Students weigh climate policy in 2020 election, prepare for postelection advocacy

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks on the Green New Deal with Senator Ed Markey in front of the Capitol Building in Feb. 2019. Senate Democrats / Wikimedia Commons

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, concerns about climate change and sustainability are on many students’ minds. The next administration will play a role in shaping the future environment for decades to come with the policies it implements over the next four years. 

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have presented drastically different plans to address climate change. Biden has the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and developing renewable energy resources. Trump, on the other hand, has reversed many of the climate policies implemented during the Obama administration. He does not seem to view climate change as an existential threat and has at times called it a hoax.  

This vast difference in policy means that the results of the election could have two very different effects on the global environment. 

According to Academic Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Kelly Sims Gallagher, the most dramatic policy change will be whether or not the United States reenters into the Paris Agreement. Trump has essentially withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, but the decision will not be official until Nov. 4, 2020. If Trump wins the election, the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will become final. Biden, however, has pledged to rejoin the agreement, should he be elected. Gallagher said whether or not the United States withdraws from the accord will have global implications for climate change, and the rest of the world is waiting to see what the United States will do.

While many environmentalists agree that a Biden victory would certainly be favorable to a Trump victory, some also worry that Biden’s policies may not be sufficient to reverse the course of climate change. Throughout the presidential debates, Biden claimed that he does not support all aspects of the Green New Deal and does not plan to ban fracking, which goes against progressive climate change reforms. 

“I find it very frustrating,” Taite Pierson, a senior and Eco-Rep coordinator, said about Biden’s lack of endorsement for the Green New Deal. “He’s clearly trying to get certain votes and not prioritizing the issues that really matter in terms of climate change.” 

Gallagher said Biden has embraced many aspects of the Green New Deal, even if he has not given his full support. Biden is emphasizing creating jobs in renewable energy sectors, something that is important to many people given the economic downturn that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this emphasis on job creation indicates Biden is less likely to outright ban fracking and may be moving toward sustainable targets at a slower rate than the Green New Deal proposes, Gallagher said. 

Tufts students are aware this election will have serious implications for climate change, among other social and political issues.

“Climate change is a really pressing matter,” Pierson said. “We’re seeing more and more effects every day. It’s here, so we’re already late on everything we need to be doing.” 

This semester, the Office of Sustainability and environmental student groups have been mobilizing voters and providing students with information about the election. According to Pierson, the Eco-Reps have been collaborating on projects with other student organizations, such as JumboVote, to ensure the timely delivery of ballots and to inform voters.

 “JumboVote has come to all Eco-Rep meetings and events. We worked with them on ‘offline October,’ which is where we were encouraging people to not order anything to keep the mailroom free for election mail,” Pierson said. 

 Eco-Reps each created their own project related to the environment and the upcoming elections. Junior Kathryn Ezeoha, the Eco-Rep for Houston Hall, worked on the Sustainable Voting Guide to inform students about Trump’s and Biden’s climate change policies.

“We wanted to create a clear voting guide that directly related sustainability and how climate change relates to voting in the election and who is representing us in government,” Ezeoha said. 

The guide also highlights actions students can take to contribute to the campaigns of politicians who support sustainable policies. This includes Sen. Ed Markey, who co-founded the Green New Deal, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who represents the Medford/Somerville area. Both are running for reelection and support clean air and renewable energy policies. 

The guide also encourages students to vote, and to vote early or make an Election Day plan in advance. 

“Vote, and don’t just vote, do your research. It doesn’t take very long … Voting is super [important] because policies are the biggest decider in how our communities function when it comes to climate change,” Ezeoha said. 

Sunrise Movement Tufts, an environmental advocacy group on campus, has also been doing work in preparation of the election. 

Sunrise Tufts Hub Coordinator Kate Murphy has led training sessions covering different possible outcomes of the election. 

“[One possibility is] there are no clear election results on the first night, but Trump is still claiming a victory. Then the Biden campaign is caught flat-footed and is unable to provide a powerful response,” Murphy, a junior, said. 

If this is the case, students will need to work to combat the spread of misinformation, Murphy said. 

Other possible outcomes include a clear Biden victory on election night, which Murphy said would be the best-case scenario, or a clear Trump victory. Murphy discussed the actions that would take place in the event of  Trump’s reelection.

“This is a distinct possibility that we need to be prepared for. We’d regroup, take care of one another, and probably readjust our plans more on the state and local level since it’ll be pretty difficult to get something through at the federal level,” Murphy said. 

Murphy emphasized the importance of state- and local-level climate policy activism.

“It will be extremely hard to get climate legislation through the federal level with Trump in office, especially since he’s made it clear that he’s so against adopting these policies,” Murphy said. “Biden’s not the strongest climate justice advocate, but from the outside, we can push them to take more steps.” 

 Outside of the presidential election, Murphy expressed the importance of “[pushing] the Senate and the House as well as the Massachusetts State House.”

Murphy also noted that climate change is not an isolated issue. 

“Especially in this moment … any work we do, whether that’s related to climate justice, or sustainability or housing, we really need to take an intersectional stance on that, because these issues are so interconnected,” Murphy said. “Anti-racism always needs to be part of the conversation. That can’t be ignored.”


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