The 2020 Presidential Candidates on Climate Change

Marisa Takeuchi, Staff Writer

This year is the 2020 presidential election, scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. On that day, a new president and vice president will be elected, or Donald Trump and Mike Pence will be re-elected. The presumptive Republican candidate is Trump after securing the majority of pledged delegates, on March 17, while the presumptive Democratic candidate is former vice president Joe Biden after senator Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign on April 8. A big debate topic this year is the climate crisis. This article is to educate readers on the presumptive candidate’s past history with climate change, their previous accomplishments, mistakes they have made, and their climate plan. Although climate change is an important issue, it should not be the only deciding factor that people consider when voting or who they are influencing their parents to vote for.

Joe Biden has been an advocate for fighting the climate crisis for the past thirty years. During his time as Senator of Delaware, he wrote one of the first climate change bills in the U.S. Senate. He believes climate change is “indisputable” and “the greatest threat to our society.” In 2007, he supported higher fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles, which were passed. In 2003, he supported modest caps on greenhouse gas emissions, which did not pass. Despite generally supporting pro-environmental bills, in 2008 when the Senate was voting on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. C., Biden was not present. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act is considered to be the strongest global warming bill ever to make it to the Senate floor. Biden has also advocated for some controversial solutions. During a debate in the 2008 election campaign against Sarah Palin, he expressed his support for clean coal, a very controversial topic amongst environmentalists. Regardless of his mistakes, Biden has definitely proved that during his time in the Senate, he was trying to help the planet. Biden was in the senate for 36 years and had a lifetime environmental voting score of 83 percent.

From Jan. 20, 2009, to Jan. 17, 2017, Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama. Together, they made many strides towards making the United States more sustainable. He fought alongside Obama to double the efficiency of cars reducing oil consumption by 12 billion barrels. Also, as vice president, he oversaw the single largest clean energy investment of 209 million dollars. He promises to continue these patterns and fight the climate crisis.

Biden is a supporter of the New Green Deal, introduced by Representative Alexandria Orazio-Cortex of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, both being democrats. In a very brief explanation, the New Green Deal will cause the federal government to curb fossil fuels and provide new high-paying jobs. Biden embraces this and based a lot of his climate plan off of its principles. He wants the United States to urgently embrace a greater ambition to match how dire this challenge is, and wants to embrace how our environment and the economy are connected. Biden has promised that if he is elected, he will immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement and will lead a diplomatic initiative to get every nation to exceed its original commitment in the Paris Agreement.

Biden also wants to hold leaders accountable in China, not only to reduce carbon output there but to have them stop financing billions in fossil fuels across Asia. Freshman Nathan Erskine does not “ think it is fair of him to do that, it is companies, not countries. But, holding someone accountable is necessary.” In July, Biden released a policy agenda aiming to boost the rural economy, expanding a program to pay farmers to use farming techniques that store carbon in the soil. Biden plans to spend $1.7 billion over the next 10 years on preventing the climate crisis and wants to spend $13.3 million in investments by the private sector, state, and local governments. To help prevent pollution, Biden wants to establish an enforcement mechanism based on principles that polluters must bear the full cost of the carbon they are emitting. 

Donald J. Trump’s opinions on climate change have been ever-changing. In 2009, Trump signed an article in the New York Times, along with many other wealthy business leaders. The articles express support for legislation combating climate change. The article admits to the necessary action that must be taken to combat climate change; “If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.” However, in the years that followed, he took a different approach on Twitter. Trump tweeted more than 120 posts questioning or making light of climate change even though he’s previously acknowledged it was a serious issue. In 2012, Trump famously said climate change was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” He later claimed that it was a joke. Sophomore Danielle Levin believes that this “joke” was actually “Trump being immature and racist while disregarding the tragedies of climate change.”

Trump also had a very controversial first term as president.  In 2018, Trump made headlines after he cast doubt on the government’s own National Climate Assessment. When asked about the findings that climate change would have a devastating economic impact, Trump said: “I don’t believe it. At a sustainability event, he dismissed environmentalists like 17-year-old Greta Thunberg and called them  “alarmists” who wished to “control every aspect of our lives.” He also decided to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, which committed the United States and 187 other countries to keep rising global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. According to Erskine, “Pulling us out is putting us in a bad position with the rest of the world.” 

Trump also replaced President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have limited carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants, with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which had much weaker regulations. He even attempted to freeze the fuel efficiency standards imposed on new vehicles, and almost prevent California from setting its own emissions rules. In Aug. 2017, President Trump revoked an Obama Administration executive order that required federally funded projects to factor rising sea levels into construction. In Dec. 2017, the Trump administration made the decision to remove climate change from the list of national security threats. This delisting caused less Department of Defense research funding and less focus on the potential impacts of natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. 

In recent years, he has tweeted less about climate change. Since being elected president, he has had an inconsistent stance that differs from multiple interviews and speeches. Even when he acknowledges the significance of climate change, he tends to frame it in terms of clean air and water (which are not necessarily related directly to climate change). In Dec. 2019, Trump stated, “I’m an environmentalist. I am. I want the cleanest water on the planet. I want the cleanest air anywhere.” Quillan Robinson, government affairs director at the American Conservation Coalition partly agrees to acknowledge, “We’ve seen him really soften his rhetoric on the issue of climate change. He’s no longer talking about it being a hoax, and he’s talking about his care for the environment.”

For his climate plan, Trump announced that the United States will join the One Trillion Trees Initiative, an ambitious effort to bring together the government and the private sector to plant new trees in America and globally. However, he has not announced how he is contributing to the project. When asked about global warming, Trump’s campaign responded, “Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water. Perhaps we should focus on eliminating lingering diseases around the world like malaria. Perhaps we should focus on efforts to increase food production to keep pace with an ever-growing world population.” He has not released an official climate plan.

The two candidates have very different histories and have made very different contributions politically. Biden is a strong supporter of many pro-environmental bills and has a very climate-friendly past. Trump has had a less eco-friendly start but is beginning to explore climate crisis solutions. The candidates’ perspectives on climate change are once again not the only deciding factors but should play a role in people’s decisions.