Climate change: An everlasting issue as 2020 election nears

With just two weeks away from the 2020 presidential election, many climate change activists and American citizens long for a resurgence in proactive climate initiatives after what has felt like an eternity.

“I think it’s one of the biggest issues in our society,” University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Ph.D. candidate Marybeth Arcodia said. Her role as a RSMAS Ph.D. candidate is to investigate climate change from an academic standpoint to understand the theory, math and physics that factor into the global issue.

“Especially in Miami where climate and climate change are playing such a role even in day-to-day life, I think it’s one of the biggest issues that could be on the ballot in the upcoming election,” Arcodia said.

But the available climate change solutions will likely not dissolve the world’s ongoing concerns immediately after the election.

Katherine Mach, an associate professor in the Department of Marine Ecosystems and Society, said she believes that climate change remains an uphill battle for the foreseeable future.

“Solving climate change cannot happen overnight or even in a year,” Mach said. “There are a lot of levers that need to be pulled as soon as possible in order to address such issues.”

The threat of climate change is noticeable all around the world. Homes and communities nationwide continue to be flooded, burned, swept away and piled with debris as wildfires increase, droughts extend and tropical storms amplify in intensity.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in 2019, there were 7,860 wildfires that burned through about 259,800 acres of land in California. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that Hurricane Dorian was the strongest hurricane to impact the northern Bahamas region in modern history, causing about $3.4 billion in damage.

“Everyone and everything on every continent are seeing the intensifying impacts from climate change,” Mach said. “Many global solutions are at hand already, but it remains a matter of deploying them accordingly.”

One solution in the Paris Agreement— a target towards effective response to climate change through mitigating greenhouse gas emissions— remains a concern for many given President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the country from the agreement on June 1, 2017.

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden looks to change that decision, among others, should he get elected on Nov. 3. He, along with vice president nominee Sen. Kamala Harris, aspires to make well-informed decisions that will benefit the future of the country on a sustainable level.

“It is a factual observation that the Trump administration has dismantled climate policy, steering the country’s focus away from effective climate change solutions,” Mach said.

The effects of climate change, however, remain alive and well while Trump still muddles over its existence.

“It is definitely important to view because it’s our future, and it’s inevitable, and we have definitely seen history of it becoming a lot worse,” RSMAS undergraduate student Will Neugebauer said about climate change. “[It is] issues of the ozone being depleted and rising global temperatures that will melt polar ice caps and then raise sea levels. Miami might be underwater soon, or in the next few hundred years even.”

Similar to the shared viewpoint of some climate researchers and activists, Neugebauer said he believes that the climate system’s tipping point— an irreversible change in the Earth’s ecosystem— has now been far exceeded.

“I think we’re definitely overstepping the boundary that should have been passed,” Neugebauer said. “I’ve heard some statements saying that we [have] irreversibly done damage to the Earth that we can’t undo. But I think that shouldn’t stop us from trying to prevent any further damage.”

Whether or not climate change can actually be solved remains up for debate. Some researchers believe that humanity has not passed the deadline to mitigate the impacts of climate change through individual actions.

“I do not like the mentality that it’s too late, and ‘let’s give up,’” Arcodia said. “Now that being said, there is already an inherent amount of climate change in our climate system that we will experience even if we shut off every sort of fossil fuel burning machine that exists right now.”

Arcodia said that action should be taken immediately to stop further damages.

“There’s a lot of different levels that this could be taken to, and I don’t want any individual to be thinking, ‘I am not making any sort of change,’” Arcodia said.

Mach, on the other hand, said she thinks that a firm answer doesn’t exist as to whether or not climate change can be mitigated or even prevented.

“It is not much of a yes-or-no question,” Mach said. “Climate change is already happening, and its impacts are widespread. The challenge originates from global warming of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions being trapped into the atmosphere and how we as a society can combat this effectively with the solutions available.”

But when it comes to voting in a presidential election, climate change awareness is where it all starts.

“The more aware that your standard voter is going to be of environmental issues, then the more likely they are to vote for a candidate who puts environmental issues at the forefront of their agenda,” Arcodia said. “This growing concern is making people that maybe weren’t even aware of what was happening, even in their local communities, now start to understand the terminology and also start to notice what’s changing, and usually it’s for the worse.”

What has also remained clear leading up to Election Day is each of the presidential candidates’ positions on the climate crisis.

“Joe Biden has environmental crises and monitoring fossil fuels much higher on his list of priorities than Trump, and I think we’ve already seen the impact that Trump’s presidency has had on the environment,” Arcodia said. “The result of the election will have a very strong outcome on climate change that we’ll see in years to come.”

The future of climate change remains uncertain and daunting for the time being. Millions fear about the stability of their communities due to previously witnessed impacts. One thing is clear— this year’s election is crucial to what will happen to the planet in years to come.

“I realize there’s a lot of steps here but the fact that [Biden] already said that he wants to make this a primary issue and listen to climate scientists and get expert opinions and then take the science that’s happening and implement this into policy,” Arcodia said. “If all of these things that he’s saying can actually happen, then I think we’d be on a much better trajectory than we are right now, which is this kind of ‘business as usual’ and even business getting worse.”