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Green Politics: Clinton and Trump’s stances on scientific topics

November 18, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have maintained significantly different views on a number of topics this election, including climate change and energy usage in the United States. While countries worldwide have relied on fossil fuels to provide power their people since the 18th century, climate change has only recently become a major topic of discussion for political leaders around the world.

Trump and Clinton did not analyze climate change’s impacts on the welfare of the planet in this year’s three presidential debates and did not address either the United States’ increasing energy usage or the country’s growing dependence on foreign sources of oil.

Such lack of focus on climate change and its impacts on both national and international interests worries members of the scientific community.

Dr. Benjamin Santer, climate researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a 1998 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship for his research about human activity and its relation to global warming, believes the absence of discussion between Trump and Clinton about climate change may lead to more serious problems for the world in the future.

“Given the stark difference in the positions [of climate change] of the two candidates, it was very disappointing that no specific question on the economic and policy responses to this very serious problem was posed to them,” Dr. Santer said in a phone interview. “It’s imperative that we do something about [climate change] because there’s a narrow window of opportunity to nudge societies onto a more sustainable pathway.”

Although they did not address global warming in the three presidential debates, both Trump and Clinton have taken stances on global warming and have proposed plans to change how energy companies in the United States meet the demands of Americans.

Since the beginning of Obama’s presidency, Republicans have vocalized their discontent over the decreasing price of natural gas, a development that has contributed to a diminishing number of coal-mining jobs in the United States since 2008. Trump, echoing the sentiment of his party, supports the reopening of coal mines to put coal miners back into business.

Given the stark difference in the positions [of climate change] of the two candidates, it was very disappointing that no specific question on the economic and policy responses to this very serious problem was posed to them.”

— Dr. Benjamin Santer, Climate Researcher

The president-elect has also expressed his opposition to the Paris Agreement, a treaty aimed at addressing the impacts of climate change on the global environment that was ratified by 84 countries at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Dr. Santer believes Trump’s resistance towards an international effort to resolving problems related to climate change, as well as his labelling of global warming as a “hoax” and a “conspiracy,” can influence Americans’ views of climate change.

“In my opinion, politicians have a privileged position. They are capable of making decisions that affect millions of people- arguably, billions of people when it comes to dealing with climate change and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases,” Dr. Santer said. “If they use intemperate language to incorrectly describe scientific understanding of human effects on climate and climate science in general, they poison the well.”

Similarly to Trump, Clinton believes the United States should continue using fossil fuels as a source of power, but she also wants to increase the country’s reliance on sources of renewable energy, a development she sees as an opportunity to create “millions of new jobs and businesses” for Americans.

Had she won the election, Clinton pledged to install half a billion solar panels to power U.S. homes by the end of her first term as President.

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Among accusations by critics of Trump for his failure to address the issue of climate change adequately and for labelling global warming as a “hoax invented by the Chinese” in a November 2012 tweet, Clinton herself has also expressed concern about Trump’s lack of awareness about climate change.

Sophomore Anusha Kuppahally, who participates in the speech and debate program and recently debated about climate change, believes that Clinton’s policies would work better in favor of climate change than Trump’s.

“I don’t think she’s given many concrete actions towards climate change. Clinton could [have led] to more future climate solutions rather than Trump, because he’ll probably repeal Paris or make some rash decision to reverse any green policies that we have currently implemented,” Anusha said. “[This] is why if Clinton wins, it would be a lot easier to have better solutions [relating to climate change] in the future.”

Amid the controversy surrounding the presidential candidates’ views on global warming, climate change continues to affect the world in many ways. According to NASA, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels globally increased by 40.2 parts per million in September. The amount of ice in the Arctic Sea has decreased by 13.3 percent in the past decade, and Greenland has also lost 287 gigatonnes of ice so far this year.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6.87 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2014. Sixty-six percent of energy production in the U.S. in 2015 from coal and natural gases, including methane and other hydrocarbons, and the U.S. has consumed 40,392 Btu (British thermal units) of energy across the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation sectors this year.

In response to the need to reduce both the country’s energy usage and impacts on climate change, cities across the United States have begun to implement policies aimed towards improving the state of the environment and raising public awareness about climate change. Among Bay Area cities, Fremont has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020 and Palo Alto purchases electricity only from renewable energy sources.

“Many communities in the Bay Area are starting to have a choice in where their energy comes from,” Green Team Advisor Dr. Kate Schafer said. “As a household, choosing to opt for solar and wind energy over coal and natural gas and whatever it might be is going to make a huge difference.”

Both Trump and Clinton have also expressed stances on other scientific topics.

Green Politics: STEM Education

Clinton has vocalized her support of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs for K-12 schools and considers exposing young children to computer science and coding to be the most important part of raising a new generation of tech-savvy adults. An extension of President Obama’s “Computer Science for All” initiative, the Clinton campaign pledges to “provide every public school student with access to education in computer science.”

The Democratic presidential candidate has also expressed her interest in promoting educational partnerships between institutions of higher learning and K-12 schools. She also plans to establish schools centering on a STEM education which provide students with “maker spaces,” places to engage in hands-on activities.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump states that there are “a host of STEM programs already in existence” and plans to reduce funding for the Department of Education. Trump has stated that the Common Core Standards Initiative, an educational program designed to set standards for K-12 reading and math, is a “total disaster.”

“Our top-down-one-size-fits-all approach to education is failing and is actually damaging educational outcomes for our children,” the Trump campaign wrote in response to a questionnaire posted by ScienceDebate. “The management of our public education institutions should be done at the state and local level, not at the Department of Education.”

Green Politics: Astronomy and NASA

Although Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has expressed his belief to the nonprofit science awareness organization ScienceDebate that “a strong space program will encourage our children to seek STEM [education] and will bring millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in investment to this country.” However, he does not consider funding for astronomy exploration and research companies to be a central concern for the United States.

“Our first priority is to restore a strong economic base to this country,” Trump said in response to a question posed in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’s (AIAA) May issue of its monthly publication Aerospace America. “If we are growing with all of our people employed and our military readiness back to acceptable levels, then we can take a look at the timeline for sending more people into space.”

On the other hand, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has expressed support for NASA and their plans to launch exploratory expeditions to Mars. She addressed the topic of astronomy at a July 2015 event in Dover, New Hampshire, stating that she “really, really… [supports] the space program” and wants to delve deeper into research regarding asteroids and the potential dangers they pose to people on Earth.

“I would like to see us continue to explore space. There’s a lot for us to keep learning [about]… let’s not back off now,” she said in New Hampshire. “Democrats believe in continuing the spirit of discovery that has animated NASA’s exploration of space over the last half century.”

Green Politics: Public health

Trump has firmly asserted his disapproval of Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, a healthcare policy enacted by President Obama in March 2010. Citing “greater rationing of care, higher premiums, less competition and fewer choices [for patients],” Trump plans to repeal Obamacare completely and institute a new health plan that will “broaden healthcare access, make healthcare more affordable and improve the quality of the care available to all Americans.”

“Obamacare is a total disaster. Hillary Clinton wants to save it by making it even more expensive. Doesn’t work, I will REPEAL AND REPLACE!” Trump tweeted on Nov. 3.

While Trump opposes Obamacare, Clinton supports Obama’s healthcare policy and also plans to create a Public Health Rapid Response Fund to allow the U.S. government to “quickly and aggressively respond to major public health crises and pandemics,” a proposal she mentioned to ScienceDebate.

“I’m committed to ramping up our funding for biomedical research and development, including $2 billion per year for Alzheimer’s research,” Clinton wrote in a series of Quora posts in August. “We need to step up mosquito control and abatement, provide families with critical health services, including access to contraception, develop a vaccine… and ensure people know how to protect themselves and their kids.”

Green Politics: Trust in established science and research

Clinton believes the United States should be investing more in scientific research and discovery. In response to a questionnaire by ScienceDebate, Clinton stated that “federal funding of basic research amounts to less than one percent of annual federal spending, yet it is an investment that pays big dividends.” The Democratic presidential candidate also plans to foster collaborative scientific research programs for the government and universities.

The Paris Agreement, an international effort to address the human impacts on climate change and the state of the planet signed in April of this year, has also been praised by Clinton. In a statement released after the Agreement, Clinton stated that she sees the international deal as a “historic step forward in meeting one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century—the global crisis of climate change.”

Although 97 percent of climatologists in the scientific community have reached the conclusion that human activity directly relates to climate change and rising global temperatures, Trump appears to think otherwise. The Republican presidential candidate has dismissed climate change as a “concept… created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” in a November 2012 tweet.

Trump has also expressed his disapproval of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and plans to decrease funding for the government program, stating that “what they do is a disgrace.” The Trump campaign also plans to repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a 2015 movement introduced to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and has announced that climate change is “far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue.”

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