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Community members share perspectives on Trump, Biden environmental platforms

From both sides of the aisle, students and professors discuss how, to what extent the environment is on the ballot next week

Campus opinion, while leaning in support of Democratic Presidential Nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden and his environmental plans, is still divided over which candidate proposes the best path forward in addressing environmental issues. 

Biden’s environmental proposals

Some community members praised Biden’s stance, while others see his position as either not progressive enough or too radical. 

J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environment and society and sociology at IBES, wrote in an email to The Herald that Biden’s climate and clean energy plans “will make a very big difference in the fight against climate change.” He added that “addressing climate change at the scale of the problem, and guided by legitimate science, is the only way forward. I am voting Biden for that reason.”

According to Roberts, Biden’s pledge to use 100 percent clean energy by 2035 will be “immediately impactful.” He further wrote that this proposal contains a substantial amount of detail that will make Biden’s climate-related plans rigorous and beneficial for the planet.

Anna Zuckerman ’21, president of Brown University Scientists for a Sustainable World, said she supports Biden’s plan because it “hits all the main points.” Although his plan is less sweeping than the Green New Deal that Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed, “that’s important in terms of getting elected and appealing to voters … so I’m not sure that that’s a bad thing,” she said. Zuckerman also said that Biden, as compared to President Donald Trump, will take science seriously.

Zuckerman added that she believes that Biden “does a really good job of focusing on the jobs and the positive economic impact of his plan, because a lot of pushback to environmental reform comes from people who are saying that it'll cut all these jobs … and then it will ruin our economy.” Economically, the Green New Deal is more of “a hard sell.” 

Roberts agreed with the need to transition to clean energy at a moderate pace. In reference to Biden’s stance on fracking, he wrote that “we need to get off natural gas, but we’ll need to transition off, not stop immediately. Banning new drilling and (banning) drilling on federal land is a good start.”

But others who are voting for Biden have critiqued his environmental proposals. Should Biden be elected, President of Brown College Democrats Jasmine Powell ’22 and Zuckerman both said they hope that his position would become more progressive during his time in office. Powell said Biden is “going to have to shift more towards (a) Green New Deal,” especially to “support the people that helped get him elected, and support the policies they want to see.” 

Zuckerman agreed, and is hopeful that if Biden is elected, “he stands by (his) plan, and then hopefully pushes beyond that.” Roberts also added that, to have any chance at reversing the course of climate change, an “about-face” in the form of sweeping action like the Green New Deal will be necessary.

But Brown College Republicans President Jessica McDonald ’21 thinks that Biden’s plan is problematic for the opposite reason: it bears too much resemblance to the Green New Deal. “The biggest concern that I have with Biden’s plan is that he says he doesn't necessarily support the Green New Deal, and that that's not his idea,” she said, “but what he does have on his campaign website is sort of reminiscent of that.”

According to McDonald, a dangerous flaw of the Green New Deal is that “the cost is just outrageous, and it’s going to put a big impact (on) the economy.” She added that while Biden claims that new jobs can be created in renewable energy sectors, she has not seen a concrete plan to actually replace the jobs that are lost. As a result, she anticipates “a lot of problems” resulting from Biden’s environmental proposals.

Additionally, Biden’s tendency to “flip-flop” his opinions on key environmental issues is a concern for McDonald. For example, she said, “at one point (Biden) was more against fracking; now he's trying to appeal to the Pennsylvania voters by saying he's not going to get rid of fracking.” 

Powell also acknowledged that both Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris “stumbled” with the issue of fracking during the debates.

Trump’s environmental proposals

McDonald said she supports Trump’s stance on the environment, while also suggesting possible policies that could improve his platform. She commended Trump’s ability to take the economy into account when developing environmental policy. “For the most part, I agree with a lot of where he’s heading with trying to keep the economy in mind when he's making these decisions,” she said.

McDonald added that “the route more Republicans and (Trump) go for is a free market solution to helping the environment,” which she believes is the best way to save jobs while addressing climate change. McDonald believes that market pressure will tend to incentivize new innovation in fuel and clean energy. 

Additionally, many actions that Trump has taken in terms of protecting the environment have been steps in the right direction, McDonald said. She cited pulling out of the Paris Agreement as a decision that she believes was “good for the United States.” Should Trump be elected again, she believes that he will continue to make economically-sound decisions when it comes to the environment. 

McDonald did acknowledge that she would like to see Trump enact more environmental policies. For instance, while she supported leaving the Paris Agreement, she said that she would “like to see something to match that … where we’re still going to be doing work for the environment in place of what the Paris Accord was doing.” McDonald added that she would like to see Trump put more energy toward addressing water pollution, which is an environmental public health concern that he “could improve greatly.”

But others on campus did not share these sentiments and are strongly opposed to Trump’s environmental and climate action. In addition to further polarizing the country, said Powell, “Trump has excited his base around the idea that addressing climate change is something like radical policy when it really isn't, and really shouldn’t be.” Powell added that Trump and his administration have “moved us further backwards” in the fight against climate change.

“The Trump administration is the worst thing that could have happened to our efforts to address climate change or promote sustainability in any way,” Zuckerman said. She added that she could not think of “anything he’s done that moves in the right direction … I can't think of a worse way to handle the climate crisis.”

Roberts echoed these sentiments. “This administration has been devastating to the global effort to address climate change,” he wrote. “The Republican Party used to be open to science-based action on climate change, but has been hijacked by the fossil fuel industry and anti-government extremists.” Roberts and Zuckerman also cited Trump’s failure to heed advice from scientists as detrimental to environmental and climate progress.

An important voting factor

On both sides of the aisle, Brown community members tend to see the environment as an important issue that, in some shape or form, will be on the ballot next week.

According to McDonald, many Brown College Republicans members have always been concerned about the environment, and environmental and climate policy “is definitely something to look at when they evaluate a candidate.” 

Still, while the environment is a factor McDonald considers when voting, “it’s not the main factor.” As pressing issues such as COVID-19 and racial injustice are pushed to the forefront, she said that she believes that “there’s not the same energy put towards environmental ideas.”

Powell also said that other issues, such as healthcare, come up more often than the environment does when she phone banks for Biden. But she added that“it’s important to realize how everything is connected,” and cited how environmental racism impacts public health, especially in terms of respiratory illnesses and asthma, which is important when examining the impact of COVID-19.

McDonald also said that the environment is on the ballot “to an extent,” but possibly in a different way than some might imagine. “It’s more the generalized approach to how problems are solved,” she said. “It's the difference between free market solutions versus big government spending, … and I think the environment plays into that on each side.”

This difference is also recognized by Biden supporters. “Markets are part of the solution, but have not been up to the task of solving this problem,” wrote Roberts, adding that “major ‘green stimulus’ type funding” is necessary to address climate change.

Zuckerman sees Nov. 3 as a pivotal moment for climate policy, and she believes that the election will decide more than just the method for curbing climate change. “Voting for Biden, while it still may be too little, too late … He’s going to do something,” she said. “I don't know that (Biden) will fix everything, but my gosh, it's a lot better than the alternative.”



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