US Election: Comment

The Next US President Will Determine the Future of the Climate

In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s difficult to imagine how we could face any greater challenge than this. The truth is COVID-19 is just the start of a decade which will be defined by a complete shift in society as we know it. This will either mean a green transition to a sustainable economy, or the collapse of the climate rendering most of the planet unliveable. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this election result will determine which of these paths we take as a species.

The USA contributes around 14% of global carbon emissions, despite being home to just over 4% of the world’s population, and is by far the largest historical contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Considering this, along with their incredible political influence, they really should be world leaders in our decarbonisation efforts. I don’t need to tell you this isn’t the case. The country appears to lack any form of leadership, let alone a government with the political will needed to make this happen.

Let’s take a look at President Trump’s (that doesn’t get any easier to write) first term. As of May 2020, Donald Trump’s administration has rolled back 64 environmental regulations, with a further 34 in progress. These include: rolling back Obama’s clean power plan, weakening fuel economy standards for road vehicles, and relaxing rules on gas flaring (the controversial practice of burning waste gases from oil drilling). These decisions have already and will continue to have an impact on global emissions into the future. Every new car made under weaker regulations will be adding to this crisis for years to come. At a time when governments should be funding the decommissioning of fossil fuel infrastructure, it is unthinkably irresponsible to open more land for exploitation. Yet this is just what the US, among others, have been doing.

So, this is the trajectory under Trump. Could a Biden presidency save us? No. Of course not. But, the change in direction from the current administration might just be enough to fuel a revolution which has long been building. Biden’s climate plan is a $1.7 trillion dollar commitment over the next ten years to begin the long and difficult journey to a zero carbon USA, by 2050. His manifesto commits to “Stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities”. It acknowledges “the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face”.

This is all great. But make no mistake: this is not the Green New Deal – it’s not nearly enough. 1.5°C of warming, a critical point for climate breakdown, could be here as soon as 2030, maybe sooner. Big polluters like the US need to go carbon negative (not neutral, negative) in the next ten years. Biden’s previous support of fossil fuel infrastructure and his refusal to condemn fracking also give reason to be sceptical of his commitment. He is, however, moving in the right direction.

And honestly, this is the best we could have hoped for. This war was never going to be won through a ballot box. Stopping this crisis is going to take grassroots campaigning on a scale never before seen. In every country. The difference between a Biden presidency and a Trump one is an administration which is susceptible to this campaigning, versus one with complete disregard for human life.

The future of our planet hinges on this election. And that’s not an overstatement.

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About Author

Henry Webb

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September 2021
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