Joe Biden brings potential for dramatic climate change action

In what has been called the most important presidential election in recent history, climate change emerged as an urgent issue in the eyes of many voters. The 2020 presidential candidates had completely different stances on the issue. Joe Biden’s win over incumbent President Donald Trump was a sigh of relief for environmentalists and scientists everywhere, many of whom believe this election will determine the impact of public health issues for years to come. President-elect Biden has put climate action at the top of his priorities, promising major progressive change to the country’s approach to the issue. This includes creating 10 million clean energy jobs and ensuring that the United States reaches net zero carbon emissions no later than 2050. 

With more carbon emitted into the atmosphere each year, scientists are warning that time is running out on the climate change clock. To prevent catastrophic economic and health effects, global warming must remain below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which requires cutting carbon emissions by nearly half in the next decade and then reaching net-zero emissions worldwide by 2050, according to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While this task will be challenging, many scientists believe that moving away from fossil fuels is crucial for the well-being of our health and economy. Carleen Cullen, co-founder of the environmental nonprofit organization Cool The Earth, believes that immediate change is critical to confronting our current climate emergency.

“It is absolutely essential that we have renewable energy. Aside from climate change, we know that burning fossil fuels is a major contributor to poor air quality, and we want our kids to breathe clean air, we want them to have fresh clean water, and burning coal and things like that has negative impacts,” Cullen said.

The U.S.’s recent efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change have been significantly reduced with President Trump in office. The Trump administration has acted to reverse over 100 environmental regulations, and these rollbacks are expected to result in an additional 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2035, according to an analysis from the independent research group Rhodium Group. President Trump also withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, an accord that was adopted by nearly every nation in the world aiming to reduce global carbon emissions and keep the global temperature increase below 1.5-2 degrees celsius. As a result of these changes, the pace of U.S. emissions increased during Trump’s term when compared with Barack Obama’s presidency. U.S. emissions fell by 11 percent during Obama’s eight years as president, and in the first three years of Trump’s presidency, emissions fell by just 0.5 percent. In fact, our country’s current pace of emission reductions will fail to meet the contribution necessary to limit global warming to 1.5-2 degrees celsius. A recent study from Stanford found that a failure to meet these goals of the Paris Climate Accord will cost the U.S. economy as much as $6 trillion in the coming decades.

Illustration by Kalyn Dawes

Many people don’t realize the major effects climate change will have on the economy if not dealt with immediately. AP Economics teacher Ann Tepovich believes rising temperatures could lead to a more inefficient economy. 

“We’re going to have problems with food supply, we’re going to have problems with losing real estate because everything’s going to be underwater. Then how are we going to operate as an economy if we don’t have enough viable resources?” Tepovich said. “We can only produce based on the resources that we have, and if our current consumption and production is going to limit those resources in the future, then there really isn’t the opportunity for sustained and real economic growth that we would like to see.”

While recent political efforts by the Trump administration to combat climate change have been minimal, the next four years will likely look more progressive. Biden has created an extensive plan that will fully address the issue of climate change, ensuring the shift to clean energy and creating millions of jobs in the process. Biden’s plan attempts to persuade other major carbon-emitting nations to join the U.S. in becoming more ambitious in solving the climate change issue and the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. The plan also includes comprehensive information on achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2050, regulating fossil fuel companies and other pollutants that harm the environment, securing the benefits of coal miners and power plant workers amidst a shift away from fossil fuels and much more.

One major aspect of the climate change conversation is the Green New Deal, a proposed solution with a more aggressive approach to tackling global warming. The Green New Deal has been a major point of controversy in our country’s efforts to mitigate global warming. Critics claim it costs far too much money and is unnecessary, while many scientists project future expenses of rising temperatures will be more expensive than creating immediate change. Biden’s plan is not fully modeled after the Green New Deal, but he has called it a “crucial framework” in combating climate change. AP Environmental Science teacher Joe Stewart believes that no matter what the plan is, Americans need to work together to reduce the negative impacts of climate change.

“I think that if we are acting and we are acting conscientiously with intention, absolutely those things will make a difference and they should be moved forward. Is it the Green New Deal? Not necessarily, but there are many aspects that we should probably implement,” Stewart said. “It’s clear that we need to change and evolve in how we are utilizing energy and how much carbon we’re putting into the atmosphere.” 

Researchers have proven that the rising temperatures caused by carbon emissions will have detrimental effects on nearly every aspect of our lives, and these repercussions are already visible. California has been noticeably affected by global warming, as evident by the increasing frequency and severity of the raging wildfires. The Bay Area will continue to see these impacts in the near future beyond wildfires, as scientists project that the sea level could rise one to eight feet by 2100, leaving much of Marin and the surrounding areas underwater. Multiple Bay Area counties have recently declared a “climate emergency,” with the goal of developing strategies and finding solutions for this crisis. Biden’s victory will certainly stimulate major change and action on the broad issue of climate change and, according to the Biden administration, it will likely ensure a safer and cleaner environment for the nation and global citizens.