Piecing it Together
Vice President Biden’s plan to tackle climate change is judged as a pretty good one by longtime observers — and there’s a reason for that.
As Biden was facing down his Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination his position on climate did not stand out as being the most progressive. Even though he’d been around long enough to have pushed for some of the earliest baby-steps on climate action decades ago his 2020 ambitions were seen as cautious and middle of the road.
Meanwhile climate awareness was growing. And demands of voters, particularly young voters and those involved in the Sunrise Movement were edging the ambitions of his Democratic leadership rivals ever higher.
As the last Democrat standing, Biden didn’t rest on his middle-of-the-road laurels, but instead reached out to his former opponents for their expertise on the climate issue. Whether this was because he personally grasped the urgency of the climate emergency or because he recognized the rising tide of climate alarm among voters hardly matters.
In presenting his climate plan he rejected the Green New Deal while embracing it as a “crucial framework” for addressing the climate challenge. Yet the Biden climate plan shows its heritage in the Sunrise Movement and the Green New Deal in the plan’s name which includes not only the phrases “clean energy revolution” but also “climate justice.”
The ambition is larger than what has gone before if not quite so encompassing as the Green New Deal, but it contains detail that the Green New Deal lacks.
A key recognition is that where there is threat there is opportunity too. To transform the electrical power grid away from fossil fuel use by 2035, to build new renewable electricity generation capacity, to refurbish energy inefficient buildings will all require workers. That’s why Biden claimed that when he thinks of climate change he thinks of the word “jobs.” In particular, jobs that are difficult to export.
While the USA has been blowing hot and cold on climate change other nations have been developing exportable products and expertise. Biden hopes his plan will reverse that head start.
Who’ll Pay for This?
The campaign promise is to dedicate $1.7 trillion over ten years. While that is certainly a lot of money it’s comparable to the stimulus packages brought forward due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic recovery from the pandemic is expected to continue to require government infusions and the logic goes, if we’re going to be spending money anyway, we might as well spend that same money averting climate catastrophe.
It’s also true that much of the spending needed to truly remove carbon from the economy will come by diverting spending already happening on coal, oil and gas.
How Serious Is This?
The Biden climate plan has become more aggressive because more voters are demanding climate action. Public opinion allowed it. But the facts behind the public concern are based on rigorously established consensus among scientific experts who have also achieved consensus among nations.
The premiere authority in the world on climate change is the IPCC — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their 2018 report on the differences expected between 1.5°C and 2°C of warming warned, as just one example, that the air pollution alone associated with 2°C warming could mean the premature deaths of, in the range of 110 to 190 million more people between now and 2100, as compared with 1.5°C of warming.
Current projections have us overshooting that 2°C of warming by a considerable margin.
The IPCC methods are as solid as humanly achievable. You can be confident of that because for every IPCC report all the scientists in the world convince all the nations in the world to come to a consensus.
For more info on the IPCC — in a digestible form — check out the book Because IPCC.
It’s a short, 33 illustrated pages, an upbeat, entertaining story that explains the history and science of the IPCC. The scene is 100 years in the future when the world has “solved” climate change and people are looking back, inspired by the dedication, rigor and achievements of the scientists of today.
- You can read it in 20 minutes.
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