Why the U.S Election Should Give You
Hope for the Future of Climate Justice.

Trump once said “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” This statement was once thought to be impossible, but on the 4th of November 2020 it seemed very likely. I don’t think I’d be making any enemies within the Unitarian congregation if I said that the four years of Trump’s presidency were worse than a nightmare. People have always been interested in U.S politics but there was something about this election that caught the attention of the eyes of the world. Even within my own friend group, the lunchtime conversations went from the gossip within the school, to a discussion of the percentage of democratic voters in Maricopa county, Arizona. I’m well aware that by the time that this is published it will be December, and the likelihood is that everyone will be sick of the election. However, as chaos continues to reign there are some positives from this election that I would like to discuss before the media is too caught up in the mania of Trump to notice them. Obviously, there are literal wins – for example Biden and his surprisingly good Green Recovery plan (everyone should check it out). There are also figurative wins that in some ways are much more important.
          Firstly, here are some less spoken about literal wins that will give any environmentalist hope. Fox news’ voter analysis states that 70% of people polled were somewhat or very concerned about the effects of climate change. On top of that 68% of people were somewhat or strongly in favour of increasing government spending on green and renewable energy. Columbus in Ohio voted to supply 100% of the cities power with renewables by 2023. Although Columbus voted blue, Ohio is a red state. Louisiana rejected Amendment 5 which would’ve meant a huge tax break for fossil fuel companies (another red state!) All this plus renewable energy wins in Nevada and Wisconsin, and major elections of important climate activists such as Chloe Maxim, Nikil Saval and Yassamin Ansari, means that there is a cause for celebration.
          I listened to an interview with Benji Backer on the ‘How to Save a Planet’ podcast this week. He’s a twenty-two-year-old conservative environmentalist and one of the founders of the American Conservation Coalition. He had just returned from a fifty-day tour around the U.S., where he conducted more than 40 interviews with various politicians, senators, coal-communities and others. He said that he found it eye-opening, as many rural, fossil-fuel dependant, communities were desperate to be a part of the solution but had never been visited by any climate activists or campaigning elected officials. I believe that Benji was trying to paint rural republican Americans in a slightly better light, and so he may have exaggerated their enthusiasm a little bit, but there is still a lesson to be learnt here. The divisive nature of American politics can lead us to believe that there are only tree-huggers and far-right climate deniers, but there is a middle ground. Benji believes that Republicans will be the leaders on climate from here on out. I disagree, but I do think that the politicisation of climate change has been the democratic climate movements’ biggest failure. It is comforting to know that even in the reddest, most conservative states, there are people out there who are environmentalists. My take-away from this election so far is that you don’t have to be blue to think green.
          Secondly and more symbolically, I felt like the fate of my life depended on this election. Not just because Trump had withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord or that he wanted to ‘bring back coal’, but if he did get reinstated then the majority of Americans genuinely didn’t care about anyone other than themselves or the economy. All the terrible things that had happened in the last four years would’ve meant nothing. On top of that, because we have been force-fed so much American news over the years, it’s easy to substitute ‘Americans’ for the general world population. I had always held the belief that once the effects of climate change had really begun, as they have now, people would be forced to wake-up and put all of their other beliefs aside. If Trump had won, I don’t know what I could have believed in anymore. That being said, more than 70 million Americans voted for him, so in a way this election is a win for Trumpism. I’d rather focus on the upside, and look to those coal communities in Iowa who are looking to be a part of the solution.
          Trump might be standing on Fifth Avenue but if he so much as pretended to use a gun he’d be in prison for the rest of his life. What I’ve learned from this election goes beyond whether Trump would be able to shoot that bullet or not. The climate change bullet is already whizzing through the air at a rapid pace but it seems that increasingly people, no matter their political views, are actively working to stop it.

Éle Ní Chonbhuí
Dublin Unitarian Church