Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Climate change affects every aspect of human existence. According to the National Climate Assessment, if society fails to lower global emissions in the following decade, climate change will drastically slow economic growth and severely damage our society’s infrastructure, with no country being spared. Two years ago, the UN released a report urging people to take action and proving that only twelve years are left to limit a climate change catastrophe. Today, ten years of those twelve are left.
In 2018, the United States produced 6.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emission, the second largest in the world after China. The same statistic was found in 2019. Climate change is not a freeway and distant threat. It’s easy to turn a blind eye and be skeptical, but what everyone fails to acknowledge is that society is first-handedly living through its preliminary effects right now.
Climate change is disrupting the physical and structural foundations of modern society through an increase in storm surges, droughts, and hotter temperatures. Every year, there is more of an increase in heat waves, which is the number one cause of weather-related deaths. Right now, fires in California have destroyed over a thousand structures, burned millions of acres, and killed over 25 individuals. According to the MIT Technology Review, ‘Climate scientists, who long resisted linking global warming to any specific extreme event, now say its influence is all but certain.”’ And yet, as these sort of situations increase in a variety of ways, hardly any progress is being made. In the upcoming 2020 election, climate change is becoming more and more of a priority and key issue.
However, Biden and Trump hold radically different views on environmental and climate policy. In the next few pages, both Biden and Trump’s climate policies will be compared and analyzed.
In July of 2020, Biden announced an unprecedented and ambitious two trillion dollar climate plan as part of his campaign. The plan is spread over four years and is outlined as an ‘irreversible path’ to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 that will create “millions of jobs to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure”. According to Joe Biden’s Climate Plan -- accessible on his website --, the plan of action involves ‘a historic investment in clean energy and climate innovation’; the swift deployment of clean energy installations across the country; and the revitalization of the U.S energy sector to export clean-energy technology across the globe and create at least two million new jobs in America.
Biden plans to pay for this through three different ways. First, by raising the corporate income tax rate. Second, by increasing taxes on wealthy Americans, and third, by using stimulus money. Additionally, he has committed to decline any contributions from oil, gas, and coal executives, corporations, and lobbies.The money would go towards energy efficiency upgrades, the construction of half a million electric car stations, and making unparalleled advancements in the renewable energy sector, such as carbon capture and storage technology. Further, the plan of action incorporates making America’s infrastructure more resilient to disasters, which have lately been exacerbated by a changing climate.This is expected to boost growth of the economy through the creation of new industries and create millions of ‘high-quality, middle-class jobs’, leading America to become the world’s new energy superpower and become much more technologically advanced.
The plan encompasses ambitious goals that is hoped to cause international momentum throughout the world. The 1.5 limit goal, that the Paris Agreement attempted to enforce before Trump withdrew the US from it, has been tightened and increased to a two degree limit, which has enormous implications for the climate even though it might not sound like much. Another one of the goals calls for ending the use of fossil fuels for electricity by 2050. The plan of action has been praised by hundreds of environmental activities. Some argue that it is not even enough.
On the other hand, Trump continues to deny the reality of the climate crisis. In fact, his Cabinet is filled with former coal and oil lobbyists. Since Biden hasn’t been president yet, we have to look at his policies, and the wording he uses when addressing climate change, as it proves that he will take action since he perceives it as a real threat. On the other hand, we can look at Trump's track record in environmental policy while in office. He actively promotes fossil fuels while constantly weakening existing environmental protections. In one presidential term, he has reversed 68 environmental rules and is in the process of reversing 32 more.
According to the New York Times, some of the laws already reversed have included:
- revoking the Clean Power Plan - which included strict limits on carbon emissions
from coal and gas power plants - with a new version that would let states regulate
- loosening a rule designed to limit toxic emissions from major industrial polluters.
- lifting bans on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
- weakening the National Environmental Policy Act, one of the country's most significant environmental laws, which required federal agencies to account for a
project's effects on the environment eliminating a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining debris into local streams.
- revising a program designed to safeguard communities from increases in pollution
from new power plants to make it easier for facilities to avoid emissions regulations
- withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement
... and over sixty more … .
Environmental activists, climate lawyers, and statistics have proved that ever since Trump has taken office, he has done more to harm the environment than any president in history. His defense has been that he “removed nearly 25,000 pages of job destroying regulations, more than any other president by far.” When asked about climate change and its interactions with science in September, he stated “I don’t think science knows actually.”
But science does know. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” Between observed global temperature rises, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreats, decreased snow cover, sea level rise, a declining arctic area, ocean acidification, and extreme high temperature events and storms, the scientific evidence is literally indisputable. The world is at a very delicate moment in time - especially between the pandemic, international tensions, and the climate crisis; but human society can not afford to turn a blind eye. It would put humanity’s entire fate at risk. Countries’ policy responses are key.
One of the main concerns that voters have regards the economy, and how the policies of the president elect would affect it. Many supporters of Trump’s policies, regarding the environment, support him due to the immediate positive effect that his policies may have on the economy. If he endorses oil production, of course more workers would be employed to work on new projects. However, although these laws and policies are beneficial short term, in the long term, the economy will suffer as future generations are forced to fight against the increasingly horrific health of our world. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every ton of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere, and for every acre of land that sustains oxygen producing, and atmospheric carbon reducing organisms, that is destroyed, the future economy will suffer. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, 10.3% of the world’s GDP is indirectly and directly contributed by travel and tourism. Many of these tourism hotspots are successful due to their natural environments that bring visitors. However, as sea-levels continue to rise due to melting polar ice caps, and as water expands as it progressively becomes warmer, many of these environments will become less appealing to visitors. Additionally, climate change has caused an influx in dangerous and deadly natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. While these natural disasters damage the welfare of the people inflicted, the economy has, and will continue to suffer as well if environmental destruction continues at the same rate. The amount of money generated in these economies will drastically decrease in many of the economies that depend on tourism for their livelihoods. Not only will these areas become unappealing to visit due to damage from disasters, but their attractions may completely disappear, especially in the tourism hotspots surrounded by water. The future economies of these places will suffer, even though their current economies may grow.
Another impact that climate change will have is on the agriculture industry. Although Trump currently imposes policies that benefit farmers for the short term, the agriculture industry is one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change, and future farmers will suffer tremendously. Climate change has caused irregular weather patterns, which greatly disrupts the natural processes that have been in place for millennials. According to The Earth Institute at Columbia University, “extreme rainfall events have increased 37 percent in the Midwest since the 1950s, and this year (2019), the region has experienced above normal amounts of rain and snowmelt that have caused historic flooding.” Due to this, many fields have become oversaturated and unable to produce crops, and many livestock have drowned as well. In fact, Nebraska alone has lost $440 million of cattle, while Iowa has experienced a $1.6 billion loss in total due to absurd weather conditions. According to a 2011 National Academy of Sciences report, for every degree Celsius the global thermostat rises, there will be a 5 to 15 percent decrease in overall crop production. This is due to the sensitivity of crops to weather conditions, and due to the increase of fires, droughts, and floods, that occur as the weather rises. The future American economy will greatly suffer when these implications take place, and although the future appears distant, our current generations will have to mitigate the damages.
Furthermore, Biden’s climate plan will invest two trillion dollars on clean energy projects, and to reduce carbon emissions, which will be invested directly into the American economy. According to the MIT Technology Review, “Biden also trumpeted plans to retrofit millions of homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient; create a Civilian Climate Corps that would put people to work on environmental restoration projects; install 500,000 charging outlets for electric vehicles; establish a cash-for-clunkers program to replace gas-guzzling cars and trucks with hybrids and EVs; and spark a “second great railroad revolution.” These unprecedented measures are striking, however necessary for the fate of our world. Through increasing energy efficiency, new energy companies will be developed, and Americans will save money on their electricity bill. Also, through creating the Civilian Climate Corps, installing outlets, and establishing the cash-for-clunkers program, thousands of jobs will be introduced to the economy, allowing for a great amount of economic growth. Biden has also committed to spend $400 billion to boost US manufacturing and $300 billion in research and development funds for electric vehicles, artificial intelligence, and other areas.
Trump’s concern, and desire for the expansion of our economy is undeniable, however his current decisions will be detrimental to the future economy. According to the White House, “nearly 7 million jobs have been created nationwide since President Trump’s election, including more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs,” and “the shale energy revolution saves American families an average of $2,500 a year”. While it can be observed that this is beneficial to the short term of our economy, it comes at the expense of the economy of future generations. Many of these economic “improvements” are actually setting the United States back, while many other countries are investing heavily in the clean energy sector, and limiting focus on sectors such as shale energy. Specifically, while the creation of jobs and a reliable energy source from shale is beneficial, the cost includes greenhouse gas emissions, and the contamination of water sources.
"According to a number of studies and publications GAO reviewed, shale oil and gas development poses risks to air quality, generally as the result of (1) engine exhaust from increased truck traffic, (2) emissions from diesel-powered pumps used to power equipment, (3) gas that is flared (burned) or vented (released directly into the atmosphere) for operational reasons, and (4) unintentional emissions of pollutants from faulty equipment or impoundment-temporary storage areas. Similarly, a number of studies and publications GAO reviewed indicate that shale oil and gas development poses risks to water quality from contamination of surface water and groundwater as a result of erosion from ground disturbances, spills and releases of chemicals and other fluids, or underground migration of gases and chemicals."—General Accounting Office report on shale development, September 2012.
When comparing the economic impacts of Trump and Biden’s plans, one cannot forget to include the cost of environmental damage that supplements policies. While politicians can deny climate change and its effects as much as they desire, it does not take away the fact that climate change is real, and will be responsible for a massive amount of economic turmoil if action is not taken now. Our world does not have much time left before climate change severely disrupts it, and The U.S., as the second largest carbon emitter, cannot fall even more behind in clean economic development, as it ensures the stability and safety of future generations.
Carly Gottlieb is a high school senior at American Heritage School in Plantation, FL. Sarah Dufays is a high school sophomore at American Heritage School in Plantation, FL.