When picking a president, climate change is the main issue Lori McMahan is considering. The 26-year-old from Cottonwood, near Redding, says the issue became real for her during the Carr Fire, which in 2018 killed eight people and burned more than a thousand homes and businesses near where she lives.
“I remember a time where my hometown was not on fire every year,” she said. “I knew that they happened. But the consequences were not exactly dire.”
That’s why as a member of Sunrise Movement Redding, a local chapter of a global youth climate organization, she says voters need to stay vigilant about forcing representatives to make bold changes.
“We have to continue to be just as motivated to keep pressing our world leaders and our elected officials to make the changes that we need to see,” she said.
While McMahan says the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket isn’t strong enough on the climate-positive agenda, she says “the fact that he believes in it at all is much more preferable to me than the alternative.”
McMahan isn’t alone. A Pew Research Center survey from August shows that nearly 70% of the country thinks climate change is an important issue when picking a president.
“Sixty-eight percent of Biden voters see climate change as very important to their vote this fall, just 11% of Trump voters say the same,” said Alec Tyson, an associate director of research with the center. “That's a really large gap. In fact, it's the largest gap in terms of priority of an issue between Trump and Biden supporters that we see.”
Still, Tyson says the share of voters who list climate change above other issues trails behind the economy, healthcare and coronavirus. For Trump supporters, he says, climate change ranks last in importance of 12 issues. No more than two in 10 Trump voters put high importance on climate change.
That gap between the two candidates and their supporters on climate change has some experts and advocates saying this election could have major impacts on the nation's climate future.
How Trump And Biden Could Impact Climate Policy
Biden and Trump's views on climate change couldn’t be more different. Biden says the threat of climate change is ‘existential,’ while Trump still questions climate science. In 2016, the GOP platform — which is the same this election — stated that “climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue.”
Scientists like environmental analyst Char Miller at Pomona College say the country needs a leader that sees that international value of supporting and creating policies that don’t make the climate crisis worse.
“If we don't get this administration out of office, the impact on our lives … now is going to [increase] so rapidly, that there is no coming back,” he said. “This isn't an apocalyptic claim. It seems to me to be reasonable and realistic.”
“We've already lost so much time, and who wins this year sets a trajectory for whether or not we at least start regaining some of that time, or we lose some of that time,” she said.
Pierre-Louis says the last four years indicate what another Trump term could mean for the environment. He’s rolled back dozens of regulations like limiting tailpipe emissions. And the president’s platform includes an energy plan that would expand drilling for oil.
“Climate change is like trying to stop a speeding train and every day that we don't put on the brakes we are accelerating faster and faster to a brick wall,” she said. “We're running out of time to hit the brakes, and depending on who gets elected in this year … that will determine whether or not we start applying the brakes.”
Biden’s $1.7 trillion plan includes rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and making the entire U.S. economy carbon neutral by 2050. He wants to invest in high speed trains to cut down on car emissions. The plan also promises millions of jobs as clean tech emerges and buildings are retrofitted for energy efficiency.
Michael Jones is a forestry expert with the University of California who advises wildfire ravaged communities. He says casting a ballot for president this year is about voting for science-based decision-making.
“The administration is actually doing tangible damage to environmental protection in the sciences at the same time,” he said. “It's really important that we change the discussion and we shift back to a place where we trust experts.”
Change Is About ‘Survival’
But environmental justice writers like Mary Annaïse Heglar, say Biden’s climate climate plan falls short.
In a recent column, Heglar wrote that “this election is less about whether we should act on climate than how we should act on it. Should we act with compassion or with cruelty?”
She says that as one of the largest contributors to climate change the U.S. must come up with solutions.
That’s why four more years of the Trump administration refusing to believe climate change is real isn’t an option, said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in September. She said voting the president out is an act of “survival” and “voting for Joe Biden is no longer about whether you agree with him. It's a vote to let our democracy live another day.”
And Jane Fonda in a recent article said even though she doesn’t “really believe in Joe Biden,” she’d “rather push a moderate than fight a fascist.”
Jarrod Baniqued, 21, is a first time presidential voter. He said voting blue is about valuing policies and people that respect and help people of color thrive.
“I think going forward, climate change is going to be very motivating for a lot of swing voters, but not not the swing voters that typically get covered in national media,” he said.
The UC Davis communications major said it turns out that he is one of those swing voters as young Filipino-American.
“I was actually a bit of a wallflower when it came to whether or not to vote for Joe Biden or [Green Party candidate] Howie Hawkins,” he said. “These communities of color tend to be disproportionately impacted by things like oil, refinery placement, highway placement, that sort of thing.”
“Environmental justice is going to be one of the main issues that motivates swing voters in the very long term,” he added. “I'm not talking about just the next four years, but obviously the next 40 years.”
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