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Trump and Biden: Little Room for Climate Change in 2020 Election
By Julia Mahncke
U.S. President Donald Trump has undone many major pieces of climate policy during his term, walking out on the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming and eliminating numerous Obama-era environmental regulations.
Trump's Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, has promised as part of his presidential campaign to invest $1.7 trillion in a "clean energy revolution and environmental justice" over the next decade. It falls some $14 trillion short of what the progressive U.S. senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, pledged on climate action during the Democratic primaries.
However, climate change doesn't even make the top 10 concerns among registered voters, even as the U.S. faces extreme weather from wildfires to storms, which scientists say are becoming more prevalent thanks to global warming. The issue ranks 11th behind the economy, health care, Supreme Court appointments and the pandemic, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center published in August.
While climate change doesn't top the voters' agenda, it's still one of the most divisive issues among Trump and Biden supporters. Some 68% of Democratic voters see climate change as high priority compared to 11% of Republicans, found the Pew survey.
But what are the Biden and Trump campaigns promising to do on climate change and the environment — and how does it tally with what voters want?
Biden a Climate Disappointment?
Biden, Barack Obama's former vice president, plans to recommit to the Paris Accord and ensure that the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions by 2050. Biden has also promised a halt to fossil fuel subsidies, going further than the Democratic National Committee, the governing body of the Democrats, which dropped that demand from its platform earlier this month.
Prior to Kamala Harris' announcement as Biden's running mate, the California senator had been vocal in her support for bold climate action. Harris co-sponsored the New Green Deal, calling on Congress to implement a 10-year government-driven mobilization to decarbonize the economy, while also backing job retraining and social and environmental justice.
But some Democratic voters are disappointed with the Biden/Harris ticket, believing Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic race for president in April, would have been the better candidate.
"I have two kids, so I have to be mindful and hopeful, but I lost a lot of hope since Bernie Sanders didn't get the bid," said Karen Antunes, as she wrapped up a picnic with her kids and little dog in Peninsula Park in Portland Oregon.
That won't stop her voting Democrat though.
"We have to. The Trump thing has got to end," added Antunes. "But I'm not excited."
Most progressive voters like Antunes might prefer to unite behind Biden against Trump's reelection even if they don't feel his commitment to climate change action goes far enough.
"I don't think the differences between Biden and Sanders on the environment — or any other issues — will matter much to Democratic voters compared to the difference between Biden and Trump," said Stephen Ansolabehere, director of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University.
Republicans: Economy Trumps Climate Change
Over the last few years, Trump has dismissed climate change as a "hoax," not human-caused, and called environmental activists "perennial prophets of doom."
The U.S. president's 63 bullet-point election agenda, which is divided into categories like "Jobs," "Eradicate COVID-19" and "End our reliance on China," makes no direct mention of climate change or the environment.
Instead, tucked away under the heading "Innovate for the future" toward the bottom of the list, there are two promises: "Continue to Lead the World in Access to the Cleanest Drinking Water and Cleanest Air" and "Partner with Other Nations to Clean Up our Planet's Oceans."
The plan outlines no path to clean water or air.
The lack of climate change mentions in Trump's agenda might please many Republican voters since they are "obviously less supportive of regulations," said Daron Shaw, a professor specializing in voting behavior at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the Fox News Poll.
"Democrats are much more willing to take stronger measures," said Shaw, adding that few Republicans support policies such as a significant carbon or fossil fuel tax. "But if you ask Republicans about recycling, if you ask about fuel efficiency standards, they're very supportive of those sorts of smallish behaviors."
Growing Impatience Among Young Republicans
Some younger Republicans are starting to become critical of their party's inattention to climate change. During the recent Republican National Convention, a small group turned to Twitter during the online event, to ask "#WhatAboutClimate"?
Another Pew study from June 2020 found that millennial and Gen Z Republicans, currently aged 18 to 39, are more likely than older GOP voters to think humans have a significant impact on the climate and that the federal government is doing too little to tackle the problem.
That doesn't mean they're ready to switch allegiance to the Democrats, though.
"Being a Republican is very much rooted in my upbringing," said Kiera O'Brien, who founded the group Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends (YCCD). "Conservatism at home in Ketchikan, Alaska, has a focus on community and nature."
O'Brien dislikes the Democrat's "regulatory approach to climate" and is instead lobbying for free market solutions to climate change through YCCD.
Reframing Climate Action
Environmental policies can be a complicated issue when it comes to federal elections and hard to address for presidential candidates. Many regions in the U.S. have unique challenges: from wildfires in California and storms wiping out harvests in Iowa to water pollution in Flint, Michigan.
Harvard's Ansolabehere also pointed out that opposition to climate policies in the past were typically connected to the fear of losing jobs and that prohibiting coal or retooling the auto industry will "adversely affect employment" in places like Kentucky and Michigan.
Daron Shaw added that Republicans typically "try to frame environmental issues as a matter of high taxation and job killing proposals with the hope that they can peel off Democrats."
Biden might be trying to assuage fears that tackling climate change means job losses by framing his plan as an opportunity for employment in new industries and a reinvigorated green manufacturing sector.
But when it comes to the swing states of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, Trump's climate record and support for jobs in the fossil fuel sector might give him the upper hand. His backing for ethane cracker plants, which take natural gas and converts it into the basis for making plastics, has received a lot of support, said Ansolabehere, especially from local unions.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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