What the US election means for climate activists

Updated: Jan 22

My friend and colleague at Worldward, Gideon Futerman, once said to me that were Trump elected for a second term, he would consider leaving activism behind. I don’t blame him. His denial of climate change would reduce our credibility enormously – the President of the United States carries much power indeed, after all. Before Joe Biden even enters his first term he will have benefitted us by not being Donald Trump.

But, in fairness to Joe, his credibility isn’t simply based on distaste for the alternative. His stance on climate change is ambitious for the US and, if implemented, would be a massive step in the right direction. His pledge to re-join the Paris agreement and spend billions of dollars on achieving net zero by 2050 comes as music to our ears. Some may argue these contingencies aren’t ambitious enough, to which I say: the ambition and drive must come from us. The least we ask for is a government willing to listen.

But Biden has a problem. He will have a divided government, with Republican Senate control. No matter how well intentioned he may be, he may simply not have the power to effect change on the level he has promised.

Indeed, Trump received over 70 million votes, a very sizeable portion of the country. Trumpism is clearly still very much alive. I do not wish to digress to matters of personal politics, although the fact of the matter is, Trump’s climate rhetoric lives on in an intensely divided country.

But who would have thought even ten years ago that there’d be an incumbent like Trump so corrupted and taken with power that they would go to the lengths of lodging baseless legal proceedings when their administration’s future is at stake? It begs the question how much we as activists will ever be able to force significant systematic change in this seemingly anti-modern society.

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