Local environmental advocates are more optimistic about the future following Saturday’s election results, but there’s still a long road to tangible action on climate change.
Representatives from local and regional organizations such as Healthy Gulf, 350 Pensacola and Environment Florida held a virtual meeting Monday night to discuss the impacts of the election and what a Biden presidency could mean for climate action.
“Regardless of whether you are happy or disappointed with the results, (elections) always create change,” said Christian Wagley, coastal organizer for Healthy Gulf. “(Climate change) is the most important issue we’re facing and we’ve got to get it right.”
On the local level, one of the goals for Pensacola organizers is to engage the city’s two new council members — Jennifer Brahier (who attended the virtual meeting) and Teníadè Broughton — with the city’s Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Task Force that was created in 2018.
“The next step is implementing recommendations, which hasn’t happened yet,” said Wagley. “In the months ahead, we want to be educating the new members and bring them up to speed to take more formal action.”
While recounts and court battles are underway, Joe Biden is still the president-elect. And for organizers, that’s a good sign for the environment.
“It’s clear to me Biden wants to do something,” said Sandra Adams, executive director of 350 Pensacola. “But it could take years for him to undo a lot of what President Trump has done.”
Since taking office in 2017, President Trump has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations on coal plants, toxic chemicals and methane emissions. In March, he rolled back Obama-era fuel emissions regulations that required automakers to cut tailpipe pollution by selling vehicles that reach an average fuel economy of about 54 miles per gallon by 2025, replacing that with a standard of 40 miles per gallon. The president has also erroneously questioned if climate change was real, and withdrew the United States from participating in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as Lindsay Cross of the Florida Conservation Voters pointed out Trump’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act last summer that would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The bipartisan effort will fund overdue repairs and maintenance in national parks.
“In rural areas, having a park there may be one of the biggest drives to tourism,” she said. “It’s also going to be good for (our) environment and our economy.”
In contrast, Biden has proposed a $2 trillion climate plan and pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, invest in green energy and conserve area and land for biodiversity. He also has a goal to make the U.S. economy carbon neutral by 2050.
Looking at Biden’s plan and goals, Jay McGee of Environment Florida said he think the president-elect has his “head in the right spot.”
In Florida, Trump not only won, but Republicans had several victories down the ballot. A recount is currently underway between the state Senate District 37 race between Republican challenger Ileana Garcia and incumbent Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, who has been a strong proponent for the environment, said Cross.
“(He) was one of our biggest activists and has been beating that drum in Tallahassee.”
If Rodríguez loses, “We are really going to have to look for other people who are going to pick up that mantle,” she added.
Finding common ground will be one way to advocate for change when it comes to state GOP lawmakers. Solar energy is popular among Floridians, and offshore drilling is slightly “easier” to advocate against, said Wagley.
“It gets a little stickier when we need (politicians) to make commitments to renewable energy,” he said.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to messaging said Adams.
“We’ll have to really press the Republicans in our state,” she said. “I think (U.S. Sen.) Marco Rubio has shown some signs to addressing climate change issues. We have to say ‘if you can’t agree to our whole green new deal, what can you agree on?’ We have to start talking about climate change all the time. This isn’t really a political issue but a human and planetary issue.”