Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about climate change and wildfires affecting western states, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about climate change and wildfires affecting western states, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Trump and Biden struck remarkably different tones this week on climate change as wildfires burned in California. 

As Hurricane Sally batters the Gulf Coast and threatens to bring torrential rain to Eastern North Carolina, while devastating wildfires continue to ravage the West, the impact of climate change on the nation is more glaring than ever. 

And a recent report by federal regulators overseeing the nation’s commodities markets found that climate change not only threatens lives and property, it also damages U.S. financial markets. That’s no surprise to many North Carolinians whose lives and businesses have been disrupted by storms that increasingly impact the state.

“Between 2017 and 2019, we experienced five tropical cyclones, two major winter storms and many other storms,” said Drew Ball, state director of Environment North Carolina. “Damages were over a billion dollars—there’s a huge cost to failing to act on climate change.”

Environmentalists like Ball see promise in Joe Biden’s plan to address climate change. They say the plan goes farther than any previously put forward by a presidential candidate, with a goal for the U.S. to achieve a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050.

“We’ve got to get right on this, and the Trump administration has put their heads in the sand and ignored the science. The failure to act is a huge crisis.”

Drew Ball, Environment North Carolina state director

“We’re excited about what we see there,” Ball said. “If you combine that with what the House Democrats put forward and what the Senate Democrats put forward, as Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said, they’re not the same but they rhyme—there are a lot of similarities.”

There was a sharp contrast this week between Biden and President Donald Trump as they addressed the California wildfires. Trump reportedly dismissed climate change when addressing reporters Monday. 

“It will start getting cooler,” Trump told reporters, according to The N.Y. Times. “Just watch. I don’t think science knows, actually.”  

In a speech in Delaware Monday, Biden called the president a “climate arsonist.”

“If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?” he asked. “How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms?”

Ball said states such as Hawaii, California, New York and Virginia have already enacted zero-emissions goals, along with many cities and counties in other states, including North Carolina.

“States are the laboratory of democracy,” he said. “States are leading the way, and hopefully the federal government can meet us there and get us all on the same page. It’s going to take a big effort to get us where we need to be on climate change.”

A major component of the Biden plan addresses building smart infrastructure to withstand effects of climate change like flooding, which has been an ongoing problem in North Carolina.

“We have so much flooding in the eastern half of the state,” said Ball. “Building in a smarter way that’s more resilient to storm surges and being smarter about the way we build infrastructure will prevent us from having to constantly rebuild after storms.”

Another major point of Biden’s plan aims to address issues of environmental justice by building stronger infrastructure and holding polluters accountable. Ball sees that component as particularly relevant in North Carolina.

“We see these kinds of investments across the state benefitting coastal areas with historically underrepresented minority communities on the front lines of these climate issues,” he said. “I was excited this plan talks about clean water infrastructure—I think about the GenX contamination in Wilmington, and Biden plans to hold these kinds of polluters accountable.”

Biden’s plan also highlights some of the economic benefits of transitioning to clean energy models. Ball said the potential energy savings and additional jobs created through enacting clean energy sources such as solar and wind power could be a boon for the North Carolina economy.

“Even if we transition to fully electric vehicles, there’s enough wind off our coastline to power the entire state,” he said.

With the most active Atlantic hurricane season in 50 years and catastrophic wildfires raging, Ball said it’s imperative that we act now to reduce climate change.

“We’ve got to get right on this, and the Trump administration has put their heads in the sand and ignored the science,” he said. “The failure to act is a huge crisis.”