Biden and Trump Set to Deliver Starkly Different Messages on Wildfires

Responses to crisis illustrate importance of November election in determining trajectory of global climate action.

Record-setting wildfires in the western US forced their way into the presidential campaign on Monday, with Donald Trump and Joe Biden scheduled to make competing remarks.

Creek Fire
Firefighter battle flames north of the Mammoth Pools Trailer Park on the evening of September 10, 2020 as efforts continue to contain the Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest. Photo courtesy of Pacific Southwest Forest Service, USDA.

The historic fires in California, Oregon, and Washington have killed at least 35, forced tens of thousands to evacuate, and subjected millions to some of the worst air pollution in the world — yet the subject has been slow to penetrate mainstream politics, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and a national reckoning on racial injustice.

In a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, on Monday afternoon, Biden will emphasize the wildfires’ connection to human-made climate change and pitch his plan to invest in green infrastructure, in order to create jobs and stimulate an economic recovery from the pandemic.

Trump, who has denied climate change exists and downplayed its impact, will attend a briefing on the wildfires in California, then deliver remarks in a ceremony recognizing the California national guard.

Their responses illustrate the importance of the November election in determining the trajectory of global climate action.

If Biden wins, the US will recommit to climate efforts, potentially encouraging deeper action from the rest of the world. The scale and speed of Biden’s response would depend largely on congressional politics and could be hampered by his hesitancy to call for a rapid end to the use of fossil fuels, but he has vowed that climate will be a top priority.

If Trump wins, he will continue to cheerlead fossil fuels, stripping environmental standards and helping the industry compete with clean energy.

Julien Emile-Geay, an associate professor of earth sciences at the University of Southern California, said: “Voters will soon have to choose between an administration invested into denying objective information — including, but not limited to, all the science it finds inconvenient — and a Democratic ticket that, for all its faults, at least acknowledges this reality.

“This is what political choice has turned to in 2020: a referendum on objective reality.”

The conditions in the US are precisely those climate scientists and activists have warned about for years. On the west coast, dozens of fires are burning. On the Gulf coast, states are bracing for a possible second major hurricane this season, as Tropical Storm Sally heads for eastern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle.

Globally, most countries are likely to miss a 2020 deadline to advance their climate plans, the United Nations climate chief, Patricia Espinosa, told Climate Home News. That includes China — the biggest emitter of heat-trapping climate pollution.

A 2015 international agreement was meant to be the first step for countries to begin to significantly limit warming. But the world is far off track. Having warmed more than 1C since industrialization, it is now on a path toward 3C or higher.

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Donate
Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

The Latest

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Perhaps there will be a world like the one we already envisioned, one in which glaciers and kindness, wildness and refuge, pikas and civil liberties, can survive.

Michael Engelhard

Ireland Stepping Up Climate Action Following Court Ruling

New climate commitments follow finding that the country’s climate action plan fell far short of requirements.

Robbie Galvin

Africa's Pandemic-fueled Conservation Crisis

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has exposed long-standing weaknesses in how we protect African wilderness and species. But it has also given us an opportunity to vastly improve our approach to these urgent challenges.

Rachel Nuwer Peter Chadwick (photographs)

Alaska’s Salmon Are Shrinking

Pacific salmon are returning to freshwater smaller and younger than they used to.

Austin Price

Beyond “Checking the Box”   

Green 2.0’s Andrés Jimenez on building a diverse, inclusive environmental movement.

Laurie Mazur

White Shark’s Absence From South African Hotspot Spells Ecological and Economic Uncertainty

Key ocean predator’s disappearance from Dyer Island Nature Reserve is impacting everything from conservation efforts to the local tourism industry.

Petro Kotzé