Economic growth and job creation are at the forefront of both the Democratic and Republican Parties’ stated agendas. However, the groups’ starkly different strategies for achieving these goals, if implemented, would have equally disparate effects on our climate and environment.
The Democrats deem it imperative “to slash carbon pollution” and “believe America must be running entirely on clean energy by mid-century.”
To achieve this goal, the Dems plan to set the U.S. on track to generate half its electricity from renewable sources within ten years or less; install “ half a billion solar panels…within four years”; boost energy efficiency in the nation’s “homes, schools, hospitals, and offices”; transform the electricity grid; and “support taking steps to power the government with 100 percent clean electricity.”
In terms of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the party believes the controversial practice “should not take place where states and local communities oppose it.” Development of wind, solar and other renewable energies is prioritized over the creation of new natural gas power plants.
Some other Democratic energy goals:
- Trashing “special tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies.”
- Adding to and maintaining existing clean energy tax incentives.
- Reducing “methane emissions from all oil and gas production and transportation by at least 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.”
In other words, the blue team would completely “green up” America’s energy sector.
The red team, on the other hand, would save the dying emissions-intensive coal industry from “the Democratic Party’s radical anti-coal agenda” and promote “development of all forms of energy that are marketable in a free economy without subsidies, including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear power and hydropower.” The party specifically addresses scrapping all existing renewable energy incentives and makes no direct mention of getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies.
The Republican Party would also do away with the “war on coal” – also known as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The GOP supports the following energy initiatives:
- Opening up public lands and the ocean for further oil exploration.
- Fast tracking permits for oil and gas wells.
- Dropping “restrictions to allow responsible development of nuclear energy.”
- Hydraulic fracturing.
With regard to transportation, the Democrats would work to reduce “oil consumption through cleaner fuels” and promote vehicle electrification and fuel efficiency across land, sea and air. The Dems also promote “investments in public transportation and…bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across our urban and suburban areas.”
To the contrary, the Republican Party supports the use of the private automobile and scoffs at the Obama Administration’s Livability Initiative to “coerce people out of their cars” and onto public transport.
They also intend to “end federal support for boondoggles like California’s high-speed train to nowhere,” whose stated goal is to transport millions of people between Los Angeles and San Francisco and reduce the number of air and auto trips and their associated emissions.
The GOP would remove support, through the Highway Trust Fund, for public urban transport “bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping…historical renovations… ferry boats, the federal lands access program, scenic byways, and education initiatives.” They dub these “worthwhile enterprises” that should nevertheless “be funded through other sources.” Other sources are not named.
Public Lands and the Environment
The United States has over 600 million acres of public lands that house old forests, high mountains, lush lakes and rivers and a wide array of wildlife. The Democrats would work to “help expand local, state, and national recreational opportunities, rehabilitate existing parks, and enhance America’s great outdoors” while generating revenue by “doubling the size of the outdoor economy.” The Party also supports the Endangered Species Act, which protects threatened and endangered plants and animals.
The Republican Platform warns that the “environment is too important to be left to radical environmentalists.” Instead, the GOP proposes decentralizing national public lands by giving states the agency to manage them. They also support opening public lands to logging interests and expanding fossil fuel extraction.
While the Republicans acknowledge that some species should be protected, they say that if a species can be found in “healthy numbers” at a different location, it should be removed from the Endangered Species Act.
Critics accuse the Republican Party of reducing federal commitment to conservation in the name of expanding opportunities for profit.
The Democratic Platform views climate change as “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.” The Party believes America should “lead the fight against climate change around the world by reducing greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050” and honoring the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases “well below” two degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
Further, Democrats want to address the negative externalities of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane by taxing them to help pay for a transition to a clean energy economy. The Dems continue to oppose construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
In contrast, Donald Trump tweeted “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” A 2015 survey reported that over half of Congressional Republicans dispute or deny climate science, and the Republic Platform perpetuates climate denialism.
The red team would “reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement” and “reverse the current Administration’s blocking of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” which they claim the “President killed…to satisfy environmental extremists.”
To fund the government programs that would lead the U.S. economy into a sustainable future, the Democratic Party would cut back on tax breaks for big corporations, increase taxes on top-earners and revitalize domestic production to bring jobs back home.
The Republican Party agrees that the government needs to encourage companies not to outsource jobs to foreign countries. However, they disagree with Democrats on corporate taxation. Instead of making stricter tax codes for corporations, the Republicans encourage “lowering the corporate tax rate” and privatizing government programs like Social Security.
While the Democrats aim to make corporations contribute more to the development of America, the Republicans want to reduce corporate responsibility to the environment and the American people.
“By separating nature from economics, we have walked blindly into tragedy” says Jeffrey Sacs, world-renowned economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University.
While Hillary Clinton and the Democrats plan to cater their policies to mend the fragile state of our climate and environment, Donald Trump and the Republicans deny the decline of the planet’s ecological systems and encourage policies with little to no regard for nature or climate.
Our climate system is at a precipice. The policies and investments that are made after this essential power shift will likely determine whether the COP21 Paris Agreement is ratified internationally. U.S. action (or inaction) will have substantial long term impacts on our planet’s natural environment and impact the lives of all present and future generations.