Only one Presidential candidate promises to act on climate change. Here’s why it matters.
To put this article into context: I am generally against publicly commenting on the election; I prefer to discuss issues, not candidates. But on the issue of climate change, to ignore the 2016 election is to risk disaster by ignorance. In this post, I hope to explain to you — a U.S. voter — why your choice this November should be clear if you care about climate change.
The next four years will be critical to the global effort to take action on climate change.
Time is running out. Global temperatures continue to reach record-breaking highs. The impacts of climate change are already here, from drought to rising seas to prolonged heat waves. Earlier this week, a group of distinguished climate scientists revealed that we could blow past the 2°C global warming target.
On the other hand, the global economy stands on the brink of a low-carbon revolution. The Paris Agreement will almost certainly enter into force this November — years earlier than anybody expected. Efforts to reduce emissions are being made easier by extraordinary price drops for clean energy technologies. In the U.S., for example, cheap renewables and natural gas are propelling a rapid decline in coal as the electric grid becomes greener.
Whether a global low-carbon revolution actually happens depends a lot on the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election.
Here are four reasons why the 2016 election will determine the direction of global climate progress for years to come.
- The world looks to the U.S. for leadership on climate. As a major world power and one of its largest emitters, the U.S. sets an example for other countries. President Obama’s tireless advocacy was critical to the Paris Agreement’s success. Bilateral climate deals with China, India, and other global partners are essential to preserving international cohesion. The next U.S. president can continue to lead the global community on climate — or not.
- The next President and Congress will set U.S. climate policy, which will make or break the clean energy transition. The U.S. government plays a critical supporting role for efforts to deploy low-carbon technologies. A suite of Obama-era policies — the Clean Power Plan, methane regulations, vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and more — will further level the playing field for clean energy by making dirty fossil fuels more costly. The federal government can also help ensure the clean energy transition is fair and equitable, especially for coal industry workers and historically disadvantaged communities.
- The incoming President’s court appointments matter. A lot. Federal judges tend to split ideologically on questions of climate policy, with liberal-leaning judges more likely to support climate regulation. With several Obama-era climate rules facing lawsuits (the Clean Power Plan and EPA’s methane rule, to name two), all eyes have turned to the Supreme Court’s empty ninth seat. The justice the new President appoints to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia will upend the Court’s ideological balance, likely determining the fate of U.S. climate policy for years — if not decades — to come.
- Congress must act on climate. The Obama administration has made remarkable progress to usher in clean energy and reduce emissions, but the executive branch can only go so far. Stakeholders from stalwart climate activist Bill McKibben to major oil companies want a price on carbon and more — which Congress will likely have to enact. And currently, only the Democratic party seems inclined to act. This election is in many ways a referendum on Congress’s mandate to act on climate.
Here’s the truth: only Hillary Clinton will ensure climate progress.
Let’s set aside the scandals, the polls, and the rhetoric for now, and focus on the 2016 Presidential candidates’ policy proposals.
Hillary Clinton promises to defend the Obama administration’s climate policies, invest billions in clean energy infrastructure, and cut fossil fuel consumption. She has made environmental justice a priority. As an experienced diplomat, she will confidently assume President Obama’s mantle as a strong advocate for global climate action. She is expected to nominate a liberal-leaning justice to the vacant Supreme Court seat. And she will hopefully work with Congress to enact strong climate legislation.
Donald Trump would do essentially the opposite. He would attempt to undo President Obama’s suite of climate policies, expand U.S. fossil fuel production, undermine the Paris Agreement, and build a conservative Supreme Court.
Gary Johnson, meanwhile, seems to think the solution to climate change is to “inhabit other planets” — noting that in five billion years, “the sun will engulf the earth.” Not to mention Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight predicts Johnson has a “<0.1%” chance of winning in 2016.
There is zero uncertainty as to which candidate we should entrust with the planet’s future.
It’s Hillary Clinton.
But don’t forget about Congress: we need a Democratic Senate.
This year’s down-ticket races are also crucial for the climate in two major ways:
- The Senate plays a major role in confirming court appointees. With the Supreme Court divided 4–4 along ideological lines, the fate of lawsuits over President Obama’s climate policies remains uncertain. Advocates on all sides agree a 4–4 split decision on a major rule such as the Clean Power Plan could create unnecessary confusion. Yet even if Secretary Clinton wins the presidency and nominates a liberal Supreme Court justice, a Republican-controlled Senate could delay confirmation indefinitely, prolonging the Court’s 4–4 split. It’s crucial, then, that the Democratic Party regain at least a simple majority in November (to assume Senate leadership) to confirm a justice friendly to climate action.
- We need Congressional climate legislation. The need for Congress to act on climate change — such as by enacting a national carbon price — is becoming more and more urgent. Until GOP leadership gets on board — likely a long time coming — Democrats seem to be the go-to party for climate action. Of course, Congressional candidates take wildly different positions on many issues — this is not a blanket endorsement of any particular set of candidates. What is certain, though, is that paying attention to Congressional races is critical.
If you care about climate and all its impacts, the choice in November is clear. Vote Democrats for Congress (in general).
And vote Hillary Clinton for President.