/ 3 November 2020

US elections: Neither candidate is taking climate change seriously

Us Vote Debate
US President Donald Trump (R) Democratic Presidential candidate, former US Vice President Joe Biden and moderator, NBC News anchor, Kristen Welker (C) participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. (Photo by JIM BOURG / POOL / AFP)

The climate crisis has and will fundamentally change this earth. It’s been called the single greatest threat to human life, and yet the issue is only afforded a few softball questions in the US presidential debate, which both candidates catastrophically fail — and in fact refuse — to address. It is revealing that the first question on the topic wasn’t “what are you going to do to solve the climate crisis?” it was “what do you believe about the science of climate change?” 

There are multiple reasons why climate issues have not taken a more prominent role in this US election cycle. Firstly, the Covid-19 pandemic has overwhelmed people. It has dominated the political discourse and is rightfully treated as a high priority. The fact that there is a Covid-19 sceptic in the White House only adds to the urgency. 

Secondly, the Trump administration has continually pushed a climate denial agenda. They have tried to discredit the science, to the point where we are questioning the premise of climate change before even speaking about it in detail. While the Democrats have tried to push climate change back on the table, they have not pushed as hard as they have for other issues. The lack of prioritisation is evident of a lack of political will to put up a stronger, more robust fight for real, effective climate and environmental policies. 

Lastly, the climate change issue is deeply rooted in our current global neoliberal economic systems. The Republican party has been trying to keep climate change off the agenda for years, as they have notoriously been recipients of campaign contributions by massive fossil fuel-producing companies. Donald Trump received the highest amount of donations from oil and gas companies in the 2020 election cycle (almost $2-million). Even he knows not to bite the hand that feeds him. But Joe Biden’s campaign received close to $800 000 from oil and gas companies too.

The mainstream of the Democrat Party is far too wedded to the current neoliberal economic systems to be our champions in the struggle for our future. Biden has explicitly said that he does not support the “Green New Deal” in the debates, and his running mate Kamala Harris has stated that they will not ban fracking. Although his climate policy is better than Trump’s non-existent one, it doesn’t go anywhere near the type of real change that is needed to address the crisis. 

This wilful ignorance by the US leadership will result in a rapidly increasing rate of greenhouse emissions by companies that will have little to no opposition to their destructive practices. This in turn will deepen the climate crisis, leaving our children to face a world where resource conflicts are commonplace, and where soil erosion and desertification will increasingly force people from their homes. The consequences of not acting are too great to let our politicians, US or otherwise, get away with their inaction.

Kumi Naidoo is the Global Ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity. He was previously the Secretary General of Amnesty International and the International Executive Director of Greenpeace.

This story first appeared in The Continent, the award-winning pan-African newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Get your free copy here.