Election issue profile: Environmental issues
Over the next three weeks, the Forum section will be profiling the most pressing economic, political and social issues of the 2016 presidential race. We will examine the views of the top three candidates: Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson and Donald Trump—to give students an inside view on who and what we will be voting for (or against) in the upcoming election.
Somehow, we made it through debate season and barely touched one of the world’s most pressing issues: the environment! We have watched Trump and Clinton heatedly discuss national security, healthcare, tax policy and race relations repeatedly, but somehow they’ve yet to break the ice (no pun intended) on the issue that very well may be the most important in the coming decades: climate change. Without further ado, here is a look at the (in some cases, lack of) environmental policies of our presidential candidates:
Surprise, surprise: Clinton is the only candidate who definitively believes in climate change and has committed to doing something about it! In fact, Clinton has begun to assemble her own brigade of scientific experts (she has over a hundred, according to Politico, including former EPA administrators and White House advisors) who can help her formulate effective and ambitious environmental policy. That’s a pretty good start, at least compared to her closest competitors. But what exactly can we expect from Clinton if she’s elected?
On paper, a lot. There’s her plan to build 500 million solar panels in the US within 10 years to supply clean energy to American homes and generate enough renewable energy to power our homes in the same time frame. All of Clinton plans are generally related to the Paris Agreement, an international environmental treaty that has set ambitious goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions. So, without giving you the gory details of every idea Clinton has, you can tell she’s taking a largely democratic approach to the climate. Fight the naysayers who deny climate change, transform America into a more responsible consumer of energy and make genuine changes that put us (in her words), “on the path” to sustainable energy use.
While we’d like to give Hillary a pat on the back here, this plan is insanely ambitious given how big the divide is between politicians on the issue. 500 million solar panels? The Institute for Energy Research presents a bleak picture on the initiative: it will cost the US at least $205.8 billion dollars. And that’s the conservative estimate! It’s probably going to cost way more than that because solar panels are not as useful during peak electricity usage hours (you know, when there’s no sun out). Fun fact—the federal government only spent $120 billion on education in the past fiscal year! You think the Republicans will ever let that initiative go through? I’d put better odds on Wash. U. putting a 10-year ban on construction on campus.
Oh, and the renewable energy plan? That’s going to take a carbon emissions tax (in all likelihood), and the GOP controlled Congress has made it abundantly clear they won’t be promoting environmental tax controls any time soon.
On Trump’s long list of insane quotes from his candidacy, we can find two hidden gems on our beloved environment. Apparently “nobody knows for sure” that the planet is getting warmer (he said “nobody knows for sure” AGAIN just for good measure, in classic Trump style). And even if man-made climate change is real, which Trump is pretty sure it’s not, then “we’ll see what happens.” It’s funny, Donald almost makes greenhouse emissions seem like a science experiment—we may as well grab the popcorn and enjoy the consequences of Trump’s inaction if he’s elected president. Since climate change is allegedly a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese (that’s Quote #3 if you’re counting), Trump believes we should renew the Keystone XL Pipeline project, renegotiate and essentially obliterate the Paris Agreement and get rid of the majority of restrictions on American energy producers (specifically in coal, oil and natural gas). There’s not much else to the Donald’s environmental policy, so why waste any more time talking about it?
Is climate change real? “Probably so,” says Forum’s favorite third party candidate, Uncle Gary. That’s a good summary of the Johnson campaign so far (a hodge-podge of semi-intelligible statements smattered with a ton of Late Night spoof-worthy moments). Honestly, it’s hard to know what Gary wants with the environment. He definitely wants to protect the environment, but does not see politicians as part of the solution. He wants a free market for energy producers, but thinks the EPA is a legitimate agency and serves a purpose in the United States. Basically, Johnson is calling for an invisible hand approach to environmental policy. Innovative businesses and consumers will lead the change to sustainability. Want to know something funny? That doesn’t work. It has been proved a million times over in economics and we can see once again that the “savior” of independent voters is rather confused about what kind of “saving” he’s going to do if elected.
Who’s the best choice here?
Since I personally believe in climate change, and also care about the planet I live on, I’ve got no choice but to declare a de facto winner…again. Clinton at least knows how significant of a problem climate change is—she has the ambitious plans we need to save our planet, but in this day and age, it’s unlikely that our government will ever agree to push these measures forward. Sad as that is, Hillary, you’re still undefeated in these issue profiles, and it doesn’t seem like we’ll see a change in record any time soon.
Best Late Night Moment?
In an election that has been anything but interested in climate change, the pickings are pretty slim. So instead of answering our normal question, I’ll just plug Leonardo DiCaprio’s upcoming documentary about the climate, “Before The Flood.” It’s about time a major American celebrity takes a stand on the issue that will define our coming generations and regardless of whether the movie is a critical hit (it’s currently at 67 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), it’s nice to see that someone in Hollywood cares about the climate!