By Jeff Radford
Finally, candidates for national offices are forced to address citizens’ demand for a substantive response to ever more severe consequences of climate change. In the first presidential debate moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden were not expected to be asked to comment on that issue at all. It came up briefly anyway, with Trump backing down a little from his earlier position that the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated by China, while Biden assured the electorate that he would make combatting climate change a priority and would quickly re-join the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
Biden has touted his plan to confront climate change which is similar to what the New Mexico Legislature last year adopted as its Energy Transition Act, which required that investor-owned utilities and cooperatives produce 50 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable energy within ten years, with a goal of 80 percent by 2040.
During the presidential debate, Trump offered a halting admission that climate change may be real and that some of the effects already being experienced may be caused in part by human activity. His administration has heavily and consistently promote the use of coal to produce electricity and exploitation of other fossil fuels. His officials have rolled back regulations for fuel-efficient motor vehicles.
As a former director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under a Democratic president, Gina McCarthy put it, “The Trump administration has done everything they can to deny the science and denigrate scientists.” She is now president of the National Resources Defense Council. “They have really done everything humanly possible to try to convince people that what they see and feel and taste just isn't happening in front of them,”McCarethy added.
The strategy outlined by Biden has the following goals:
• Ensuring that the United States achieves a 100 percent clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.
The Democratic candidate said if elected he will immediately sign a series of new executive orders to correct reckless orders issued by Trump. He said he would demand that Congress enact legislation in the first year of his presidency that: 1) establishes an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than the end of his first term in 2025, 2) makes a historic investment in clean energy and climate research and innovation, 3) incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations across the economy, especially in communities most impacted by climate change.
• Building a stronger, more resilient nation by making infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.
His plan calls for aiding in development of regional climate resilience plans, in partnership with local universities and national labs, for local access to the most relevant science, data, information, tools and training.
• Rallying the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change. Biden said he will not only re-commit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change, he will go much further.
• Standing up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities. Vulnerable communities are disproportionately impacted by the climate emergency and pollution.
The Biden campaign has pledged it will not accept contributions from oil, gas and coal corporations or executives. Trump has stressed his position that any major shift toward renewable energy resources away from fossil fuels will be a “job killer” leaving thousands of American workers unemployed during a ruinous economic depression. Biden says his strategy will create far more jobs in the fast-growing solar and wind energy sectors.
The Democratic candidate says his plan can be paid for by reversing the excesses of the Trump tax cuts for corporations, reducing incentives for tax havens, evasion and outsourcing, ensuring corporations pay their fair share, closing other loopholes in the tax code that reward wealth, not work, and ending subsidies for fossil fuels.
Candidates seeking to represent New Mexico in Congress are also being forced to state their position on climate change and what they would do to confront it. Former Albuquerque TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti is running as a Republican to take retiring Democratic Senator Tom Udall’s seat in Washington. He faces long-time Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, Democrat, and Libertarian Bob Walsh running for the senate seat.
Walsh, a retired scientist, has said computer models used to predict future greenhouse gas emissions produce contradictory conclusions about the effect of the earth’s cloud cover, among other uncertainties. “Each predicted climate has both costs and benefits,” he has said in campaign material. “Let’s stop requiring that worst-case assumptions direct policy.”
Ronchetti has been quoted as saying, “While the atmosphere is warming and there are steps we can take to protect our environment, we can’t restrict our economy when countries like China and India continue unrestricted pollution. “I oppose the Green New Deal, which includes provisions like guaranteed salaries for those who choose not to work.”
Lujan has taken a strong position on confronting climate change. “Climate change is an existential threat to our way of life. Congress should work to reduce our carbon footprint, increase clean energy production and create jobs. “That’s why I introduced the Clean Energy Standard Act, which has the support of environmental and labor groups because it would move our nation toward carbon-free electricity and create jobs.”
Running to replace Lujan in the U.S. House of Representatives are Democrat Theresa Leger Fernandez and Republican Alexis Johnson. Leger Fernandez has said “Climate change is an existential crisis. Congress must act to reduce carbon pollution, invest in wind and solar and pass clean energy tax incentives while reducing fossil fuel subsidies. The United States must also rejoin the Paris climate agreement.
Republican Johnson has said “I am an environmental engineer and have worked to make sure that not only are New Mexicans employed, but our energy was flowing and our environment was clean. I promote funding for Los Alamos Lab and Sandia National Labs as they are working on innovative technologies to promote the better utilization of our energy.”
As the two candidates for the presidency gear up campaigns in the final weeks before the November 3 election, news about the climate and the warming planet grows more dire despite hopeful trends.
• Last month was the warmest September on record for much of the world.
• Almost half of the United States is in a worsening drought. In California last month that drought and high temperatures were blamed in large part for the worst fire season in the state’s history.
• In New Mexico, climatologist Dave DuBois last month said he suspects climate change for increased aridity here and elsewhere in the Southwest. “The dry areas get drier, and it’s more erratic,” he said.
• Canada’s last intact ice shelf collapsed into icebergs at the end of July.
• Albuquerque’s West Mesa is expected to become a major center for solar power generation based on plans revealed in mid-October for an utility-scale 800 megawatt solar electric project.
• State officials in California said late last month they intend to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. Fifteen countries have already announced similar plans.
• A former Corrales resident, reporter Laura Paskus, has published a book, At The Precipice: New Mexico’s Changing Climate, about the impacts of climate change already occuring and the urgent need for action.
• In the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, amost half of the coral colonies have died in the last 25 years due to the rise of oceanic temperature.
• New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department this month issued new rules to control releases of methane from oil and gas operations which account for about 62 percent of methane releases in this state. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
• The World Meteorological Organization published a report this month that global temperatures are causing “the increased frequency of extreme weather events, including heat waves, droughts, flooding, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires.”
• The snows of Kilimanjaro in East Africa, described by novelist Ernest Hemmingway in the 1930s, are melting.
Corrales Comment Editor Jeff Radford was the only New Mexico journalist to report from Paris on the 2015 Climate Accord convened by the United Nations. His reporting can be found at http://www.corralescomment.com.