USA TODAY US Edition

Earth’s fu­ture is on the bal­lot in Novem­ber

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A cruel cho­rus of fire, water and ice re­minded vot­ers last week of the plan­e­tary stakes in Novem­ber’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion:

• Mega-blazes in­cin­er­ated towns and tin­der-dry forests of the West, burn­ing an area the size of New Jer­sey and pol­lut­ing skies to the At­lantic and be­yond.

• Hur­ri­cane Sally’s cat­a­strophic flood­ing of Gulf Coast states was yet another ex­am­ple of storms made dan­ger­ously wet­ter and slower by global warm­ing.

• Mas­sive Antarc­tic glaciers are break­ing free as tem­per­a­tures rise, threat­en­ing over time to raise sea lev­els 10 feet.

A fev­er­ish planet Earth is telling vot­ers it will not be ig­nored. And Don­ald Trump and Joe Bi­den are of­fer­ing starkly dif­fer­ent choices for deal­ing with the real­ity that green­house gases, pri­mar­ily from the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els like coal and oil, are rais­ing global tem­per­a­tures and cre­at­ing a cli­mate cri­sis.

The pres­i­dent lives in the land of de­nial­ism, a sen­ti­ment on full dis­play dur­ing last week’s visit to Cal­i­for­nia, where he smirked at ev­i­dence that drought and ris­ing tem­per­a­tures driven by cli­mate change have des­ic­cated forests, ren­der­ing them prime fuel for mas­sive fires.

“It’ll start get­ting cooler. You just watch,” Trump said to state of­fi­cials, with­out elab­o­ra­tion, be­fore dis­miss­ing what ex­perts say. “I don’t think sci­ence knows, ac­tu­ally.”

Ac­tu­ally, the sci­ence does know. Mea­sur­able rates of heat-trap­ping car­bon diox­ide are at lev­els the world hasn’t seen in 800,000 years, and global tem­per­a­tures have risen sig­nif­i­cantly since the dawn of the in­dus­trial age.

Trump’s pol­icy is to pre­tend this isn’t hap­pen­ing. Even worse, the pres­i­dent has ceded ground in the fight against cli­mate change by mov­ing to pull Amer­ica out of the Paris cli­mate ac­cord, stock­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies with cli­mate change skep­tics and en­gag­ing in whole­sale dis­man­tling of en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. His ad­min­is­tra­tion has rolled back no fewer than 100 rules aimed at cur­tail­ing the gush of green­house gases into skies, water and land. If these changes re­main in ef­fect, the United States will add an ad­di­tional 1.8 gi­ga­tons of car­bon diox­ide to the at­mos­phere through 2035.

Bi­den of­fers stark con­trast. While his plan isn’t quite the Green New Deal pro­posed by Sen. Bernie San­ders and Demo­cratic pro­gres­sives in Congress, it bor­rows many of the same con­cepts, mixes in prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions such as con­tin­ued reliance on nu­clear en­ergy, and wraps it all in a com­mit­ment to gen­er­ate mil­lions of jobs.

In his first four years, Bi­den would pro­pose spend­ing $2 tril­lion on green en­ergy tech­nol­ogy, in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments, wind tur­bines and mil­lions of new so­lar pan­els. The goal is to reach 100% car­bon-free power gen­er­a­tion by 2035, ad­dress­ing a source for roughly a third of the na­tion’s en­er­gyre­lated emis­sions. The next ob­jec­tive would be net-zero green­house gas emis­sions for the en­tire coun­try by 2050.

Some of this nec­es­sary tech­nol­ogy — such as grid-scale bat­tery stor­age, hy­dro­gen fuel and in­dus­trial-size car­bon-cap­ture op­er­a­tions — doesn’t even ex­ist yet, or not at scale. But Bi­den would use fed­eral in­vest­ments and tax in­cen­tives to boost re­search into these ar­eas with an eye to­ward achiev­ing global dom­i­nance in green tech­nol­ogy, and guide other na­tions to cheaply re­duce car­bon emis­sions.

It’s an am­bi­tious plan with de­tails that re­main murky, in­clud­ing the fi­nanc­ing and how Bi­den would specif­i­cally pres­sure other coun­tries to clean up their economies — no­tably China, which pro­duces 30% of the world’s car­bon pol­lu­tion — be­yond re­ly­ing on his for­eign pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence and recom­mit­ting to the Paris cli­mate ac­cord. The United States gen­er­ates 15% of global emis­sions.

His plan also re­mains opaque about em­brac­ing a cru­cial, mar­ket-based so­lu­tion — a re­fund­able na­tional car­bon tax. And, if elected, he’d have to deal with con­gres­sional head­winds un­less Democrats re­tained the House and cap­tured the Se­nate.

Nev­er­the­less, if wild­fires, floods and melt­ing glaciers carry any mes­sage, it’s that time is run­ning out in the bat­tle against cli­mate change. Bi­den would do some­thing about it. Trump is mak­ing things worse.

This is the first in a series of edi­to­ri­als about ma­jor is­sues in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

 ?? JANET LOEHRKE/USA TO­DAY ?? SOURCE Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Read­ings are from Au­gust of each year at Mauna Loa, Hawaii
JANET LOEHRKE/USA TO­DAY SOURCE Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Read­ings are from Au­gust of each year at Mauna Loa, Hawaii

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