SRJC students cite climate change as paramount election issue


A countdown-to-climate change clock in New York’s Time Square says Americans have seven years until damage from climate change becomes irreversible.

Peyton Krzyzek, Staff Writer

Santa Rosa Junior College students, on the heels of two major wildfires in the county this semester, reported that climate change is the most important issue for them in next week’s election. 

An informal Oak Leaf Instagram poll of 105 SRJC students showed they hold similar issue priorities, even though there is a divide in their preference for presidential candidates. Those candidates and other local politicians differ greatly on how they propose to handle students’ greatest concern.

“Climate change is the largest existential threat that our planet has ever faced within the history of humankind,” said Alexander Dugan, 20. “If we do not put this issue first and foremost above all else, the human race will not survive long enough to solve other pressing issues that we face as a society.”  

The Instagram poll asked students to choose their presidential candidate and to select the three biggest political issues that impact their beliefs. The results show that 89 students reported they planned to vote for Vice President Joe Biden and 16 students for President Donald Trump. 

When asked to pick the three most important issues out of 15 options, 84 students responded, with students most passionate about climate change, followed by social justice and then healthcare. 

“Climate change is my biggest issue because millions innocent people are going to die if we don’t immediately shift to clean energy,” said SRJC student Cris Horten, 20.

“Climate change is occurring now and greatly affecting the future of all living things. If we don’t do anything about it, there may be no future, for the Earth will be too warm for life to sustain,” said SRJC student Sedona Howelle, 19.

Rampant fires caused people to turn their attention toward the issue of climate change but the issue runs much deeper than wildfires. 

The number of extreme climate events have increased over the last few decades, causing climate change to become a more pressing issue than ever before. According to NASA, carbon dioxide levels are up to 414 parts per billion, their highest in 650,000 years.

Global temperatures have increased 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and 19 of the 20 warmest years in recorded history have occurred since 2001. 

Arctic ice is melting at a rate of 13.1% per decade, and sea levels are rising 3.3 millimeters per year. To top it off, an official clock in Times Square is ticking down the days until climate change becomes irreversible.   

The next president will be in a position to try to curb climate change or continue to ignore the threats it poses, as politicians have done for decades. Trump and Biden hold very different views on climate change, as evidenced by both past policies and debate rhetoric.

During the first presidential debate, the candidates often gave contradictory views on climate change.  

“I want crystal clean water and air. I want beautiful clean air. We have now the lowest carbon, if you look at our numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally,” Trump said.

“But I also think we have to do better management of our forests,” he said. “Every year, I get the call: ‘California is burning. California’s burning.’ If that was cleaned, if that were, if you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn’t be getting those calls.” 

Trump said some countries in Europe have well-maintained “forest cities.” 

“They manage their forests. I was with the head of a major country. It’s a forest city,” Trump said. 

Biden offered both a scientific and a pragmatic take on the issue during the debate.

“There’s so many things we can do now to create thousands and thousands of jobs,” Biden said. “We can get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035. Not only not costing people jobs, creating jobs. Creating millions of jobs. Not 15 bucks an hour, but prevailing wage. By having a new infrastructure that in fact is green.”   

But despite the president’s claim he wants clean water and air, the Trump Administration has taken 74 actions to weaken environmental protection over the last four years, according to the Brookings Institute.  

In 2011, the U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the largest oil and natural gas producer and a net exporter of natural gas for the first time since 1957. President Trump has also approved the infrastructure and provided the resources needed to unleash oil and gas production

On Jan. 1, 2017, before Trump was sworn into office, he announced his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the “unfair” Paris Climate Agreement, a United Nations agreement to ensure the management of greenhouse emissions and to uphold climate protection policies worldwide.

Beginning in September 2019, the Trump Administration rescinded multiple Obama-era environmental protection regulations. For example, the EPA rescinded President Obama’s reduction in methane gas emissions rule that Trump officials said would cost American energy developers an estimated $530 million annually. Methane gases contribute to the greenhouse effect, trapping the sun’s heat closer to earth, thus contributing to the planet’s warming.

On Sept. 8, the Trump administration and the Department of the Interior proposed its largest oil and gas lease of more than 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. President Trump signed an executive order to expand offshore oil and gas drilling and open more leases to develop offshore drilling.

The Brookings Institute cited additional anti-environmental actions by the Trump Administration that include rolling back regulations on airborne emissions of mercury. The administration has lifted bans on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and parts of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, and in coastal waters around the United States. In regards to the Clean Air Act, the Trump Administration tried to change the composition of the advisory committees to include more industry and anti-regulatory members and limit the scientific research the committees could consider.

Biden proposes policies to help minimize environmental harm and counteract current climate issues.   

The first proposal will charge the newly elevated White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, in close consultation with the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, to create a data-driven Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify communities threatened by the cumulative impacts of the multiple stresses of climate change, economic and racial inequality, and multi-source environmental pollution.

Biden plans to establish an Interagency Climate Equity Task Force to work on resolving the most challenging and persistent existing pockets of climate inequity in frontline vulnerable communities and tribal nations. 

He plans to direct the EPA and DOJ to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation to hold corporate executives personally accountable – including jail time when merited.

Biden also plans to overhaul the EPA’s Civil Rights Compliance Office and ensure that it brings justice to frontline communities that experience the worst impacts of climate change and “fence line” communities located adjacent to pollution sources. This work includes addressing the challenge of lack of access to credit and capital for many local governments and small businesses owned by and located in environmental justice communities. 

Similar to SRJC students’ views, addressing climate change is also the top priority for U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman of California’s 2nd District. Huffman serves on the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis and is currently working with California Sen. Kamala Harris to propose a plan for wildfire fund management to help with wildfire mitigation legislation for different communities within select areas. 

Huffman and Harris plan to allow communities to prioritize their funds for fire management in the way the individual communities best see fit. 

“Some communities might want to invest in their energy grid and invest in microgrids to address possible power outages. Some might want to update their evacuation plans and things like that. Resiliency is gonna look a little different you know in different areas and different communities,” Huffman said.

Other communities will want to better manage their forests. “Fires are gonna come through like a blow torch, and it doesn’t care who owns the land or really even what it looks like or whether it’s been logged before. It’s all gonna burn, so let’s manage our forests, but let’s be smart on how to do it,” Huffman said.

While he agrees forest management is a top priority, especially in California, he also sees this issue as a worldwide crisis. 

“On the climate side we’ve got to do a whole lot way beyond forest management,” Huffman said. ”We got to tackle decarbonizing the entire economy in less than 10 years. That’s a big big task.”

Huffman said he has worked on the climate select committee to develop a climate action plan for the first time that tries to provide a roadmap on how to do it. “You have to look at the whole of the economy. You have to look at the whole of government. You have to look at the global aspect of this [and] our trade deals,” Huffman said.