What the US Midterms Mean for Climate Change

Yesterday saw one of the most important America midterm elections in recent history. The results saw Donald Trump and the Republicans add to their advantage in the Senate by flipping three democratic seats in favourable States won by the President back in 2016. However, they did concede control of the House with a number of women and minority representatives winning seats to join the lower chambers of Congress in January.

It’s hard to call a winner from these midterms but given that they now have restored their control of at least half of Congress it’s arguably the Democrats. President Trump does now have greater support in the upper chambers, but with legislation required to pass through both the upper and lower chambers, it certainly won’t be as easy as it was in his first two years. The Democrats will now have a greater influence in American politics, no longer needing to rely on Republicans to go against the rest of their party.

Trump has made it one of his goals to dismantle as much Obama-era environmental policy as he can whilst President. He’s isolated the USA as the only country not part of the Paris Agreement and continues to question climate science despite the evidence. He’s been able to do that with the backing of a climate change-denying Republican party dominating both chambers, so how will the emergence of a blue House of Representatives affect how the USA tackles (or doesn’t tackle) climate change?

Getting to Grips with the American Political System

If you struggled to follow the results and what it all means, the video below should clear a few things up…

Get it now?

The victory for the Democrats in the house sees a balance in power to pass laws and legislation. Whereas Trump was relatively free to pass anything fellow Republicans agreed with before the midterms, now he can be slowed down and stopped by the lower chambers of Congress. So Trump’s promise to get rid of Obamacare, gut environmental policy and implement sweeping tax cuts during his presidency just became a lot more difficult.

Democrats do now have the power to create bills and legislation but it won’t be easy for the Democrats to implement policy from the lower chambers. Whilst policy should pass through the House of Representatives easily, Democrats will rely on even more Republicans to turn in the Senate to get anything passed, then hope the President will back the legislation and sign it into power.

So will we see any New Legislation in the next Two Years?

It’s difficult to say. It will certainly slow things down for President Trump. He’s complained numerous of times of ‘obstructionist Democrats’ during his first two years and they held no majority. Now they do, and it could cause a number of headaches for the President. No more forcing his own legislation through relatively unchallenged.

So, Climate Change…

Trump has made it very clear throughout his presidency that he is sceptical of human’s involvement in climate change. His ‘America First Energy Plan’ looks to expand the extraction of coal, oil and gas resources throughout the country on land and in coastal waters. Despite the clean energy produced at a rapidly reducing cost, Trump seems to have no intention of making renewable energy resources a part of his energy plan.

Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement quickly after entering the White House and despite recent warnings of catastrophic impacts in the very near future by scientists around the world he continues to gut policy designed to reduce American greenhouse gas emissions; even policy designed to reduce the environmental impact of SUVs and make them cleaner was somehow stripped back.

But a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives only means that Trump’s ability to dismantle climate and environmental policy is held in check. Damage has already been done, and with a Republican-controlled Senate and President, nothing will be restored.

It should also be noted that the Democrats have no plan to tackle climate change. It was rarely mentioned in the midterms. With an enormous amount at stake in these elections, climate change was forgotten about because it is still seen as a problem for the future, despite recent reports saying we have 12 years to avoid climate catastrophe. It’s not an American problem – it’s happened in countries all over the world.

The disappointing aspect is that the effects of climate change are playing out on America’s doorstep. Hurricanes are getting stronger, flooding more frequent and intense, sea level is increasingly becoming an issue in states like Florida, and just a few days ago an ecologically important island in the Hawaiian archipelago was wiped off the map.

So What Now?

Passing any type of policy or legislation through both chambers and past the President is going to be a big challenge for both parties in the next two years, and anything related to climate change is likely to go nowhere. The Democrats won’t (shouldn’t) allow the President and the climate change-denying Republicans to make things worse, but they won’t let Democrats restore any of the policy Trump has stripped away.

At a time when we need to be actively moving towards radical and important changes to limit the impacts of climate change, one of the heaviest polluting countries in the world will likely pass no national legislation to improve things. It’s a bleak outlook, but for me, it’s difficult to see other possibilities. Locally, there’s nothing to say that changes can’t be made. Cities, Counties and States are taking their own initiative and there are a number of positive results, but without national legislation holding them all to a standard, there’s nothing to hold the most pollutant to account.

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