2020 Elections: Who Will Stand Against Climate Change?
This spring, 25 states and 13 million civilians are at risk of serious flooding (1). Meanwhile, an estimated 133.9 million US citizens are currently exposed to harmful levels of air pollution (2). The US does not just feel the impacts of climate change - it provides a marked contribution to environmental deterioration. As the second highest polluter nation, its emissions increased by 3.4% in 2018 (3). Amidst this, Trump has actively denied the occurrence of human-induced climate change; a belief epitomised by his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
Despite its global implications, climate change has previously failed to stand as a defining issue within US politics. Over the course of three debates preceding the 2016 election, no questions regarding environmental policy were directed to either Clinton or Trump (4). In 2019, amidst a culture of student marches and a growing anti-plastic sentiment, this seems unfathomable. Similarly, the recently defeated Green New Deal (GND) proposal and the subsequent formation of a Special Committee on Climate Change by Democrat senators has ensured the prominence of environmentalism as primary debates draw near. With Trump seeking re-election and remaining rigid on his laissez-fair environmental stance, there is an increased demand for the Democrats to respond with a constructive, climate minded candidate.
Perhaps most recognisable amidst the 15 confirmed candidates are political veterans Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Senator Warren, like many amongst the Democratic cohort, boasts an environmentally favourable voting record. However, the senator’s polling history is not indicative of her stance as a whole. Warren’s voice has been most persistent within the realms of electoral reform and the economy; her opposition to Trump’s withdrawal from Paris being based primarily upon a withdrawal acting as a ‘big gift to Republican donors’ (5). Sanders, like Warren, includes agricultural and animal welfare issues amongst his broad range of concerns. Famously arguing that ‘climate change is a moral issue’ on the 2016 campaign trail, Sanders promises an interventionist environmental policy that transcends Warren’s plans. In line with the GND’s approach, the Vermont senator has expressed the need for a transformed energy system (6). Sanders will undoubtedly be a vocal proponent for conservation and environmental policy reform.
Despite articulating support for the GND, former congressman and Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke’s stance on the fossil fuel industry is less straightforward. Owing to his Texan origins and his sensitivity to the State’s reliability upon the oil and gas industries, O’Rourke has appeared reluctant to fully reject the use of fossil fuels. His 2017-18 senatorial campaign received $476,325 from oil and gas sources – the second highest contribution of this kind (7). In the current election cycle, O’Rourke has failed to acknowledge a movement amongst his fellow candidates to reject fossil fuel money. Previously an advocate for the use of fracked natural gas and the eradication of the US’ crude oil export ban, O’Rourke’s limited stance on green infrastructure transcends the protection of local industries to align with his prioritisation of economic policy (8).
Jay Inslee, on the other hand, offers an unflinching stance on climate change. The current governor of Washington is seeking the Democratic nomination almost entirely on environmental grounds. Subscribing to the notion that climate factors underpin all aspects of life, Inslee is pragmatic, focussing on the reformation of attitudes alongside policy. Citing a desire to achieve 100% clean energy at the expense of no single demographic, the governor is unapologetically optimistic (9). Inslee cannot be accused of focusing on climate issues solely to forge a niche amongst the broad field of Democrats – since achieving governorship in 2012, he has successfully passed a solar power incentive scheme and launched a $16 billion public transportation package (10). The governor has an undeniable track record for the establishment of green infrastructure.
Yet whilst Inslee’s passion is admirable, numerous candidates have demonstrated a significant commitment to the environment whilst remaining engaged with wider socio-economic concerns. Senator Cory Brooker has identified ‘environmental justice’ as a key campaign issue whilst simultaneously advocating for Medicare for all and public education reform (11). A vocal advocate for environmentally minded vegetarianism and clean energy infrastructure, Brooker represents the blending of climate concerns into mainstream politics. Like many Democrats amongst the increasingly diverse field, Senator Kamala Harris echoes these sentiments. Having investigated the extent to which Exxon Mobil were aware of their pollutive capacity, the Californian has demonstrated a 100% lifetime score in favour of environmentally protective measures (12).
There is no absence of environmentally conscious candidates – the current electoral cycle has already presented the US with an unprecedented demonstration of environmental commitment. What remains is the need for voters and delegates to match this renewed environmentalist drive.
At the time of writing, Olivia Wiggins is a second year student at the University of St Andrews. She is studying History. Areas that interest her the most are reproductive rights and religious conflict.