A Last Look at the U.S. Presidential Candidates’ Stances on Science

See how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stack up on the environment, climate change, animals, parks, public health, and more.

As Americans go to the polls today, the votes they cast for president will have major implications for science and the environment. Here’s a last look at where the major candidates in the 2016 presidential election stand:

Climate Change and Renewable Energy

On climate change, the views of the United States’s two major political parties appear worlds apart.

“This issue has become more polarized,” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group that has endorsed Clinton as its presidential choice, said in a previous interview. “On the Democratic side, the candidates are talking more about this issue than ever before. The Republicans are in various stages of denial.”

The stakes are not just political: If humankind does not reduce emissions, Earth could face more than 11 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2100 relative to preindustrial temperatures, leading to increases in droughts and wildfires, rising seas, and major disruptions to global agriculture. (Read more about the reality of climate change in our November 2015 issue.)

In keeping with scientific evidence, Clinton has said that climate change is real, caused by humans and “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”

She wants to build on the Obama administration’s climate policy, with the goal of reducing emissions by up to 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, and by more than 80 percent by 2050. That goal aligns with the U.S. commitment under the UN’s Paris Agreement, the international climate pact that came into force on November 4. (Find out more about the Paris Agreement.)

To meet these goals, Clinton’s platform says that she will continue the Obama administration’s pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan. The controversial EPA rule was designed to cut U.S. power plants’ carbon emissions one-third below 2005 levels by 2030. She also aims to launch a $60 billion “Clean Energy Challenge” to accelerate renewable energy uptake. What’s more, she wants to increase U.S. solar capacity to 140 gigawatts by 2020, a 700-percent increase that is seen by some industry experts as “ambitious” but “doable.”

Trump, on the other hand, has long questioned whether climate change is real, and he has dismissed claims that it poses a major threat. In public statements and in his campaign platform, Trump has expressed interest in scuttling the Clean Power Plan, rescinding the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and “canceling” the Paris Agreement—in the hopes of bolstering economic growth with a resurgent U.S. fossil fuel industry.

His skepticism of climate change runs counter to physical evidence, scientific consensus, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The independent research firm Lux Research estimates that by 2024, Trump’s proposed policies would increase U.S. carbon emissions by 16 percent relative to Clinton’s proposed policies. That upswing amounts to 3.4 billion tons of carbon emissions from 2016 to 2024, roughly equal to Ukraine’s predicted emissions over the same time.


Animal welfare has not been a major issue on the campaign trail, but public statements and platforms have given some insight into the candidates’ stances.

In his energy plan, Trump has accused the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of abusing the Endangered Species Act to restrict oil and gas exploration. In May 2016, Trump falsely claimed that California’s water crisis was due to diverting water to save the delta smelt, a fish nearing extinction.

As National Geographic reported earlier this year, the Republican Party called out the lesser prairie chicken, sage grouse, and the gray wolf in its platform, as examples of species either not in need of protection or too expensive to protect.

Trump’s agriculture advisers include Forrest Lucas, a principal founder of Protect the Harvest, an organization founded in opposition to the Humane Society of the United States. The group has defended the use of animals in circuses, and Lucas has fought against laws mandating space requirements for egg-laying hens.

In a questionnaire filled out for ScienceDebate.org, Hillary Clinton says she would double the funds available in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program. Founded in 2000, the program awards competitive grants to projects aiming to prevent 12,000 species from becoming listed as endangered. In 2016, it received $49.7 million, about 0.02 percent of the U.S.’s discretionary budget.

Clinton’s platform also calls for “shutting down the U.S. market for illegal wildlife products,” as well as further action against international wildlife trafficking.

When she was a senator, Clinton had high marks from the Humane Society Legislative Fund, a lobbying affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States, garnering an average score of 89.5 out of 100 from 2005 to 2008. The group’s score graded legislators on their stances on issues such as felony-level penalties for dogfighting.

National Parks and Public Lands

Both Clinton and Trump have expressed opposition to selling America’s public lands, which include national parks, monuments, forests, and areas controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Some conservative federal and state lawmakers, including many in the western United States, want federal control transferred or sold to states or private entities.

Clinton’s platform contains a detailed proposal for improving stewardship of “America’s great outdoors,” including an “American Parks Trust Fund” that would replace, and provide roughly double the funding of, the existing Land and Water Conservation Fund. Clinton also advocates a ten-fold increase in renewable energy production on public lands and waters in the next 10 years.

In a January 2016 interview with Field & Stream, Trump said “we have to be great stewards of this land” and expressed doubt that transferring federal land to state control would ensure sound stewardship. He also said that he would not reduce the percentage of the federal budget dedicated to maintaining public lands. In a January 2016 interview with Petersen’s HUNTING, Trump said that if he were president, there would be no sale of public lands in the West. (Read more about the contentious history of public lands in the U.S. West.)

Public Health

There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about public health in the 2016 campaign, beyond some rancor over the hot-button issue of reproductive rights. The Zika crisis that grabbed headlines earlier in the year largely faded from the mainstream view through the long summer, as a broad invasion of the disease-carrying mosquitoes failed to materialize.

But there are big differences between the two candidates in public health issues, says Boston physician Aaron Stupple, who penned an op-ed critical of Trump that was published by Cleveland.com and other outlets.

“[Trump’s] disregard for facts and science stands to undermine our efforts to tackle complex health care challenges, from the basics of providing quality care to emerging issues like opioid abuse and the Zika virus,” Stupple wrote.

The Kaiser Family Foundation notes that Trump has not presented any public position on Zika or public health preparedness in general. When he has addressed health he threatened legal action against women for getting an abortion and said, contrary to evidence, that abortions often happen days before birth.

Clinton has voiced public support for emergency funding for Zika and asked Congress for $1.8 billion in March to fight the disease. She has also called for increased investment in public health preparedness, including the creation of a Public Health Rapid Response Fund. She also supports access to comprehensive reproductive care for every woman in the country, including abortion.

Brian Clark Howard contributed to this story.

Read This Next

Can science help personalize your diet?
Hogs are running wild in the U.S.—and spreading disease
Salman Rushdie on the timeless beauty of the Taj Mahal

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet