Whether it's from an increase in coastal storms and flooding or the impacts rising statewide temperatures have had on farming, the issue of climate change is expected to be more apparent in the November election than ever before.
In a survey conducted in March, Public Policy Polling found that 61 percent of N.C. voters believe their elected leaders should act urgently to combat the climate crisis.
Despite public opinion, candidates are split between partisan lines regarding how they intend to address the issue.
Jason West, a professor from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is an advocate for taking action against climate change.
“I think there’s all kinds of reasons to be concerned about climate change,” he said. “It’s such a big issue and affects our lives and the world around us in so many different ways.”
Here's what candidates down the ballot have to say about their platforms on climate change.
“North Carolina has seen the effects of climate change firsthand through the historic storms and flooding that have ravaged our state — this is one of the most urgent issues facing us,” Cal Cunningham, N.C. Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, said in an email.
He said investing in clean energy will create good-paying jobs, reduce carbon pollution and make the state a leader.
“We should also rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and work to build global leadership on climate,” Cunningham said.
Thom Tillis, the incumbent Republican U.S. Senate nominee, was one of the 22 Senate Republicans that signed a letter urging the president to pull the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of keeping global temperature increase in the century to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
U.S. House of Representatives
Congressman David Price has represented N.C.’s 4th district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1997. As chairperson of the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, he has secured funding that has allowed states, including N.C., to invest in a broad range of projects that mitigate threats of future storms.
Price has been a longtime supporter of investing in clean energy, and believes the federal government should make the changes for the U.S. to be 100 percent dependent on it within the next three decades. He’s also been an outspoken critic of President Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as his efforts to allow drilling and seismic testing off of N.C.'s coast.
While Price’s Republican challenger, Robert Thomas, said over email he thinks climate change is a problem, he doesn’t maintain the same point of view regarding renewable energy.
“As attractive as renewable energy sources are, they are not nearly as spatially efficient as carbon-based fuel sources,” Thomas said. “And they still result in the conversion of different forms of energy into heat, which is the ultimate enemy.”
Thomas suggested creating a "space lens" that regulates the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth.
“I believe this is the area we need to investigate for the solution to current climate and future energy problems,” he said.
At the state level, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, who is running for re-election, has been making his own efforts to combat climate change.
In the weeks following the landfall of Hurricane Florence, Cooper issued an executive order that established a new set of goals for N.C.’s transition to a clean energy economy. He also created the Climate Change Interagency Council to determine how best to achieve these goals.
The council has worked alongside the state's Departments of Environmental Quality, Transportation, Administration and Commerce, and has assigned each of the cabinets specific directives. Together, the directives intend to decrease statewide greenhouse gas emissions, increase the use of zero-emission vehicles and continue to provide N.C. funding for renewable energy innovation.
Cooper’s environmental reform was dependent on his executive privilege, partly because of challenges he faced passing major legislation through a Republican-controlled state legislature.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Cooper’s Republican challenger in the gubernatorial race, said in a 2019 Spectrum News interview he believes the jury is out on the idea that mankind is having an impact on climate change. Forest’s published platform does not mention responding to the impacts of the issue.
N.C. Sen. Valerie Foushee, D-Chatham, Orange, is running for her fifth consecutive term in the 23rd district and has historically supported efforts to shift toward an increased dependency on renewable energy. According to her website, she believes clean water and air regulations are being slashed and these resources must be protected for future generations.
Foushee’s Republican challenger, Tom Glendinning, said the current structure of the laws set to protect the environment have been sufficient for years.
“The increase of regulations on emissions, limits on business and funding for renewable energy-based research should only come before the economic prosperity of people when the credible science demonstrates a need,” he said.
Glendinning said he believes the scientists describing a need to take action against climate change have been hand-selected by the news media, and the global scientific debate about the human impact on climate change is actually much more contested.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a panel created in 1988 to provide governments at all levels with scientific information they can use to develop climate policies, came to the consensus that the world is in fact warming due to human activities. West, the UNC professor, said mitigating greenhouse gases will come with benefits beyond the effects it would have on combatting climate change.
He said through recent research, he's found that the effect a global effort to mitigate greenhouse gases would have on air pollution could save as many as 2 million lives a year by the end of the century.
“We then put a dollar sign associated with the lives saved, and found that in cost-benefit terms, the benefits of avoiding air pollution-related deaths actually outweighed the costs of the actions we would take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in the U.S. and as a global average,” West said.
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