The Definition: Climate Change Versus Global Warming
According to Nasa: "Global warming refers to the long-term warming of the planet since the early 20th century, and most notably since the late 1970s, due to the increase in fossil fuel emissions since the Industrial Revolution."
Meanwhile, "Climate change refers to a broad range of global phenomena created predominantly by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to Earth’s atmosphere. These phenomena include the increased temperature trends described by global warming, but also encompass changes such as sea level rise; ice mass loss... and extreme weather events."
During the 2016 Presidential election, a total of 5 minutes and twenty-seven seconds was spent discussing climate change and other environmental issues during the debates - that’s about 2% of the total time. In 2012 it was 0 minutes, and according to research by Grist, over the course of the previous 5 election seasons, climate change and the environment got 37 minutes and 6 seconds on the prime-time stage during the presidential and vice presidential debates overall. That is out of more than 1,500 minutes of debate.
Up until now, the high point of campaigning for the Presidency with a focus on climate policy was probably in 1988, when George H.W. Bush pledged to fight “the Greenhouse effect” with the “White House effect.” He was the first U.S. President to raise climate change as a major issue of concern for the federal government. During the three decades that followed, climate change was virtually absent from Presidential campaigning.
That’s all changed in the lead up to the 2020 election, with environmental policy garnering an unprecedented level of attention from the majority of presidential candidates. There are some key factors that have contributed to this:
Global temperatures have continued to rise steadily, with the last 5 years from 2014 - 2018 the warmest years ever recorded since we first began tracking global heat 139 years ago.
A record 69% of all Americans now say they’re worried about climate change, according to the Yale Program for Climate Change Communication. For Democrat supporters, that number is even higher, with 82% of respondents to a recent CNN national poll suggesting it’s “very important” that their party’s presidential nominee support “aggressive action” to slow the effects of climate change. According to a Monmouth University poll, it is the second most important issue to Iowa caucus-goers, following health care.
The emergence of the Sunrise Movement, which, in December 2018 held a sit-in at the office of the incoming House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, demanding that House Democrats put together a committee to draft a Green New Deal - a broad-sweeping plan that aims to vastly enhance the federal government’s role in achieving a “fair and just transition” to net-zero emissions. Aided by the prominent activism of freshman congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the movement has been key in elevating discussions around climate change to the center of American politics. The majority of Democrat presidential candidates have either co-sponsored or endorsed the Green New Deal.
There is a broadly held perception amongst Democrat presidential candidates that climate change is a key weakness for President Trump, who has previously spurned climate science while rolling back central pieces of climate change legislation. Chief amongst these rollbacks was his decision in June 2017 to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate agreement - a landmark agreementamongst 190 nations to strengthen the global climate effort.
What the Candidates Say On Climate Change:
All but one of the senators (Michael Bennet) who are running for President are co-signers of the Green New Deal, including Bernie Sanders, Kirstin Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren.
Amongst them, Senator Warren has released a full climate plan that situates the issue in terms of economic justice and corruption in politics, targeting big oil companies. Senator Cory Booker has also positioned environmental justice at the center of his campaign, addressing racial and socioeconomic equality in terms of a broader environmental agenda.
Senator Michael Bennet is joined by Former Denver mayor and Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper, in declining to back the Green New Deal. The former supports the U.S. continuing to use natural gas, while the latter supports the U.S. extracting oil by hydraulic fracking methods.
Governor Jay Inslee has released the most comprehensive plan for tackling climate change called "Our Climate Moment". The four-part policy package aims, amongst other things, to move America towards 100% clean energy, and sets out a $9 trillion, New Deal-esq investment plan for doing so. Beto O’Rourke has also set out a four-part policy agenda which includes a $5 trillion proposal for clean-energy infrastructure and sets out to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Former Vice President, Joe Biden’s ‘Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice’ consists of five policy objectives for domestic and global climate action and sets out a $5 trillion blueprint for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. To note: Biden co-authored the first climate legislation in Congress back in 1986.
So Close, Yet So Far
“More carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere since... November 1989 than in the entire history of civilization preceding it.” What is worse, argues journalist Nathaniel Rich, is that we came so close to solving the world’s climate crisis the decade before then, between 1979 - 1989. It was during this period, he notes, that the major scientific questions surrounding climate change - namely, the adverse effects of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - were finally settled and there was, at last, bipartisan support for taking urgent action. (This was heralded by the first World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979, when scientists from 50 nations agreed unanimously that the world needed to act, now). So what went wrong? Why, after identifying the causes, and the consequences, posed by climate change, did we fail to make meaningful strides toward solving it while we had the chance?
In this episode, Fresh Air speaks to Nathaniel Rich about his extensive research into this pivotal decade in climate history, and how the progress we made during this period was ultimately derailed.
Let’s Talk Climate Policy…
If 1979 - 1989 was an era of bipartisan support for taking action on climate change, the same cannot be said for today, when political debate around this existential threat is fractured across party lines. While climate policy features high on the agenda for the now 25 Democrat candidates vying for their party’s Presidential nomination, the majority of whom have called for a primary debate focused specifically on this single issue, President Trump has previously called climate change a hoax invented by China, claimed wind turbines cause cancer, mocked the Green New Deal and rolled back key climate policies, such as withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate agreement.
So, with the two parties so divided on both the significance, and required response, to this key issue, how should politicians discuss climate change policy with voters ahead of the 2020 election? In this episode, Monocle’s ‘The Foreign Desk’ discusses just that.
Prepping For Natural Disaster
As the Democrat candidates competing for the party’s Presidential nomination set out their plans for tackling climate change, a key focus for some is how to approach natural disasters, the frequency of which will likely increase as the impact of climate change worsens. But how should we be preparing ourselves for such incidences? And what is the role of government in the aftermath of a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, - the second most costly hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since 1900.
In this episode, NPR’s 1A travels to Texas to speak to residents affected by the devastation wrought by the 2017 hurricane and what they made of the government’s response.