Recent wildfires across the West coast resurfaces political conversations about climate change
The recent wave of wildfires across the west coast has revitalized interest in the issues and policies surrounding climate change. While Trump chose to shift blame towards forest management instead of addressing climate change, Biden criticized the Trump administration for its failure to recognize natural disasters as products of climate change. Both seem vested in stopping the current wave of wildfires, but with climate change perpetuating more extreme weather phenomena disproportionately affecting BIPOC, it is critical to examine their beliefs and policies on the environment.
Trump remains notorious among climate change activists for his anti-environmental legislation, evident with rolling back environmental protections. The administration has already repealed over 60 environmental regulations and has targeted Obama-era rules and legislation in line with Trump’s agenda.
Most notable is the administration role in weakening protections towards our water and air, as well as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change that sparked international outrage. These changes further increase health risks among communities of color, who were already disproportionately affected by pollution and other environmental hazards.
The damaging rhetoric on climate change adopted by the Trump administration has remained consistent since his bid for the presidency — he doesn’t believe in it. Trump has continued to disregard scientific data while continuing to represent climate change as a bipartisan issue.
Trump has continued to disregard scientific data while continuing to represent climate change as a bipartisan issue.
Fossil fuel industries have received his warmest regards and protections, while clean energy industries and programs have witnessed losses in funding. Trump tends to frame climate change legislation as an economic issue — with job losses or gains being of most importance.
Throughout his time in office, his inability to curtail fossil fuel companies stemmed from his interest in maintaining jobs. While these companies have employed around 1.1 million people in the U.S. in 2017, many studies have indicated that investment towards green energy would create more jobs than those currently available in the fossil fuel industry.
Following this year’s wave of wildfire, Biden has been more vocal than ever about climate change, citing warming global temperatures and worsening storms and fires as reasons to enact immediate environmental legislation. Biden worked alongside Obama to enact most of the environmental laws and regulations between 2008 to 2016, but within his own campaign, he has struggled to balance his environmental goals while not upsetting renewable energy companies. Biden’s campaign has accepted thousands of dollars from both climate activists and fossil fuel interests, making him financially obligated to represent two conflicting interests.
Biden’s campaign has accepted thousands of dollars from both climate activists and fossil fuel interests, making him financially obligated to represent two conflicting interests.
While Biden’s rhetoric on climate change is appealing now considering the Trump administration’s silence on the current natural disasters, it is important to remember that Biden does hold moderate views on the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
During the Ukraine crisis, Biden facilitated a $50 million aid package to support the development of their gas infrastructure. He has also previously supported natural gas as a transitional energy source from coal and gasoline to cleaner sources. He has not, however, been as vocal about this stance.
It goes without saying that Biden is more open to mitigating the effects of climate change over Trump, but neither candidate has acknowledged how climate change poses a more serious threat to BIPOC communities.
BIPOC tend to suffer longer following an environmental disaster. Many families in Louisiana still continue to struggle financially following Hurricane Katrina and the lower economic mobility within some of these communities made it difficult for families to evacuate or receive emergency assistance.
According to an NAACP report from 2012, over 78% African Americans live within 30 miles from a coal power plant making pollution one of the most pressing health crises among the Black population. Baltimore, a predominantly non-White city, had one of the highest death rates resulting from pollution, with nearly 800 deaths attributed to pollution prior to 2013 alone.
For many living in regions that experience few environmental disasters, it is easy to suggest people move to less volatile areas and claim that people will eventually tire from having to rebuild their homes following a disaster.
Within the United States, there is an understanding that once we are knocked down, we have to build up again. For example, Sonoma County in California has experienced many devastating fires over the past few years, and every time one occurs, the community has come together to rebuild what was lost. It is a constant battle over the environment, but one that will always end with the environment overpowering people.
This does not mean that there is nothing that can be done. Prior environmental legislation such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act contributed greatly to the reduction of air and water pollution across the U.S. at its time. But in order to ensure that the adverse effects of climate change do not completely destroy our most vulnerable communities, we must learn from how individuals are affected now, and continue advocating for their voices to be heard even after the fires and floods subside.
Last updated 9/15/20
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