On November 4th, the Paris Agreement entered into legal force. Negotiations about how this new international agreement will address the complex issue of climate change are currently underway in Morocco. Despite not making it into one debate question, climate change is a major issue for many Americans. Trump has made it clear that he will “cancel” the Paris Agreement, while Clinton calls it a “testament to America’s ability to lead the world in building a clean energy future.” In reality, it’s just not that simple.
America is in the midst of an energy revolution: king coal is dying and being replaced by fracked natural gas from around the US. This is a foregone conclusion no matter who ends up in the White House. The infrastructure and investments are already in place to replace coal with natural gas. In fact, the battleground state of Ohio leads the US in coal plant retirements, and many of their replacements will rely on natural gas being fracked nearby.
This transition from coal to natural gas has the potential to reduce carbon emissions, but the devil will be in the details. To address the issue of climate change adequately, the new President will have to take seriously how methane emissions from fracking contribute to climate change while expanding investments in renewable energy. Although renewable energy capacity now exceeds that of fossil fuels, experts agree that investments are needed to minimize the most pernicious effects of climate change, like extreme weather, rising sea levels, and increasing temperatures.
The stakes are as high as they can get, and there is so much to be done. In May, NASA reported that the global concentration of carbon dioxide passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone and summer 2016 was one of the hottest on record in the US.
Donald Trump has made it clear he will not take on the challenge, but it is not guaranteed that Hillary Clinton will either. If we really want to do something about the threat of climate change, it is our responsibility as citizens not only to vote, but to use civil society and our Constitutional rights to hold any new President, Administration, and Congress accountable.
Otherwise, mass migration away from parts of the US that are increasingly underwater or experiencing extreme drought will ensue, along will numerous other unintended consequences of our fossil fuel addiction. The 400,000-plus people who marched in the streets of New York City as part of the People’s Climate March in fall 2014 will be a drop in the bucket compared to the likely mobilization if we do not take our job as citizens seriously.