Priority Matters: A Look Into Climate Change Politics

By: Ailin Elyasi  |  November 2, 2016

ailin-elyasi_climate-changeIn the midst of dramatic presidential debates about terrorism and nuclear weapons, the top unasked question might be about climate change. Although the topic of climate change divides Stern students, it unites the Democratic and Republican candidates during the election in a way that rarely occurs: they both agree that it exists.

Since losing the support of millennials, which a 2014 Statista study found to be the generation that most widely believes in climate change, Trump has dissented from typical right-wing, Grand Old Party climate change denial. Even this indicates progress for climate change scientists, as the Republican Party still has senators and governors–—people in power—opposing the idea of climate change completely. In fact, Trump even retracted his previous tweet calling global warming a “hoax,” later calling it a Twitter joke. He now agrees that some form of climate change is occurring, although he believes that human activities have little to no impact on the extreme weather and temperature changes.

In contrast, Clinton’s ambitious clean energy platform sets out to produce thirty-three percent of the nation’s energy from renewable sources by 2027. Since one of her billionaire donors, the environmentalist Tom Steyer, promised his monetary support to the campaign to lead the nation to generate electricity from clean sources, there is little surprise in her commitment to climate change. Her secretary of press, Brian Fallon, tweeted that “counting nuclear, as Steyer does, she exceeds his 50 percent goal [for 2030],” which emphasizes Mr. Steyer’s influence in Clinton’s plans.

Clinton, however, faces practical challenges before she can begin to fulfill her bold plan. Anthony Paul, a fellow at the nonpartisan nonprofit Resources for the Future stated that “it’s an ambitious goal. It will be a big lift to get there.” Mr. Paul also theorized that to follow through with Clinton’s proposal, major legislation changes must first occur at Congress. Capitol Hill would have to tax pollution or mandate renewable energy. Bills of this kind have typically failed at Congress.

In regards to climate change, at least, the difference between the candidates seem to be their prioritization of the issue. While Clinton has made renewable energy a priority, Trump believes other national issues deserve that attention. In an August 2016 interview with the Miami Herald, Trump stated, “Certainly, climate has changed…. The problem we have is our businesses are suffering.” Trump has no plans to cut back on greenhouse gases, and has promised to let American businesses act for prosperity’s sake.

Some Stern College students agree with Trump’s approach to this issue. Shaina Bakhshi reflected, “climate change is certainly a dire issue, but it is not as important as other issues, such as economy, healthcare and foreign policy.”

Other Stern students disagree: Maayan Moss thinks “climate change is an important issue that our government should attempt to rectify.”

In today’s world, with healthcare disaccord and poverty on the rise, priority matters. Think about that girl in your English class, who lives a mile inland and forty-five feet above sea level in sunny San Diego. In her lifetime, she will enjoy that house. Her children, however, might watch the house become inundated by rising sea levels by 2100. Priority matters. The question the candidates must face is this: should prioritize today’s issues or tomorrow’s?