The US presidential election is under a week away – and the world has never been more divided over who it wants to win.
This is an election that won’t just impact Americans, but the whole world. And despite climate change becoming a more pressing global issue, the two candidates couldn’t have more contrasting views on the matter.
On the one hand, President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, and has withdrawn the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. Former Vice President Joe Biden, on the other hand, acknowledges the climate change emergency and has promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
To put this divide into perspective, we’ve outlined the environmental impacts of Biden getting elected, or Trump getting four more years in office.
A brief overview of the candidates
Trump’s actions couldn’t stray further from this bold statement. Over the past four years, his administration has torn apart major climate policies – rolling back key rules that monitor clean air, water, wildlife, and toxic chemicals.
Overall, more than 70 environmental rules and regulations have been officially reversed, revoked, or rolled back under Mr Trump – with another 26 rollbacks still in progress.
Put simply, the Trump administration’s environmental decisions have the potential to significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Biden has put forward a bold plan to combat climate change as part of his 2020 presidential campaign. His key aims are to modernise American infrastructure, invest in clean energy, and make green developments in the transportation industry. It’s hopeful this plan will also create 1 million more jobs in a post-COVID world.
Biden has, however, also assured people that fracking will continue. His position remains that he would not allow new fracking on public lands, but that it should not be eliminated right now. “Fracking has to continue because we need a transition,” he said at a CNN event in September.
Climate change is the existential challenge that will define our future as a country. Tune in as I discuss the wildfires up and down the West Coast — and how I'll tackle the climate crisis head-on and create millions of good-paying jobs: https://t.co/yMhodX8RYe— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 14, 2020
Where do the candidates stand on key environmental issues?
What are their climate policies?
The two candidates’ climate policies (or lack thereof) show huge division – one is clearly focusing on the economy over the environment, while the other looks to a greener future.
- Trump currently has no clear-cut climate change policy put in place. He has also revoked a number of Obama-era climate reports, which required the government to place greater emphasis on climate change in decision-making
- Trump also repealed an Obama executive order requiring rising seas be taken into account during federal infrastructure projects
- Trump’s administration also rolled back the Obama plan to make sure parks are managed to benefit the climate
- Trump has pledged to stop contributing to the United Nations’ international “Green Climate Fund”
- Biden has proposed spending $2 trillion to reach zero emissions by 2050
- During his first 100 days in office, Biden plans to host a global climate summit to combat major issues across the world
- In addition to rejoining the Paris Agreement, Biden plans to push other countries to increase the ambitions of their climate targets
- Biden has pledged to put tariffs on trade to make sure goods imported from overseas support the full cost of climate pollution
According to Pew Research, 77% of Americans say it’s more important for the US to develop alternative energy sources, rather than producing more fossil fuel.
And over the past few years, solar energy has well and truly been on the rise.
But this isn’t likely to have been down to Trump’s choices. In fact, the President is pushing for quite the opposite.
- During the pandemic, Trump offered assistance to the oil and gas industry, whilst requiring solar and wind companies to pay back rent on public land
- The Trump administration placed tariffs on imported solar modules, slowing market growth. It also ended solar tax credits, and approved far fewer green energy projects than the Obama Administration did
- Trump also slashed proposed increases in fuel-economy standards for cars and small trucks
- The Trump administration claims that advancing nuclear energy is ‘one of’ its accomplishments in clean energy
- Biden’s climate plan is set to invest $400 billion over 10 years in clean energy and climate research
- By 2030, Biden plans to deploy 500,000 new electric-vehicle charging stations, as well as doubling offshore wind production
- Biden also proposes to expand rail service to the south, and start construction of a coast-to-coast high-speed rail system
- The Biden administration will also implement a new research agency. This would aim to develop grid-scale electricity storage at a tenth of the cost of lithium-ion batteries; create small-scale, inexpensive nuclear power reactors; develop refrigerants and air-conditioning units that cool without increasing global warming; and reduce carbon emissions from agriculture and the steel/concrete industries
Fossil fuel infrastructure
The White House’s environmental page is suspiciously quiet about fossil fuels, with only one mention of oil – despite pushing firmly for these materials. Biden, on the other hand, went as far as to decline campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry to show his support to clean energy.
- The Trump administration boasts that “the United States has become the world’s leading oil and natural gas producer”
- Four days after taking office, Trump resurrected the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipeline projects, both of which had been rejected or sidelined during the Obama administration
- The administration announced it would not take enforcement action against pipeline operators in rural areas that forego maintenance on some types of gas lines
- The President issued an executive order early to reduce regulatory barriers to oil, natural gas, and coal development
- The Biden administration is planning to take action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who knowingly harm the environment
- Biden’s climate plan states he will stop China from subsidising coal exports and outsourcing carbon pollution – holding China to high environmental standards in its Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure project
- US fossil fuel subsidies will also be cut. Instead, these resources will go towards investment in clean-energy infrastructure
- Biden promises to end the Keystone XL pipeline project. He has not taken a public position on the future of the Dakota Access pipeline, but Senator Kamala Harris – Biden’s running mate – signed a brief urging a federal judge to shut it down
Source: Victoria Pickering, Flickr
Once again, the two candidates take hugely different stances when it comes to pollution. While Biden promises to cut back on emissions, Trump’s focus on fossil fuels means pollution levels will undoubtedly rise. The President has, however, introduced a few positive rules to reduce water pollution.
- Trump axed Obama-era rules that prevented coal mines from dumping ash containing toxic metals into streams. He also extended the lifespan of dangerous coal ash waste sites
- In 2019, the Trump administration launched the Plastics Innovation Challenge to reduce plastic waste through better recycling technology. However, the President also opposes single-use plastic bans, and has even sold plastic straws on his campaign website
- In 2018, the President signed the Save Our Seas Act, which promotes international action to reduce marine debris. However, he also repealed an Obama-era rule that had expanded the types of wetlands that industry and agriculture must avoid polluting under the Clean Water Act
- Under Trump’s administration, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected 149 communities to receive nearly $65 million in Brownfields grants – with 40% of these communities receiving clean-up grants for the first time. The Brownfields Program provides direct funding for brownfields assessment, cleanup, revolving loans, environmental job training, technical assistance, training, and research
- If Biden is elected, an environmental justice division will be established within the Department of Justice. This will support litigation and increased enforcement against polluters in the US
- Before issuing or renewing permits under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, Biden would ensure agencies take into account cumulative pollutant levels. This will limit the concentration of polluting industries in communities of colour
- Similarly, 40% of clean-energy funds would be committed to disadvantaged communities
- In his first 100 days, Biden says he would produce a report identifying which strategies would result in the fastest improvements to air and water quality
- Contrary to Trump’s beliefs, Biden has said he supports phasing out single-use plastics
Let’s not beat around the bush – Trump has signed off rules in the past four years that have been devastating to wildlife. He has, however, also introduced rules that create new wildlife areas. In Biden’s case, like the rest of his climate change plan, there don’t seem to be any conflicting promises when it comes to protecting species.
- Trump dramatically cut the size of two protected areas in Utah – Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. This was the biggest reversal of public land protection in history
- He also proposed opening more of the country’s largest forest, Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, to road-building and logging
- Trump changed rules to allow economic factors to be considered when listing plants and animals for protection under the Endangered Species Act, and to reduce protections for species listed just as ‘threatened’
- The Trump administration also proposed rolling back portions of the National Environmental Policy Act – meaning federal agencies wouldn’t need to take environmental impacts into consideration when proposing new projects
- Trump did, however, sign a law that created 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, and added new protections to another million acres. He also signed a law that funnelled more money into the upkeep of national parks than at any time in half a century
- Biden’s climate plan promises to ‘protect biodiversity, slow extinction rates, and leverage natural climate solutions,’ noting that the Obama administration protected 550 million acres in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans
- Biden is keen to increase reforestation projects on federal lands, and establish national parks and national monuments ‘that reflect America’s natural heritage’
- By conserving 30% of America’s land and water by 2030, Biden aims to slow extinction rates across species
- His climate plan proposes to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while Biden says he would ban new oil and gas permits on public land and water
- The Democratic Party platform promises to reinstate protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument
Will they follow through on their plans?
Unfortunately, we don’t know whether the candidates will stick to their word – but there are a few tell-tale signs.
For Trump, we can take a peek at the past four years. Although the President has signed off on a few positive deals for the environment, overall he has inflicted colossal damage to the US environment and wildlife. And he shows no sign of slowing down.
As for Biden? A quick glance at his political history will tell you where his heart lies. In 1986, Biden introduced the Global Climate Protection Act – the first climate change bill in the Senate. The act directed the government to research and develop a strategy to deal with global warming.
The Obama administration also started with a massive investment in clean energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Source: Victoria Pickering, Flickr
Whether Biden will be able to follow through with all of his environmental proposals, we’re not sure. But having a green-thinking President is sure to benefit the planet much more than a fossil-fuel pushing, climate-change-denying one.
How we proceed with climate change is now heavily up to voters across the pond.