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OPINION: Gen Z Votes Green

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

by BEN RICHARDSON - Presidential candidates talk a big talk (or none at all) about fighting climate change. The message young voters bring to the 2020 election is clear, though: listen or lose.

WASHINGTON D.C. (Oct. 20, 2019) - The Trump Administration implemented a self-described “anti-growth” agenda in the realm of environmental policy beginning the very first day of his four-year term.

“We'll be fine with the environment,” President Trump said in an Oct. 2015 Fox News interview. “We can leave a little bit, but you can't destroy businesses.”

In the past three years alone, our country has exempted itself from the Paris Climate Agreement, stripped Endangered Species Act protections, sold off 1.9 million acres from two national monuments protected by the 1906 Antiquities Act, ramped up logging on public lands by 30 percent and dropped climate change from the national security threat list altogether. Decades of environmental policy have been recklessly abandoned in a relatively short amount of time.

Waves of backlash manifested themselves amongst young people through protests, world climate strikes and brand boycotts against powerhouses like H&M and Amazon. Now, America’s youth have one more trick up their sleeves that may prove most effective of all: a vote in the 2020 presidential election. To aid in this civil duty, here is a comprehensive breakdown of candidates’ views on pressing climate issues on the ballot in 2020. Each one has its own paragraph, and the infographic explains each candidate’s stance pertaining to each topic. Note that the green plant symbol means the candidate has a plan to combat the issue. An “X” symbol means he or she does not have a plan and/or priority to combat the issue.

Issue number one: The simplest policy decision on the ballot is the participation in the Paris Climate Accord. We are either in agreement alongside the rest of the world (even North Korea), or out. Ratified in 2016, the accord aims to keep global temperature increases “well below” two degrees Celsius by the end of this century. By 2025, America is required to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent of its 2005 levels. Scientists praise the move as a step in the right direction for our CO2-producing nation, second only to CO2 in China. The Trump Administration officially notified the world that the U.S. intended to withdraw from the agreement on Nov. 4, 2019, and that withdrawal cannot be implemented for 365 days. So, the U.S. won’t be legally exempt of the Agreement until Nov. 4, 2020—after the end of Trump’s first term. On the Democratic side of the ballot, all Democrats plan to keep America in the Accord. Given that statistics say President Trump will win the Republican primary, will the 27 percent of Republican voters who consider the climate crisis a hot button issue vote across party lines? Only time will tell.

Issue number two: America spends hundreds of billions of dollars supporting the fossil fuel industry, which is destroying our climate and buying off politicians in the process. The wealthy lobbyists flex their influence to block environmental legislation. But wait--there’s more. Several fuel industry leaders have exploited loopholes in emissions regulations, and therefore have not been held accountable for their exorbitant amounts of pollution. In fact, several of the most influential members of the energy lobby are among the top polluters in the United States, with Conoco, Exxon and General Electric ranking in the top six. If the United States wants to take a step in a greener direction, we need a candidate who will not only cancel fuel subsidies and say no to Big Oil lobbyists, but also a candidate who will prosecute loophole offenders.

Issue number three: Vehicles are now the leading producer of CO2 in the United States, but Trump’s EPA is loosening regulations. Transportation overtook power generation for climate-warming emissions in 2017, and the trend has worsened as of 2018.

“I’ve not seen any evidence that this administration knows anything about the auto industry; they just seem to be against anything the Obama administration did,” former EPA assistant administrator Mary Nichols said.

Moreso now than ever, emissions standards must be enforced. So, a true environmental candidate must find a way to incentivize increased production and affordability of electric vehicles to counterbalance the crushing weight of 36.2 gigatonnes of CO2, according to the Global Carbon Project.

Issue number four: Candidates plan to create a Green New Deal by investing unprecedented amounts of money into green energy, green transportation, and green infrastructure initiatives in a very similar fashion to FDR in World War II--test out ideas until some of them work. The kicker is, money does not appear out of thin air, and the turnaround of energy industries that have been around for 100+ years presents extraordinary risk. A Green New Deal may not play out as nicely as it does in theory when taking modern sociology into account. In World War II, every single American worked together for a common purpose: win the war. In 2019, the political landscape is deeply divided. A project of that size requires a level of partisanship that we don’t feel like improving upon. Voters must also keep in mind the hefty price tags candidates have promised, and decide for themselves what the balance should be between debt and environmental progress.

Issue number five: Fracking, a method of extracting oil and natural gas from deep underground, has sparked a debate within the Democratic party. Most candidates call for a total ban of the practice, but Joe Biden believes that the practice should not be done in populated areas. Donald Trump holds the same stance. On the other side of the aisle, the GOP remains adamant on continuing the practice because America is hailed as the “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas.” Although natural gas extraction means independence from the OPEC nations from the Middle East and Venezuela, the negative effects are both horrifying and relentless. Regardless of the ignorance of extracting nonrenewable energy in the first place, drinking water contaminated by natural gas can catch fire. This occurs because fracking requires enormous volumes of water, and when the wastewater surfaces from the drill hole, it brings up and mixes with natural gas, heavy metals and radioactive materials leached from the rocks down below. On top of those contaminants, fracking wastewater contains chemicals used in the process that companies do not have to reveal to the public.

Each and every one of us eventually chooses whether or not to show up to the polls, regardless of our current age. And that single decision we make holds the key to the fate of the future in many respects. Unless another four years of environmental policy erasure sounds attractive, young voters should fight for a candidate who has the courage to get down to business and invest in the future of the planet, not just the economy. In a new millennium already famous for having multiple “Storms of the Century,” including Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, the 2020 voter turnout is predicted to be a “Storm of the Century” in its own right. For decades, politicians continued to look the other way because voters did not force them to face the environment’s problems, but the predicted 2020 voter turnout is currently sitting around two-thirds of eligible voters. So, the choice is simple for candidates as well: listen to voters or lose their vote, because progress inevitably marches on, with or without them.

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