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On November 4, the US officially left the Paris Agreement, three years after President Donald Trump vowed to do so. However, this may be short-lived, as President-elect Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to rejoin the Paris Agreement later that day. The move has drawn praise from experts and environmentalists alike.

In the afternoon of November 4, Biden tweeted, “Today, the Trump administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.” 

Why Does This Matter?

Further, on his campaign website, Biden has promised not only to rejoin the agreement, but to lobby for more significant international climate ambition. The site says, “He will lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets. He will make sure those commitments are transparent and enforceable, and stop countries from cheating by using America’s economic leverage and power of example.”

You might also like: The US Leaves the Paris Agreement Today. How Can it Get Back In?

Scientists around the world are breathing a sigh of relief. Trump and Biden have taken opposite positions on how to address the climate crisis. Biden has proposed to spend USD$2 trillion over four years to boost green jobs and infrastructure and achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions nationwide by 2050. In contrast, incumbent president Trump has repeatedly denied climate science and has rolled back nearly 100 climate policies throughout his term, including standards for power plant and vehicle emissions. He has also appointed former energy lobbyists to head both the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as a climate change denier at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

If Biden rejoins the agreement on January 20, the US would officially be back in 30 days later.

However, Joe Biden has his work cut out for him if he does rejoin the Paris Agreement. Other countries may be reluctant to trust US leadership on the issue; after all, this is the second time that the US has helped to negotiate an international climate deal and then been unable to garner domestic support- the Clinton administration was unable to get the Senate to support the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Featured image by: Flickr

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, are campaigning the most aggressive climate platform ever put forward in a US general election. As a result of mounting pressure from climate activists, the Biden-Harris campaign has been working alongside progressive policy makers and scientists for months to draft an action plan that will appeal to the large faction of liberal voters for whom the climate crisis is at the forefront this election. From this collaborative effort came The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice, or the Biden Plan for short, but how does it differ from the Green New Deal?

Biden and Harris are walking the political tightrope between appeasing environmentally-oriented leftist voters by putting forth an ambitious climate plan, and securing the support of moderate voters by distancing their campaign from the Green New Deal (GND), the aggressive climate action resolution spearheaded by progressives Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, which some centrist voters view as “too radical.”

During both the first presidential debate on September 29 and the vice presidential debate on October 7, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence criticised the GND, calling it “the dumbest and most ridiculous [resolution],” promoting the misleading claim that it would cost the US USD$100 trillion (a number determined by a right wing policy group). The President and Vice President also repeatedly conflated the GND with the Biden Plan during both debates, leaving many viewers with questions about the overlaps between the two proposals and the points on which they diverge. The official statement on Joe Biden’s campaign website maintains, “the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face,” nodding to the GND and its co-creators (many of whom, including Ocasio-Cortez, helped to draft the Biden Plan), without openly aligning with it. 

There are a number of similarities between the two proposals, and it is clear that the GND inspired the Biden Plan, but there are many crucial differences.

Emission Reduction

Both plans are committed to making major strides towards the goal of net-zero emissions nationwide. The Biden Plan is far less ambitious, calling for a carbon-pollution free US power sector by 2035, and net-zero emissions nationwide by 2050, while the GND calls for a complete, nationwide transition to zero-emission energy sources over a timeline of just 10 years. 

Both proposals emphasise that this transition will go hand in hand with the creation of millions of green jobs with family-sustaining benefits and the guaranteed right to unionise.

International Progress

Both proposals recognise the necessity of international cooperation and collaboration in order to address the climate crisis. Biden promises to not only re-enter the Paris Agreement on day one of his administration, but also to actively “use every tool of American foreign policy to push the rest of the world to raise their ambitions alongside the United States.” The GND does not explicitly mention the Paris Agreement, but promotes “the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal.”

You might also like: US Homes Are Becoming More Difficult to Insure Because of the Climate Crisis

Housing and Infrastructure

Both proposals deal with housing insecurity as it pertains to the climate crisis. The Biden Plan draws connections between the lack of affordable housing in job centers, which forces many lower- and middle-income Americans to live far away, and higher emissions due to increased traffic and long commutes. To address this issue, the Biden Plan will involve constructing 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units, upgrading 4 million buildings and weatherising 2 million homes over four years. Though ambitious, it does not go as far as the GND, which sets goals to provide “all people of the United States with affordable, safe and adequate housing,” and to upgrade “all existing buildings in the United States to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort and durability” over ten years. 

Increased access to quality public transportation and improved infrastructure to enable the transition toward electric vehicles are also key aspects of both the Biden Plan and the GND. While the GND approaches the issue of transportation broadly, calling for investments in zero-emission vehicle manufacturing, public transit and high speed rail, the Biden Plan sets specific goals such as the development of a comprehensive electric vehicle infrastructure, including 500 000 car charging stations across the nation and new, rigorous fuel economy standards. This endeavor will require massive amounts of labor, creating millions of prevailing wage green jobs.

Environmental Justice

The GND is founded upon the principle of environmental justice, the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, national origin or income, with respect to the development and implementation of environmental policies. It seeks to remedy inequities that leave marginalised populations, including minority, indiginous and low-income communities disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, including higher exposure to pollutants, natural disasters and other environmental negatives. The Biden Plan also emphasises the importance of environmental justice, pledging to establish a new Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Department of Justice that will be tasked with prosecuting anti-pollution cases. Furthermore, to ensure that those on the frontlines of the climate crisis reap the benefits of improved infrastructure, housing and well-paying green jobs, the Biden Plan directs 40% of investment into marginalised communities.

Fracking

One of the most significant and controversial differences between the Biden Plan and the GND is on the issue of fracking. Fracking, the use of high pressure water to expel deep underground oil, is an extraction method forcefully opposed by climate activists, due to the many environmental and human health concerns linked to the practice, including groundwater contamination, exposure to toxic chemicals, methane leaks and even earthquakes. Although the GND does not explicitly mention fracking, its supporters argue that the elimination of fracking is implied in the proposal, due to the extreme dangers and human rights violations associated with the industry and its contribution to the climate crisis. The Biden Plan does not propose a ban on fracking, though Trump and Pence are keen on falsely claiming that the plan calls for the total decimation of the industry. Banning fracking would eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in three key swing states that could determine the fate of this election: Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas. If the Biden Plan were to ban fracking, the campaign would lose tens of thousands of votes in those states, possibly securing a second Trump term. 

It’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to directly compare the Biden Plan and the Green New Deal, considering the GND is a broad, nonbinding resolution, not a specific plan. It is also necessary to recognise that the Biden Plan is tailored to a four-year presidential term, and its goals must be realistic and achievable within that timeline. The Biden Plan is not perfect, but it is still the most progressive plan in US history to be presented on the presidential debate stage, and takes important steps toward a more sustainable future. On twitter, Ocasio-Cortez explained, “Our differences are exactly why I joined Biden’s Climate Unity Task Force– so we could set aside our differences & figure out an aggressive climate plan to address the planetary crisis at our feet.”

Featured image by: Flickr

On September 29, the first US presidential debate was held, with former vice president Joe Biden and president Donald Trump squaring off to discuss their policies. For those seeking insight into the candidates’ climate action plans, the debate was uninformative, to say the least. Approximately 10 minutes of the debate were dedicated to the subject of climate change, covering topics including the deadly California forest fires, the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate accord and the Green New Deal, to name a few.

The debate should have been an opportunity to provide the American public with the information necessary to make intelligent voting decisions this November, and a chance for both candidates to win over undecided, moderate voters. Instead, it was a mostly incoherent shouting match, as President Trump incessantly heckled and interrupted Biden, who struggled to form complete sentences amidst the disturbances. By the end of the 90-minute debate, most Americans were left with unanswered questions and headaches. It was widely considered a low point for US politics by voters on both sides.

President Trump used his speaking time to put forward unsubstantiated claims about his administration’s efforts to protect America’s air and water resources, despite the fact that he has  rolled back over 100 major climate and environmental policies during his term. When asked about his belief in climate science and what he plans to do to confront the climate crisis if he is re-elected, Trump responded, “I want crystal clean water and air, I want beautiful clean air. We now have the lowest carbon… if you look at our numbers now, we are doing phenomenally.” 

He proceeded to criticise the Paris Climate accord, calling it a “disaster,” and blamed the state of California for practicing poor “forest management” (which he claims is the reason for the deadly wildfires displacing hundreds of thousands across the state). Finally, he defended his decisions to roll back the Clean Power Plan, a policy instituted during the Obama-Biden administration that sought to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants, major contributors to global warming and the climate crisis, as well as his decision to relax fuel economy standards, stating that these regulations make a “tiny difference.”

Trump’s true beliefs about the legitimacy of climate science are difficult to discern. Over the course of his presidency, he has repeatedly referred to climate change as “mythical,” and “a hoax.” He stated recently in a discussion with California officials, “I don’t think science knows,” when pressed to acknowledge the effects of global warming on California’s wildfires, asserting that eventually the Earth will simply “get cooler.” In the presidential debate, responding to the moderator’s question about his belief in the science of the climate crisis and the effect of human pollution on global warming, Trump stated that he believes human pollution affects the climate “to an extent,” before directing the conversation back to his criticisms of California’s forest management. 

Rather than putting forth his own proposals for climate action, Trump’s strategy for the debate was to delegitimise Biden’s climate plan. The moderator laid out the objectives of the Biden Plan, which include the creation of millions of high-paying green jobs, increased limits on fracking, ending the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035 and zero net emissions by 2050.

Biden made a number of ambitious assertions, including his promise to bring down the cost of renewable energy so low that “nobody is going to build another coal- or oil-fired plant in America, they’re going to move to renewable energy.” But perhaps his most consequential statement was his official rejection of the Green New Deal (GND), an ambitious proposal spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive policy makers and climate activists, which sets goals for drastic measures to cut carbon emissions across the US. The GND is favoured by many liberal voters, particularly young progressives who supported democratic socialist candidate Senator Bernie Sanders and progressive candidate Elizabeth Warren in the primary elections, and have been reluctant to extend their support to democratic nominee Joe Biden. However, the GND is seen by conservatives and many moderate voters as too “radical.” Biden is tasked with the challenge of maintaining the support of those on the far left who want to see immediate and extreme measures taken to combat the climate crisis, as well as those in the center who worry about the effects such a drastic plan will have on the economy.

This official rejection came in response to a barrage of interruptions and insults by President Trump, who accused Biden of supporting a “radical left” plan that would cost $100 trillion (a number determined by a right wing policy group). “No, I don’t support the Green New Deal… I support the Biden Plan that I have just put forward, which is different from what [Trump] calls the radical Green New Deal,” Biden responded, simultaneously distancing himself from progressive policy makers on the far left while promoting an ambitious climate plan that still draws inspiration from the GND.

It is unclear how voters will respond to Biden’s bold rejection of the Green New Deal come the November election, or whether Trump’s decision not to put forth any comprehensive climate action plan at all during the debate will have an effect on his re-election prospects. What is clear, is that the topic of the climate crisis is officially at the forefront of American politics in a way that has never been seen before, and that there is a growing consensus in the US that this is a serious problem which requires action. 

A recent poll by Climate Nexus, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, shows that the political landscape among voters appears to be shifting. Seven in ten US voters support government action to address the climate crisis – and young Republicans are less accepting of their party’s inaction.

Trump’s own admission that global warming is human-induced (even if he believes only “to an extent”), is important because it demonstrates a broader cultural shift in the American public’s view on climate change. It is increasingly becoming more difficult to ignore the science, and even fervent skeptics and deniers are reconciling with the unfortunate truth that our actions have consequences.

Featured image by: ucpublicaffairs.com

Democrat nominee hopeful Joe Biden has proposed spending USD$2 trillion over four years on clean energy projects and ending carbon emissions from power plants by 2035, as part of a series of economic plans aimed at jump-starting an economy affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a speech outlining the plan on July 14, Biden called the threat posed by the climate crisis a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jolt new life into our economy.” This new proposal is markedly more ambitious than the 10-year, $1.7tn plan he’d offered during the Democratic primary, which included the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The plan has been praised by progressive groups, with Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a youth group that advocates for action on the climate crisis, saying, “It’s no secret that we’ve been critical of Vice President Biden’s plans and commitments in the past. Today, he’s responded to many of those criticisms: dramatically increasing the scale and urgency of investments, filling in details on how he’d achieve environmental justice and create good union jobs, and promising immediate action- on day 1, in his first 100 days, in his first term, in the next decade- not just some far-off goals.”

You might also like: Op-Ed: Moving to a Circular Economy Model is Vital for the Planet

Biden plans to pay for the proposal by raising taxes for wealthy Americans, undoing President Trump’s tax cuts and increasing the corporate tax rate to 28%.

Joe Biden’s Policies

Last week, Joe Biden called for $400bn for US-made manufacturing efforts such as clean-energy vehicles, telecommunications equipment, steel and other building materials and health care equipment, as well as another $300 billion in research and development on areas like 5G, artificial intelligence and electric vehicle technology.

Biden has expressed skepticism about the Green New Deal objectives of net-zero emissions by 2030, saying that this could more feasibly be achieved by 2050. 

Critics has accused Biden of endangering the jobs of millions of people employed by fossil fuel companies, but Biden’s team has said that the plan would create union jobs in clean energy and through projects such as the construction of electric vehicle charging stations, the weatherization of buildings, updating electric grids and expanding internet access, among others.

More details on how Biden will pay for his proposals will come in the weeks ahead, as more economic proposals will be unveiled. 

Featured image by: Gage Skidmore

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