What Biden understood well in his approach to climate change
President Biden’s Earth Day summit received high marks for the savvy media, including an appearance by Pope Francis. Basically, the policy changes Biden announced struck exactly the right balance in trying to pivot the United States toward reducing fossil fuel emissions and converting the economy to sustainable energy sources. Exactly, this angered politicians and especially activists on the right and left, usually a telltale sign that the right path has been mapped out. There is no escaping the need to calculate climate change policy as well as the depth of the ozone layer to determine how to proceed.
The most significant change Biden announced was a virtual doubling of the emissions reduction target to 50-52% by 2030. The White House outlined some key investments that would make such a reduction possible, highlighting the potential for job creation:
“Line workers who will lay thousands of miles of transmission lines for a clean, modern and resilient network; workers who plug abandoned wells and reclaim mines and stop methane leaks; autoworkers build modern, efficient electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure to support them; engineers and construction workers developing carbon capture and green hydrogen to forge cleaner steel and cement, and farmers using cutting-edge tools to make American soil the next frontier in carbon innovation. “
As critics complain about the price of these investments, Biden might ask, “So you are opposed to the creation of new jobs here in [insert name of town where he is speaking]“It’s more politically persuasive than arguing about the need to meet hard-to-understand climate goals far into the future. Biden’s list includes all blue collar jobs, a not too subtle rebuttal to the GOP’s claim that they are the true representatives of the working class.
Biden also unveiled plans for a first-ever international climate finance plan. The administration will double climate finance assistance to developing countries by 2024, work to mobilize private finance, and end current funding for fossil fuel industries. Countries of the developing world have every right to continue to develop their economies, but the health of the planet demands that we help them avoid the dependence on fossil fuels that characterized 19th and 20th century development in the West. The United States still has the highest per capita emissions by far, although it’s interesting that Europe’s per capita carbon footprint is now lower than that of China. Helping poor countries develop clean technologies will save the world – and the world’s poor – from future climate nightmares.
Republicans, of course, were quick to pounce. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Biden’s proposals “completely disastrous.” Forty-four GOP congressmen signed a letter opposing the international finance plan, saying it amounted to politicizing the banking industry.
Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy presented an alternative plan that they differentiated from Biden’s proposals, saying: “Unlike Democratic plans, ours don’t kill American jobs or give back. more expensive American energy “.
McCarthy’s complaint is the most pernicious because it is potentially the most effective. Biden’s first misstep in canceling the Keystone pipeline before he found another job for workers there makes this GOP accusation more likely. Several states are suing Biden over his decision on the pipeline and even if they lose, they will help create the narrative: Democratic climate policy is killing jobs.
Some leftist activists complain that Biden’s new goals don’t go far enough. “If you ask if the American target is fair and ambitious, the right test is not what will pass in the Senate,” Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told the New York Times. “The question is, what should the United States do given its ability to act and its historical responsibility for creating the problem?”
Kartha has a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Cornell, so he’s not a dummy. Yet failure to recognize the need to forge political consensus is testament to the kind of stupidity in which activists excel. It invites the kind of backlash that the United States has just suffered for the past four years. Another round of Trumpism is not going to help save the planet.
I encountered this unique type of militant myopia at a meeting of Massachusetts interfaith faith leaders and climatologists that I helped organize in my capacity as a senior researcher at the Greenberg Center at Trinity College. Towards the end of the two-day meeting, which included religious leaders who had never been involved in the issue before, and as the group had reached consensus on a few short-term and usually extending goals of goodwill to each other, a young activist stood up and said something like: “If climate change is not your number one problem, you are not morally serious.”
There were, in fact, many morally serious people who had devoted their lives to other causes, ranging from protecting unborn children to building social capital in deprived areas of the city to fighting against racial injustice or the fight against the threat of nuclear proliferation.
The young man continued, noting that Massachusetts was a state of “firsts” – one of the first colonies to declare independence, one of the first to abolish slavery and the first to enact same-sex marriage. It goes without saying that some of the religious leaders present were on the other side of the gay marriage debate. The young man, so determined to get everyone to act on climate change, had only succeeded in making the effort more difficult.
Biden has set a real course and he shouldn’t let his administration be pulled one way or the other, either by Republican intransigence or by left-wing environmental activists who reject the importance of politics. If compromises are needed to get it through Congress, that is what politics is. The task before us is not to question its own policies. It is about making sure that these ambitious new goals are met, which is not an easy task. And not a small success.