the two candidates on the issue of climate change could not be more clear. In her speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, Hillary Clinton pointedly said, “I believe in science[…]I believe that climate change is real,” and expressed support for the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions. She frequently demands that the United States lead the global fight against climate change and vows to make the nation the “world’s clean energy superpower.” Clinton will defend the progress President Barack Obama and his administration have made in combating climate change and take bold action of her own, including prohibiting offshore drilling in the Arctic and launching a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge.
Intimately aware of the intricacies of public policy, Clinton offers not only promises but laudably specific proposals for protecting the environment. Her energy policy would slash government subsidies for oil and gas companies and make major investments instead in clean energy, infrastructure and innovation, such as installing half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term. Clinton believes natural gas can serve as a short-term substitute for dirtier fossil fuels while the economy transitions to the use of renewable energy, but she will regulate its production through fracking. Acknowledging the likelihood that a Republican Congress will likely stymie any progressive climate legislation, Clinton’s plans would use the powers of the presidency to reduce carbon emissions even without such measures. Both Clinton’s rhetoric and extensive policy proposals indicate that she is fully cognisant of the threat posed by climate change and committed to taking action.
On the other hand, Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s nominee, believes that the very concept of climate change is a “hoax created by the Chinese” to decimate American manufacturing jobs. This is only one of many ludicrous assertions Trump has made on this subject. Unable to comprehend the difference between climate and weather, he has claimed on multiple occasions that freezing temperatures and snowstorms disprove the existence of climate change. He has denied the reality of the disastrous drought afflicting California. On the campaign trail, he has frequently launched bizarre rants against the EPA, labeling the agency a “disgrace” and blaming it for the difficulty he faces maintaining his orange-hued coiffure. Such farcical assertions would be absurdly comical if they were not uttered by a major political party’s candidate for president of the United States.
Given the office Trump seeks, his statements are not amusing, but appalling. When the Associated Press convened a panel of scientists earlier this year to grade the science-related statements of presidential candidates for accuracy, Trump received 15 points out of 100, indicating a lack of even the most elementary knowledge of science (Clinton earned 94 points out of 100). Now more than ever, the U.S. needs an informed chief executive capable of understanding multifaceted scientific and technological challenges. Trump’s ignorance in these areas, especially in the vital field of environmental science, is disqualifying.
Trump’s stated policy positions on energy and the environment are just as horrifying as his extemporaneous comments. As mentioned before, Trump is an avowed foe of the EPA and pledges to cripple the agency by repealing major regulations including the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule. He is a vociferous opponent of the Paris climate agreement and would not uphold President Obama’s commitment to slash U.S. carbon emissions, likely spelling the end of the historic accord. Heavily influenced by oil and gas mogul Harold Hamm, an early and enthusiastic Trump supporter, Trump would revive the Keystone XL pipeline, abolish regulations on hydrofracking and expand offshore drilling. His infatuation with fossil fuels extends beyond oil and gas. Despite the fact that the struggles of the coal industry are largely due to the machinations of the free market, Trump promises to do all he can to increase production and consumption of this dirtiest of fossil fuels. In short, a Trump presidency would lead to a massive and catastrophic increase in carbon emissions, as well as a decline in air and water quality.
However, it would be a grave mistake for those concerned to focus their attentions solely on presidential elections. For while the White House’s power is considerable, combating climate change demands bold and dramatic action by Congress and state governments. Under the control of Republicans who, heavily influenced by fossil fuel lobbyists, deny the very existence of climate change, Congress has consistently blocked legislation that would address climate change and attempted to undercut President Obama’s efforts to do so. State governments dominated by climate change deniers have done the same, with 27 states even suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan. Confronting climate change is a task far bigger than any single person and while the president is essential to the task, she or he alone is not sufficient.
The efforts required to combat climate change may seem overwhelming or even insurmountable. Indeed, those who choose to believe that saving the planet is a task free of toil and strife would be dreadfully mistaken. But there is no alternative to action if we wish to avoid consequences of truly cataclysmic proportions. We can begin by voting for candidates who acknowledge the science of climate change and will take steps to address this crisis if elected. This November and in every subsequent election thereafter, vote like your whole planet depended on it. To say it does is hardly an exaggeration.