Experts say election brings new stakes to Earth Day

This fall’s election has major implications for America’s role in the fight against climate change.

The two White House candidates, President Biden and former President Trump, are worlds apart on global warming, and, as Earth Day arrives Monday, climate advocates warn that a second Trump administration could have dire consequences for the planet.

The difference between those two presidencies couldn’t be more stark,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, which has endorsed Biden.

“It’s continuing to make progress and tackling the climate crisis,” Maysmith said, versus “unraveling progress.”

The U.S. is currently the country with the second-most emissions in the world, behind only China, making its policies key to limiting them.

Man-made activity has driven planetary warming since the industrial revolution — when many national economies became largely based on coal. Since then, the Earth’s average surface temperature has already warmed by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

This warming has led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, including flooding and droughts, in addition to heat waves. These extremes are expected to worsen if the planet continues getting hotter, especially if key “tipping points” that change the system and are difficult to reverse — such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic permafrost — are reached.

Under Biden, the U.S. has implemented policies that are expected to cut emissions, including the Inflation Reduction Act, which could cut U.S. carbon emissions by between 35 percent and 43 percent from 2005 levels in 2030, according to a government projection.

The Biden administration has also pursued regulations aimed at combating climate change, requiring a shift toward greener vehicles and proposing to make power plants reduce their emissions.

A second Trump administration is likely to try to undo or reverse many of those climate rules; Trump rolled back more than 125 environmental policies during his four years in office, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Spokespeople for the Trump campaign did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment. But plans posted on the campaign’s website indicate the former president intends to reverse Biden regulations on efficient appliances and climate friendly vehicles, as well as moves to limit fossil fuel production and subsidize wind energy.

Generally, Trump’s allies have cited economics and limiting government overreach as their reasoning for such actions.

But critics note that they also harm the planet — and contribute to climate-related disasters.

Steve Cohen, a public affairs professor at Columbia University, said a second Trump presidency would be “devastating” in terms of climate policy, describing the former president as someone who “doesn’t think electric vehicles are a good idea, spreads disinformation about windmills and is aggressively anti-science when it comes to climate change.”

Cohen particularly raised concerns about the ability of federal agencies to enforce laws and maintain staff, and the potential for antiregulatory judges to be appointed.

“Another four years of that could make this permanent, where now, institutions were able to rebound after four years. I’m not sure they could if it happens again,” he said.

A Biden presidency, meanwhile, would be likely to at least maintain the nation’s current trajectory.

In a statement to The Hill, the Biden campaign stressed the president’s commitment to the issue and his contrast with Trump but did not give specific policy goals for a second Biden term.

“Joe Biden is the only candidate in this race taking action to combat the existential threat of climate change,” spokesperson Seth Schuster said.

“He’s cutting pollution, lowering energy costs for hardworking families, and creating tens of thousands of good-paying jobs across the country,” Schuster added. “Donald Trump, meanwhile, thinks climate change a ‘hoax’ and is promising to take a sledgehammer to that progress — threatening our planet and the futures of young Americans.”

And there are some actions that the Biden administration may not be able to complete during his first term that could depend on a second. One example is regulation of existing gas power plants, which will be dropped from a forthcoming power plant rule as the administration decided instead to put together a whole new rule.

Maysmith, with the League of Conservation Voters, said the current administration is “meeting the urgency of the moment” but emphasized there’s more to be done in a second term, including “protecting more our iconic public lands, to further cutting emissions, ramping up more with renewables and clean energy.”

Progressive advocates say that while Biden has had major climate accomplishments, he also needs to do more. Groups including the Sunrise Movement have called on the president to declare a climate emergency and not approve additional fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as expressing frustration with the president on nonclimate issues such as the war in Gaza.

“There are a lot of young people who would say, ‘Look, I’m going to vote for him this November, but I don’t know if I can get up there in front of my classmates, in front of my neighbors and friends and really push them to go out and vote too,’” Sunrise spokesperson Stevie O’Hanlon said.

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