As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prepare to face off Monday night in the first of three scheduled presidential debates, there may be no core issue over which the candidates differ more completely – or more consequentially – than climate change.
It’s hard, in fact, to point to two candidates in living memory with sharper differences on a matter that touches, or will touch, every facet of our lives, from where we live and what we eat to how we earn and spend our money.
If you think climate change is a hoax hatched in China, then, boy oh boy, has Trump got a deal for you. If you’re concerned about rising seas, widening deserts, withering heat, raging storms and other hallmarks of climate chaos, you’re going to want to give Clinton a listen.
Clinton understands that we have an obligation to protect future generations from these growing dangers by acting now to avert the worst impacts of climate catastrophe.
She’s set out a comprehensive portfolio of responsible policy proposals to build on the progress of the past eight years to ensure further gains going forward. She wants to end fossil fuel subsidies that cost taxpayers an unconscionable $4.7 billion a year. And she’s articulated a powerful vision of job growth, efficiency and prosperity from making our country the clean energy superpower of the 21st Century.
Trump said in 2012 that climate change is a hoax invented, he asserted, by the Chinese – like firecrackers, perhaps, or moveable type. He later said he was joking. Four years later.
Not only does Trump have no plan of his own for fighting the central environmental challenge of our time, he’s promised to scrap what’s already working, like President Obama’s historic plan to clean up the dirty power plants that account for 40 percent of our carbon footprint; or the global climate accord inked last December in Paris, which Trump has vowed to “cancel.”
Trump’s policies would set us back a generation in a fight for our future we can’t afford to lose. And, rather than looking to American innovation and enterprise for the clean energy solutions that already employ 2.5 million Americans across the country, he wants to lock us into more and more of the very fuels that got us into this mess in the first place.
These aren’t mere policy shadings. This is a tale of two wildly differing understandings of the world, two distinctly divergent paths for the country and two starkly different outcomes for our children.
It’s also a high contrast in values. Americans don’t walk away from challenge; we stand up to it and fight. We don’t turn our back on gathering threats; we roll up our sleeves and get to work. And we don’t kick problems down the road to our children; we take action today to leave them a more hopeful tomorrow. Little wonder that seven in ten Americans want real action to fight climate change.
In this election, the choice before us couldn’t be clearer and the stakes for the country could hardly be higher.
A Threat to the Natural Systems That Support All Life
We just wrapped up the hottest summer since global record keeping began 137 years ago. Between June and August, land and sea temperatures worldwide averaged 1.82 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-Century average.
Last year was the hottest on record, and the first eight months of this year have been even hotter, setting us on pace for 2016 to be the hottest year yet. And 19 of the hottest years ever recorded have all occurred in the past 20 years.
Who says that’s a problem? Well, for starters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the gold standard for climate data worldwide; the National Academy of Sciences, established by Congress during the Civil War to tell us the bedrock truth about what’s happening in our physical world;Pope Francis, who calls on people of all faiths to live out our spiritual duty to leave our children a livable world; leaders from the United States, China, Indian and more than 180 other countries that put plans on the table last December in Paris to fight climate change; and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – the guys who put a man on the moon.
Here’s who wants us to shrug it all off: a coal, oil and gas industry whose business model depends on steady increases in the carbon pollution that’s driving climate chaos, and that industry’s political handmaidens, with Trump leading the big polluter parade. He’s taken on the role with such fervor he hasn’t noticed the grim summer harvest of climate disruption sweeping the country.
Floods we expect every thousand years are happening every couple of months, from South Carolina and Louisiana to Maryland and elsewhere.Mosquitos are thriving, along with the disease they can spread, as periods of warm, moist weather lengthen across the country. Marine life is threatened in waters worldwide, as our oceans become warmer and more acidic from the carbon piling up in our atmosphere.
And, with scientists saying oceans could rise by as much as six feet before this century is out, the online real estate company Zillow estimated that a six-foot rise in sea level would flood nearly 1.9 million American homes valued at $882 billion.
Where once we looked to scientists to explain the dangers of climate change, now we need only look out the window to see signs of its growing costs and risks. What we see is a potent rebuke to those who pretend we might wish it away and a call to action to protect our children from this widening and perilous scourge.
That means cutting the dangerous carbon pollution that’s driving the disruption of our natural systems and all they support. It means reducing our reliance on coal, gas and oil by investing in efficiency, so we do more with less waste. It means creating more sustainable transportation options and getting more clean power from the wind and sun.
For nearly eight years, we’ve had a president working to put us on that track. Under President Obama’s leadership, we’re cutting the carbon footprint of our cars, trucks and power plants. He’s helped automakers build more all-electric and hybrid cars. He’s helped us get more clean power from the wind and sun and invest in efficiency so we do more with less waste.
In the decade between 2005 and 2014, our emissions of carbon pollution,methane, hydrofluorocarbons and other greenhouse gases fell 8.6 percent, while our economy grew an inflation-adjusted 12.6 percent over that same period. We’re on track to reduce greenhouse gases 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. And Obama has pledged to deepen those cuts – to between 26 and 28 percent below the 2005 levels?—?by 2025.
We’re doing what’s best for our people at home. Our friends around the world are watching, though. That’s why Obama was able to help broker a historic climate agreement last December in Paris, where countries that account for 97 percent of global greenhouse emissions put plans on the table to shift away from the fossil fuels that are driving climate change and move toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.
We need a president who will build on these achievements, not tear them down and turn back the clock on the progress we need.
Clinton would lead us forward. She has a plan to create millions of good-paying middle class jobs by advancing clean energy technologies and making our homes, cars and workplaces more efficient, so we do more with less waste. She wants to do away with fossil fuel subsidies that cost taxpayers $4.7 billion a year. And she’ll work with our friends around the world to make sure we all do our part.
Hillary Clinton understands that climate change threatens the natural systems that support all life. She’s taken a serious look at the rising costs and risks of climate disruption. She’s assessed the stakes for our country, made the decision to act and embraced the opportunity for needed change.
Donald Trump is living in denial – if not fantasy – and asking the rest of us to do the same. His views are at odds with the vast and growing body of climate change science. They’re at odds with what we’re seeing in our own backyards. And they’re at odds with the rest of the world.
In this election, on this central issue, the differences are stark, the stakes are high and the choice could not be more clear.
Bob Deans is the director of strategic engagement for the NRDC Action Fund.