By Isobel Whitcomb ‘17
It is surprisingly easy to fall into a trap of apathy towards environmental issues, even for people who care deeply about the cause. Global warming, the biodiversity crisis-- all these issues can feel too big to even begin to tackle. While the modern media is filled with rhetoric about making small changes that count, living green lifestyles, and being environmentally conscious, sometimes these small changes can feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
“How much does it really matter if I take a five minute shower when there are droughts and gas leaks and oil spills?” "Is biking to the supermarket really any better than driving when there are coal plants spewing pollution into the air?"
While I don’t want to discount the importance of making small, environmentally-conscious decisions, it is true that these decisions don’t do much to change the systematic degradation of the environment that we, as citizens, have little control over: oil subsidies, unregulated exploitation of natural gases, and methods of waste disposal among other large issues. However, every four years we do get a chance to affect change on these larger systemic levels. By voting, we have some sway in the way the United States approaches these environmental issues. Here are the leading democratic and republican candidates in this year’s primary elections and their stances on major environmental issues.
When it comes to climate change, Hillary Clinton is adamant that action needs to be taken. She has been openly critical of “climate deniers” running in the Republican primaries. Last summer, she announced her plan for tackling global warming, which includes investing in clean energy and stopping tax give-aways to oil and gas companies. Unlike her Democratic opposition, Bernie Sanders, Hillary has been open to investing in natural gas as a clean energy source. Part of her response to climate change would also include modernizing natural gas infrastructure, accelerating pipeline replacement, and enhancing maintenance programs for natural gas distribution. Until late last summer, she refused to take a strong stance on the Keystone XL gas pipeline. However, she now stands openly in opposition to the project. Hillary would “build upon the successes of the Obama administration,” such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Although she has been endorsed by environmental organization League of Conservation, grassroots environmentalists have criticized her for being the “safe candidate” and as “somewhat conservative.”
In Dec. 2015, five months after Clinton announced her plan to tackle climate change, Bernie Sanders revealed his own plan. His included ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions to 40% below 1990 levels. Steps towards this plan would include the creation of a clean energy workforce, which Sanders claims would provide 10 million jobs to Americans, and imposing a carbon tax, which would then provide revenue to support communities struggling from the effects of climate change. Sanders is endorsed by smaller, grassroots environmental groups as having a stronger record than Clinton when it comes to voting, proposing measures, and giving speeches on environmental issues. However, larger environmental organizations worry Sanders is too unlikely a candidate, and that if he ran for president it would place the next presidency in the hands of climate change deniers.
According to Donald Trump, Donald Trump has “won many environmental awards.” He has also proclaimed that clean air and clean water are very important to him. However, he does not believe in man-made climate change, and has called it an “expensive hoax.” Even if he did believe in climate change, he has expressed that the United States shouldn’t bear the burden of changing its practices while China benefits from the country’s decreased “competitiveness.” In addition, Trump has repeatedly called oil the “lifeblood” of this country, declaring that as president, he would not support measures such as cap and trade or an oil tax, and would cut the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
Cruz is perhaps more adamant than Trump that global warming is a “pseudoscientific theory.” However, his history as a politician reveals that his stance on global warming has shifted over the years. As senator, he voted for a senate amendment saying that climate change was real, but voted against a second amendment which declared it man-made. As an “anti-establishment” candidate, Cruz believes that the federal government has passed too many “growth-stifling” regulations, and believes that these projects have done more to protect special interests than to protect the environment. Cruz is a large promoter of the oil and gas industry. He has received over $1 Billion in donations from affiliated companies since 2011, and promotes decreased regulation of fracking, opening areas for offshore drilling, and lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Although Cruz is a critic of government regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, he is a firm believer in what he calls “volunteer conservation.”
Like Trump and Cruz, the Republican Party’s third leading candidate has cast aspersions on climate change. However, he is less adamant that it is a complete hoax. Rubio has declared that he is “not a scientist,” saying “I’m not qualified to make that decision. There’s a significant scientific dispute about that.” Although he is unsure what to believe about climate change, Rubio is certain that limiting carbon emissions would have a devastating effect on the economy and has called the EPA’s Clean Power Plan “one of the worst regulations ever created.” Although Rubio’s current stance on the environment could be called anti-conservationist, his political history is more mixed than Cruz or Trump’s. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Rubio helped pass a sweeping energy bill and was strongly backed by environmentalists.