When it comes to the presidential candidates, the die is cast. Americans will head to voting stations this November to choose between President Joe Biden or Former President Donald Trump. Regarding knowledge of the issues, President Biden should score points on the debate stage by drawing on his 50 years in government service. President Trump will counter with quips about his opponent’s energy, waves of people crossing from the Mexican border into the United States, and repeating his first-term refrain, “Drain the Swamp.”
Presidential debates are prime-time audience grabbers and the brunt of late-night talk show host jokes. The two candidates are a complex contrast in tone and leadership. The nation’s significant issues are many – immigration, economy, health costs, rampant racism, women’s reproductive rights, global security, and more. Still, another debate topic must squeeze in among the moderator’s debate questions: climate and environmental sustainability.
Climate is the back-burner priority we routinely kick down the road for a future Congress or administration to address eventually. But under the Biden Administration, Congress enacted bipartisan legislation, and legislators red and blue engaged.
Climate is often the catalyst for migration and demographic shifts, impacting where people live and work. Extreme weather events disrupt agriculture, manufacturing supply chains, real estate value, tourism, and health. But what makes Congressional candidates act is clear – it’s the economy. Climate change destroys more than the earth’s landscape. It ruins people’s livelihoods and lives.
Climate – A Call to Action Among Gen Z Voters
Now 75 years old, Former Vice President Al Gore has long embraced climate as a platform issue. Still, climate advocacy has since been left mainly in the domain of youth-led movements such as Fridays for Future, School Strike for Climate, and the successful class-action suit led by 16 young Montanans.
The presidential candidates and those seeking election to Federal and state offices should be pressed on climate – they should prioritize sustainable communities, continents, and commerce. Climate is not a topic that should dominate the Gen Z agenda alone. It must become a presidential candidate call-to-action as they cross the nation, campaigning, debating, and outlining sustainability platforms to voters.
In a highly partisan Congress, the Biden Administration has, against the political odds, advanced one of the nation’s most comprehensive investment programs to stimulate jobs, innovation, and sustainable communities. The Environmental and Climate Justice Program (ECJ Program), part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), provides financial and technical assistance for environmental innovation and climate justice activities.
The IRA breathes new life into toxic pollution policies by reinstating the Superfund tax, raising more than $11 billion in guaranteed funding for years to come, and reducing the community pollution disproportionately felt by low-income and disadvantaged communities.
Young Voters Care About Climate – Their Grandparents Should Too
The most inflammatory consumer-pressing topics will likely dominate the campaign conversation during the months ahead – seeking to either show one candidate is out-of-touch with voter urgencies or ill-equipped to lead – climate (albeit urgent) will likely be a secondary issue on the electioneering circuit. If Gen Z and younger are rightfully anxious, their parents and grandparents, who are voters, should take note. As the Greatest Generation fought to keep the world safe, in going to the ballot box, they should keep the planet safe for future generations.
Here are 10 hot-button topics that are part of the climate and environment conversation that we should consider as the nation heads into November. These are pocketbook, job creation, and equity transformation possibilities. When Congressional representatives speak out for their constituents, it’s expected. Looking at their longer-term needs – and the nation’s – requires collaboration and policy action.
Top 10 Environmental Priorities for Voters and Candidates
- Climate Change: We need continued support for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet ambitious targets, such as transitioning to renewable energy sources and increasing energy efficiency. The IRA is a tremendous step forward, and the return of the Superfund Tax returns teeth (and tax dollars) to enforcement.
- Renewable Energy: Promoting the expansion of clean and renewable energy sources like wind power, solar energy, ground source and hydropower will decrease reliance on fossil fuels and enhance energy security. Buying “alternative energy” from supplies is an added cost. Finding ways to subsidize this expense for homeowners increases jobs and reduces carbon emissions. Even better, look for communities integrating renewable energy into their building plans.
- Carbon Pricing: Advocate for a carbon pricing mechanism, such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, to incentivize emissions reductions and drive investments in low-carbon technologies. Airlines like United and Turkish Airlines are among the many that have stepped to the fore and put a public face on this issue. Consumers are asked to join in contributing toward carbon credits. Some will question this co-funding approach. In reality, we’re in this together.
- Environmental Disparities: Address environmental disparities and ensure that vulnerable communities, often disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change, receive equitable access to resources, clean air, and clean water. Post Hurricane Sandy, millions of people were displaced from the New Jersey coastline. Innovators such as Ecocrete are pioneering ways to create “reefs” that double as protective guards against flooding and protect sea life in the face of continued environmental risks. Advocacy organizations like Rivers are Life are uniting companies that must now repair damages created in years past.
- Conservation and Biodiversity: Support policies that preserve and restore natural ecosystems, protect endangered species, and promote sustainable land and water management practices. According to one innovator – Beewise –75 percent of our produce is pollinated by bees, while 40 percent of bee colonies collapse yearly. That points to a looming global challenge and innovator opportunity.
- Sustainable Food: Promote sustainable farming practices, reduce harmful pesticides and fertilizers, and incentivize regenerative agriculture to protect soil health and decrease emissions. All over the world, companies are stepping up to address the dual challenge of sustenance and sustainability. One shining example is Tetra Pak, which takes an integrated approach to sustainability, focusing on package recycling to move the world’s food systems forward.
- Clean Transportation: Invest in public transportation infrastructure, incentivize electric vehicles, and develop sustainable urban planning to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has set a goal for all new light-duty vehicles to be electric by 2027 and make all Federal vehicle acquisitions electric by 2035. Billions of incentives will be available to stimulate production and purchase.
- Community Response: Develop strategies and funding mechanisms to help communities at risk – close to rising coastal flood and heat zones – adapt to the changing climate, protect critical infrastructure, and plan for sea-level rise and extreme weather events. Babson Ranch is one community that stands among the Time Magazine featured examples other builders should follow.
- Waste and Supply Chain Management: Promote policies that reduce waste, encourage recycling and reuse, and decrease the environmental impact of manufacturing and consumer goods. There are incredible examples of success – companies that are well on their way to showing how our landfills can be transformed into raw materials and recycled into furniture, consumer goods, and more. If you need an inspiring “it’s possible” example, follow UBQ Materials.
- International Collaboration: Advocate for global climate agreements and partnerships and engage in diplomatic efforts to address climate change internationally. COP28 was contentious – a fossil fuel nation hosting the international community. But in reality, all the developed countries are a large part of the problem and must be leaders investing in solutions.
The UN Climate Change Conference COP29 meets on the heels of the US presidential elections. Organizers must set an agenda that draws in the American public and candidates, including benchmarking successes and urgency. Whoever sits in the Oval Office will have an incredible influence on the US voice in the global forum. The US and global political agenda must align. We share one planet – a planet that doesn’t need people. But people need the planet.
“Don’t Live Your Life on the Sidelines”
Will climate and environment be little more than a side mention during the presidential campaign trail? People tend to look at urgent bread-and-butter issues rather than addressing concerns that unfold over time. We “live for today and (supposedly) plan for tomorrow.”
That being said, for the young people of Montana who successfully sued to protect the environment (and the other 49 states that care), demonstrated climate will be among the ballot box priorities that bring out younger voters to polling places. It’s often suggested that age corresponds with wisdom. That adage is out of step with today’s pressing realities.
The late tech genius and Apple Computer Founder Steve Jobs offered a different perspective: “The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.”
We need courageous government leaders who are ready to prioritize climate change and redirect our imaginations and economic and time investments to preserve our future. Old and young alike must recognize that delay is not an option. A theoretical asteroid is heading toward our planet through rising temperatures, melting ice caps, and polluted water and air.
Which presidential candidate can take these challenges on sensibly? Regardless of age, “Think Different” voters look to and vote for the one who can do it!