7 Environmental Takeaways From the 2020 Election Season
By John R. Platt
Well, that was interesting … and hair-raising. At press time the harrowing presidential race of 2020 remains too close to call, as do a few key congressional and Senate seats. The Senate may not even settle out until January, when Georgia will hold runoff elections and we'll find out which party controls that house of government.
1. Climate Change Came Calling
Despite the lack of real policy debate — let's face it, this was less an election of ideas and more a contest of ideologies — climate change played an unexpected and thankful role. That started most noticeably in the unannounced climate question during the first presidential debate. After that several political ads made climate an issue, and some Democrats stumped on it. We didn't see any speeches solely about climate, but Biden and Harris brought it up strongly several times during the last days of the campaign.
And yes, the very real risks of climate change played a role in driving people to the polls. A survey conducted last month found that 58% of Americans were either "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" about the threats of climate change. That included 90% of voters who favored Biden at the time. Biden and Harris spoke to that, and voters listened. Life lesson: When you talk about and take seriously issues that affect peoples' lives, they lend you their ears.
This growing support for climate action means that if Trump ultimately wins reelection, and then continues to ignore climate (as he obviously would), there will be prices to pay on the international stage starting in January and again at the polls in 2022.
2. The Forgotten Crisis
But the extinction crisis did not get any real play in this election, even from progressive Democrats. Considering the oversized role of wildlife trafficking in the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, preserving biodiversity will need to become a major policy initiative moving forward.
Luckily many environmental organizations made this a key call during the campaign, so we can expect to see some progress on this if Biden is confirmed as the next president. (If not, expect more Trump attacks on the Endangered Species Act and other wildlife policies.)
Racial inequality was one of the main themes of the election, but the candidates did little to address income inequality, the greatest driver of political and social unrest in this country. If we don't take dramatic action about that soon, it will give further strength to the Proud Boys, QAnon conspiracy junkies and their extremist ilk — and that will spill out into environmental issues like livestock ranching, public lands protection and environmental justice.
Fortunately the presidential and vice-presidential debates, and Democratic candidates themselves, made a big deal out of other issues related to inequality, such as racism, LGBTQA+ rights and women's rights. Unfortunately, the fact that nearly half the country voted to reelect a racist misogynist — and many other candidates who rode on his coattails — does not bode well for the future. These are all issues that have deep environmental implications, so we as a people and as a country need to do a lot better.
People like to vote. And record numbers turned out this year, even amidst the pandemic. But who knows how many more votes would have been counted — and how many races would have had different outcomes — if not for the 29 Republican techniques for voter suppression used during this election?
So come on, Republicans, stop trying to prevent our citizens from doing their democratic duty. If you can't play fair, get out of the game. (And while you're at it, stop suppressing science related to pandemics and climate change, 'K?)
Everyone else: Watch your back. The same Republican-appointed, Federalist Society loyalist judges who have ruled (and may yet rule) on so many of this year's voting lawsuits will soon find cases about climate change and other environmental threats on their dockets.
The Democratic Party needs to refine its messaging on oil and gas. It's got some decent policies — such as ending subsidies and stopping development on federal land — but that doesn't ease the fears of people terrified by a forced transition in their lives and careers. The evidence is clear that these industries not only harm the planet and peoples' health, they're also failing financially. The faster we transition those jobs, the less pain we'll all feel when oil, gas and coal collapse like a house of cards.
6. Faux News
Speaking more broadly, the media landscape remains hopelessly bifurcated, and that seeds division within the country, reaching from politics to basic information such as COVID-19 safety measures and crises like climate change. That needs to change. To address this issue, education standards should include teaching media literacy — and all adults should be encouraged to learn how to spot disinformation and bias. (It's telling that Media Literacy Week 2020 was held the week before the election.)
It's all a bit bigger than this, obviously. Most people self-identify as belonging to — or diverging from — one political party first, then pick the media outlet that supports that worldview. But the right-wing media notoriously spreads more disinformation about environmental issues, so finding a way to break that chokehold will go a long way toward bridging that divide.
7. Money, Money, Money
An obscene amount of money was collected and spent on this election — a record $14 billion, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks political spending.
On the one hand, we saw an amazing increase in small, individual donations. That's great.
But corporations and PACs poured cash into candidates' coffers (either directly or in support of their campaigns), and it felt like most of that went to fund blatantly dishonest campaign ads.
And what's the ultimate cost of those donations? Will special interests return with their hands out? We'll never know for sure, since most of those dollars (on both sides of the political aisle) are hidden from the public record, although it's certainly happened before. That needs to change if we ever hope to transform this economy and save the planet.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Key Environmental Ballot Measures to Track at Your Election ... ›
- Want the Youth Vote? Prioritize Climate Change - EcoWatch ›
- Four Environmental Fights on the 2020 Ballot - EcoWatch ›
- The Biggest Environmental Wins and Losses of the 2020 Election - EcoWatch ›
- 12 Trump Attacks on the Environment Since the Election - EcoWatch ›
- Where Do We Go From Here? - EcoWatch ›
- How Ossoff and Warnock’s Georgia Senate Wins Impact the Climate - EcoWatch ›
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›