The U.S. Presidential election has been settled, and the people have spoken. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the next President and Vice President of the United States. Candidly, I cannot think of an election outcome with so many immediate implications for the United States and global community on our climate crisis. Here is why Earth is also a winner in this election cycle.
While everyone was monitoring or covering the election results, something else quietly happened on November 4th, 2020. The United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. President Trump announced the intentions to do this in 2019, but it could no become official until November 4th in accordance with Article 28 of the Agreement. Is the action permanent? I answered this question in a 2019 Forbes article by noting, “A different administration could rejoin the agreement or the current administration could reverse course although there is no evidence that would happen.” Joe Biden has already signaled that he plans to rejoin the Agreement, which seeks to reduce Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to cap warming beneath a 1.5 to 2.0 degree C threshold.
The Paris Agreement exists without the United States. However, it would be less effective at achieving its goals. This Agreement was better than previous actions because it included other big emitting countries like China and India. We have always known that climate action needed to be bigger than one country. However, the U.S. is the second leading emitter of GHGs in the world. The U.S. traditionally, until recent years, has also been viewed as a leader. Without our presence, other countries might be less inclined to meet targets, and climate policy engagement could be limited. Just this week, someone on social media tweeted the cliche “Don’t you think the Agreement was unfair to the U.S.?.” narrative. My response was that the Agreement was fair to the Earth. The last time I looked at a view of the planet from space there were no borders.
Beyond the Paris Agreement, the Earth won the election because I foresee an era of actual science-based discussions and policy proposals on climate, including the Green New Deal. The 2020 Presidential campaign and debate cycle foreshadowed my prediction. I was surprised (but in a good way) at the number of times climate change appeared in the discussions. It is also likely that U.S. agencies dealing with climate science or policy like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), EPA, and NASA will feel less constrained when participating in climate assessments, research, and other international activities. In recent weeks, potentially concerning information was revealed in Science magazine about personnel actions within NOAA’s senior leadership. By the way, let’s hope the Biden Administration will work diligently to have a permanent NOAA Administrator. The Trump administration had interim leadership in that position for the entire duration. NOAA is a critical player in the global challenge of climate change.
Finally, a U.S. administration that will actually “listen to the scientists” is good for everyone. Joseph Ortiz is a Professor of Geology at Kent State University. The expert in climate change and environmental remote sensing told me, “a Biden-Harris Administration will recognize many issues require sound science-based policy….They will bring science expertise back to the White House.” Ortiz also expects to see economic development programs that will advance our energy infrastructure and improve sustainability. He closed by saying, “That will help Americans, provide future resilience and decrease the impending impact of climate change.” Geographer and climate expert Jennifer Collins at the University of South Florida echoed Ortiz. She said, “Our planet wins as the White House will respect scientists and their expertise so policies will once again be informed.”
We have some of the best scientists, engineers, and resources in the world. When that capacity is not hindered by political ideology and biases, it can be unleashed on grand challenges that we face like the climate crises and coronavirus. As I think more about the title of this article, it is really us that are the winners. The Earth will likely survive no matter how we harm it. We are the ones that will contend with the changes.