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Op-eds, Opinions

Groboski ’24: Are Our Politicians Ready to Take Climate Change Seriously?

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Tuesday, October 13, 2020

On Sept. 19, 2020, Americans watched in shock and horror as the Metronome Climate Clock was unveiled in New York City. The display, which displayed warnings like “The Earth has a deadline,” was programmed to highlight the existential threat that climate change poses to our species’ survival. That day, it displayed seven years and 103 days — that’s how much time we had to prevent climate change from reaching the point of no return, and that number is already lower today.

The Climate Clock forced a momentary reckoning with climate change. The issue has long been viewed as a distant threat, one that can be sidelined in favor of more “pressing” matters. No longer is it the case that climate change could be dealt with in the far future — the time to act is now. News about the Climate Clock was shared widely on social media as Americans sought to remind their fellow citizens that time is running out, and fast. 

It’s evident that this reminder was badly needed. According to a Yale study published on Sept. 2, only 72 percent of American adults believe global warming is happening, and more dismally, only a quarter report hearing about global warming in the media at least once a week. The people of our country need to start having difficult conversations about climate change. And on this front, our politicians must start leading by example — which they failed to do at the first presidential and vice presidential debates.

With such a dramatic reminder of the immediacy of climate change, one would expect the presidential candidates to discuss this significant and consequential issue at the first presidential debate, which was held a mere 10 days after the installation of the Climate Clock. But viewers would wind up disappointed to find that instead of discussing practical solutions to this pressing matter, discussion of environmental issues quickly devolved into partisan bickering about the economy and the Green New Deal. The failure of either candidate to meaningfully address environmental topics was a massive disservice to American citizens. We expect our leaders to propose solutions, not squabble over whether the Green New Deal counts as socialism or not. The American people expect and deserve meaningful conversations on these issues — not the trainwreck of a debate we got instead. 

Although I was disappointed with the presidential debate, I bit my tongue, hoping against hope that the vice presidential candidates would have a more productive discussion on climate issues. Instead, I witnessed more of the same: deflection, downplaying and a marked refusal to commit to bold action. Vice President Mike Pence’s apparent inability to link human activity to climate change was appalling, but par for the course from the current administration. Between withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, axing the Clean Power Plan and rolling back dozens of other Obama-era environmental regulations, it’s no secret that the Trump administration couldn’t care less about our environment. At least they are transparent about their disregard for our planet. I consider myself a Democrat, in large part because of the party’s posturing as the “environmentalist party.” But Sen. Kamala Harris’ repeated insistence that a Joe Biden administration will not ban fracking conveys the exact opposite. According to their current platform, Democrats are not and will not be the saviors our planet desperately needs them to be.

However one might feel about more environmentally-savvy third-party candidates (namely Howie Hawkins, the Green Party presidential candidate), Joe Biden or Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. There’s no reason to believe otherwise, and we shouldn’t expect a radical revolution to permanently change the U.S. political landscape anytime soon. 

As such, we need to start holding the mainstream political establishment accountable for climate change. Pence was right at the debate when he claimed Americans want clean air and clean water. But we also want to address climate change: According to the Yale study referenced earlier, 60 percent of American adults want the president to do more to address climate change. What can we do to ensure this happens? 

Actionable and scientifically-supported policy is the best tool for fighting climate change. But we won’t have good policy until our politicians start having real, meaningful dialogues about this issue. According to a report released by Climate Power 2020, prior to the 2020 election cycle, moderators and audience members asked presidential candidates a grand total of four climate change questions since 2008. We need to make it clear to the Commission on Presidential Debates that the American people care about climate change and expect our candidates to take the issue as seriously as we do. While the Trump administration has already received great backlash over its environmental policies, there also needs to be more discussion about the shortcomings of Biden and Harris’ climate plan — we cannot allow either party to remain indifferent to the threat climate change poses. 

In forcing our politicians to speak on climate change, we can better hold them accountable. And we must start now because, frankly, we’re running out of time.

Ethan Groboski ’24 can be reached at ethan_groboski@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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