In July 2019, Dr. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, climatologist and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change stated that there would be 18 months until climate change damage is irreversible, 18 months until the Earth changes forever. Now there are only 11.
These are the last presidential elections before we reach the point of no return.
The U.S. is one of the leading producers of carbon emissions, one of the causes of climate change. The next president will have to address how the US will respond to climate change, and that will be based on how much the public is willing to support a greener America.
“In the near term, I don’t think single-issue candidates that focus on climate change will generate widespread support. Jay Inslee is the most obvious example,” says Professor Scott Krummenacher, an Environmental Studies Professor at the Washington University in St. Louis. Jay Inslee is a governor who had a plan to cut the U.S.’s fossil fuel use to 0 percent. He had dropped out of the 2020 Presidential Elections in favor of running for governor again after struggling to gain support for the September debates.
The fact that people didn’t support Jay Inslee when his main focus was climate change raises the question: are people aware of how serious the problem climate change is getting to be?
57% of Americans believe that climate change is mostly caused by human activities and 70% percent believe that global warming will harm generations to come. However, there is a difference between acknowledging the problem and understanding that we have about a year and a half until it’s too late.
Krummenacher points out, “political ideology has a significant impact on how we understand climate science, but there can be interesting ways in which they align.” He also says “communicating science in personal terms that meets people where they can be effective in increasing understanding.”
If people realize that this issue could affect them they may want to start talking or learning about it.
Also, just because people acknowledge the problem doesn’t mean it’s a priority for them. Krummenacher believes that climate change won’t be the most important policy but that it will matter more in the Elections of 2020 than the Elections of 2016.
“Climate change is most likely to matter during primary elections rather than general elections. Concern about climate change is driven primarily by those who identify as Democratic voters.”
For example, according to a Climate Opinion Map of 2018 from the Yale Program of Climate Change Communication, 94% of Democratic Liberals say that global climate change is a major threat to the well-being of the US. Meanwhile, only 19% of Conservative Republicans believe the same thing.
“Right now, I believe the best thing a president could do is reengage the international community to honor obligations under the Paris agreement and to prioritize substantial investments in renewable energy,” said Krummenacher.
The Paris Agreement is a UNFCCC agreement whose aim is to combat climate change by decreasing carbon emissions and curbing the planet’s increase in temperature to less than 2 °C. It has been in effect since 2016, and the US is one of the 175 Parties who have signed it as of 2016.
Currently, our president, Donald Trump, has not done anything against climate change. He has not mentioned how carbon dioxide emissions are worsening global warming, and how the US is one of the leading perpetrators of that, and rollbacked policies against pollution. In fact, in 2017, he announced that he planned on having the US leave the Paris Agreement, and in November 2019, the United States began formally withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
There is already a lot of pressure on candidates to act. Especially with the increase in severe natural disasters such as wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, and droughts, causing disaster-related costs to increase. The next President may have the best plan on how to go about fixing these problems, but “ultimately, what the president is actually able to accomplish will come down to how the congressional elections play out,” says Krummenacher. “Climate change will change everyone’s life whether politicians act or not. The question is whether that change will be manageable or potentially catastrophic.”
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