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Climate change and politics: Voting for a better Earth

Publication Date: February 19, 2020

Ozone layer cartoon

Coming into 2020, you may have had some hopes and dreams about how your spring semester college experience would go. A brand new year and perhaps some different experiences on the horizon.  For many college students, thoughts of participating in their first primary and general elections are exciting but overwhelming. When it comes to having a voice in the country’s leadership, the pressure can seem daunting. How does one pick the elected officials that best align with our own values?  What if we, like so many other young people today, have concerns about the future of the planet and put a heavyweight on where the candidates stand on the environment?  How do we get the right information to make an informed choice at the polls?

Already this election season has seen the results of the first two democratic primary states. Some citizens and especially college students are still unaware of who’s running and where they stand on issues. At its peak, the Democratic party had 29 total candidates in the race. After the New Hampshire primary on February 11th, the field whittled down to just 8 candidates. Despite predictions and polling, the race is still largely undecided. Thus, it’s important for students to begin finding their candidate. Particularly on the issue of climate change, young people tend to have a deeper passion for the effects of climate change than other generations. Some of the world’s leading scientists, according to the United Nations, estimates we have only 12 years to prevent a half degree in the global temperature rise. This is a crucial voting issue for much of the electorate. 

Even though the final eight candidates have thorough plans on how to deal with the impending climate crisis, there are significant differences between the individual plans and I hope to highlight a few of the major issues that so you can be a climate conscious voter.

After Iowa and a big win in New Hampshire, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has emerged as one of the race’s front runners. When it comes to climate change, he has remained relatively consistent in his support of the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is one of the most notable climate policies that seek massive mobilization by the government to both invest in a green future and restructure the entirety of American society to be more sustainable. However, given the sheer size of the plan it would require a lot of political negotiation to pass. Sophomore sociology major Gina Ceccarelli recognized that issue and said she thinks that “The Green New Deal is bold, but even if only parts of it get passed, it would be a step in the right direction.”

Maine Senator Elizabeth Warren is a similar candidate to Bernie Sanders in her support for the Green New Deal. She has also worked with professionals in the field to develop a “blue new deal” plan that will help restore the ocean. Ultimately both candidates have stuck to their progressive roots and put forth the most expansive climate policy. Between the two there are relatively minor differences and they would bring about similar change, but Sanders also received a significant endorsement from the Sunrise Movement, a group of young people building a movement centered around the Green New Deal.

The major distinction in climate policy, however, is the divide between the two senators and the rest of the more moderate candidates running. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar have all tied themselves to much more limited plans with longer enactment times. Unlike the progressive candidates, these three have pushed out the goal of 100% sustainable energy and complete decarbonization until 2050, with the exception of Buttigieg who pledges to complete the renewable energy transformation by 2035. Sanders and Warren, however, have promised to be 100% renewable energy by 2030 and will invest more than any other candidate to push full decarbonization by 2050. 

Ultimately, the divide between factions in the Democratic party has boiled down to feasibility, as the three moderate candidates have made the case that it simply cannot be done in the time and financial constraints of the American economy. The progressives in the race have pushed back, stressing that this would create new jobs, industry and revenue for the government allowing a financial return on the initial hefty investment. Junior elementary education major Amelia Vallecilla believes that, “no matter what plan we decide on, something has to be done and it should be addressed as quickly as possible — we must save the planet.”

No matter which way citizens vote, climate conscious voters will find more common ground with any of the Democratic candidates than that of the current president. However, it is important to be aware of the policy nuances between candidates to not only inform individual votes, but to give citizens a broader perspective of the discussion being had between policy makers that take seriously the threat of the impending climate crisis.

Matthew Schantin

Sophomore political science major


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