Election and the Climate


Since the last election cycle in 2012, “Super Storm Sandy” has washed out major American metro areas, flooding has displaced thousands in Louisiana and droughts and wildfires have singed swathes of California.

Meanwhile, mudslinging and past scandals have gripped the limelight of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, throwing this pivotal period of the climate to the wayside. Climate change was not posed as a moderator question in any of the three presidential debates or the vice presidential debate. Although climate is not the main focus on the debate stage, it has still been a popular issue this year in other government positions.

The candidates have established their positions on the issue, highlighting the partisan division that has slowed climate policy in recent years. An October article in The Guardian recounts the candidates’ positions. Republican candidate Donald Trump denies climate change, calling it a “Chinese hoax.” He wants to block the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, rescind U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Change Conference, and reverse the Obama administration’s moratorium on coal leasing. He also wants to rely on American sources of oil over OPEC sources and is open to developing renewable energy sources.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton wants to lead a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge to incentivize municipals at the local level to cut back on carbon pollution, resist arctic drilling, continue with the Paris agreements, give coal miners more employment benefits and dramatically expand renewable energy sources such as solar panels.

Republicans have shied away from strong climate change policy in recent election cycles in order to retain the support of the fossil fuel lobby. Democrats have stood by the science of climate change and have aspired to lofty goals for sustainable resource development, such as Clinton’s promise to have installed half a billion solar panels within four years of taking office.

Environmental protection was not always this partisan. In the 1970s, Congress and Republican President Richard Nixon implemented the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to understand and publicly announce their impacts on the environment. In 1990, Republican President George H. W. Bush signed amendments to the Clean Air Act into law. The latter twentieth century showed Republicans and Democrats alike coming together to preserve the Earth’s valuable resources for generations to come, despite political oppositions.

Today, such cooperation between the parties is unattainable. Interests groups supporting the fossil fuel industry have invested too much into the Republican Party for the party to turn against the industry with restrictive legislation. A Republican-led Congress and an equally divided Supreme Court has consistently blocked President Obama’s Clean Power Plan since August of last year. So long as this partisan divide continues, climate change policy in the United States can be expected to crawl.

The 2016 presidential election is especially important for a variety of issues. While personal attacks and scandalous behavior have unfortunately robbed the climate of the attention it deserves, other factors of this election will inherently impact the climate. The replacement of the late Justice Antonin Scalia in what has become the swing seat of the Supreme Court, in addition to the Congressional elections, will impact the type of climate policy that will reach the president’s desk. Foreign relations with OPEC countries and military interventions will affect American energy resources. Fiscal policies may have an impact on lobbying groups and who they choose to rally behind.

In an election season where energy policy has not been granted a forum for comprehensive debate, it is crucial that other local government positions are analyzed for their potential climate consequences.