Friday, November 6, 2020

Biden is the Last Great Hope for our Planet

Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States and this could pull us back from the precipice and change the course of history. The former vice president garnered more votes than any candidate since the dawn of the republic more than two centuries ago.  A Biden presidency will preserve democracy and return the U.S. to a fact-based approach to governance. Science will once again take its rightful place informing policy including national efforts to manage COVID-19. However, the most important corollary of this election may be reviving hope that we can act in time to preserve the future of life on the planet.  President-elect Biden's platform includes the most ambitious climate action plan every put forward by a major U.S. party. This election was timely as we are teetering on the cusp of the collapse of civilization and our window of opportunity to act is rapidly closing. A 2018 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the world has less than a decade to slash greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the most disastrous climate impacts. 

Historians will look back on this period as a perilous moment. US President Donald Trump has sewn divisions, while actively undermining democracy and climate action. Another four years would have likely pushed the country past the point of no return.  As climate scientist Michael Mann said, a second Trump term would have been  "game over " for the climate.  Noam Chomsky went even further saying Trump's failure to act on the pandemic and the civilization ending threat of climate change make him worse than Hitler. 

The coronavirus was a significant factor in this election. Early in the pandemic Trump dismissed COVID-19 the same way he dismisses climate change. He refused to heed numerous warnings from within his own government and early this summer it was becoming increasingly clear that Trump was heading for defeat.  Trump seemed to position himself on the losing side of key issues and by August he was bleeding support from a wide range of traditionally conservative demographics (the endorsements received by each candidate speaks volumes).

Trump was the most powerful climate denier the world has ever known. he pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord which was signed by every country in the world.. Trump also supported the fossil fuel industry thereby increasing greenhouse gas emissions. He and his anti-science administration have rolled back the climate action of his predecessor and eroded both the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. This administration has waged war on wildlife  and approved the largest ever reduction in protected land. 

The Trump administration has ignored a plethora of climate warnings rolling back fuel efficiency standards, killing the Clean Power Plan, and weakening standards for emissions from the oil and gas industry. In all this administration eradicated 88 environmental regulations designed to protect the health of Americans (researchers at Columbia University say that 100 environmental rules that have been or are being reversed). These cuts have directly contributed to undermining the health of Americans. However, it is important to point out that the courts have stymied Trump's anti-environment agenda. Nonetheless, under Trump the U.S. was dead last in rankings of national climate action

To add insult to injury Trump revealed himself to be the most overtly racist president in recent history. He defined himself as a leading purveyor of hate and his efforts to divide Americans were at the core of his failed strategy to secure a second term. He fanned the flames of systemic racism and prompted widespread protest

Trump will be remembered as a superspreader of both the coronavirus and disinformation.. Most Americans may want their commander-and-chief to value scientific input but what they got instead was someone who was described by the New England Journal of Medicine as "dangerously incompetent". His failed presidency will go down in history as a cautionary tale. 

Former president Barack Obama made the case against Trump at a speech in Pennsylvania on October 21.  The president's flagrant disinterest in climate action was evident throughout his presidency, in the pre-election townhall and both the first and the second presidential debates, In stark contrast Biden has vowed to make climate change a priority for his administration. This is one of the reasons why he earned an endorsement from Scientific American.  Joe is the most climate forward presidential  nominee in the history of the republic.  In a September 14th speech the former vice president explained why climate change will be a priority for his administration. Biden has made it clear that he has a plan that includes rejoining the Paris agreement. 

During a recent episode of the podcast Save America Biden said climate change is the "number one issue facing humanity" calling it an "existential threat." The former vice president is prepared to do what needs to be done to combat climate change.. Last summer he announced a four year $2trillion plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. His plans to spearhead an energy revolution that will transition the country away from fossil fuels to clean energy and contribute to zeroing out greenhouse gas emissions in the country by 2050. 

Biden has also pledged that he will work towards a carbon-free power sector by 2035.  His plan will drive investments in renewables, the electric grid, electric vehicles, charging stations, and building retrofits. The plan also calls for "high-quality, zero-emissions" public transit for every large city, "climate-smart" agriculture, cleaning up pollution from the oil and gas industry, and the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units. 

There is a lot of evidence to support the contention that decarbonization through electrification creates jobs (this also holds true for the transportation sector). Reports support the idea that renewable energy is good for jobs and the data shows that clean power already provides more jobs than the fossil fuel industry.. Studies show that climate action offers stellar ROI and the already huge green economy will continue to provide even more job opportunities as it grows . Green investments will also spur innovation that will continue to push down the price of renewables and electric vehicles which have already seen substantial price declines. Innovation could also reduce emissions from the manufacturing of both cement and steel. 

As Biden said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention  climate change is not only a crisis, it’s an enormous opportunity for America to "lead the world in clean energy and create millions of new good-paying jobs in the process."  Some economic assessments support the economic benefits in the former vice president plan. According to a pre-election forecast by Moody’s, the economic and employment outlook is far better under Biden than Trump.   

Biden has also pledged to combat injustice and his Build Back Better climate plan can be summarized in two words jobs and justice. That focus has galvanized support from a broad coalition that includes environmental and justice groups  Part of this support is due to the disproportionate impact of climate change and pollution on poor and marginalized communities which has been further exacerbated by COVID-19.  

Biden looks at climate action through the lens of environmental justice and he has pledged to address multiple levels of inequality including health, housing, food security, land use and jobs.  This summer Biden's campaign consulted with the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) and together they crafted an environmental justice plan.  This plan will benefit disadvantaged communities and communities of color  Biden wants to address the interrelated issues of environmental action and combating racism.  Biden sees how people of color are far more likely to suffer from the ill effects of polluted environments which is why he has pledged to hold polluters accountable and make sure that clean-energy spending will benefit the hardest hit communities.  This includes the provision of clean water to every community. Biden has also proposed creating screening tools to identify communities at greatest risk from climate change, environmental pollution and racial inequality.

Vice President elect Kamala Harris  will be central to the fight for justice. Earlier this year Harris and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Climate Equity Act, which would establish an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice.  Harris co-sponsored another bill that would strengthen laws under the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect poorer communities from industrial pollution. 

Biden and Harris are not only a boon for America, they are breathing new life into the hope that we will act in time to minimize the impacts of climate change. As the worlds second largest polluter the U.S. can substantially contribute to global efforts through domestic action. The country can also show leadership by ratcheting up emissions reduction ambitions and encouraging other nations to do the same. 

The U.S. can use its influence to pressure private financial institutions (eg banks, insurance companies, and pension funds) to divest from fossil fuels. The country can resume their contributions to climate finance and bring their substantial scientific and technological competencies to bear.  The new administration may start with a recovery package that could build in infrastructure spending to help with the transition to clean energy

Trump has pushed most Americas to an inflection point. .The election of 2020 will reverberate for generations. As Harris said "Years from now, this moment will have passed. And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us: Where were you when the stakes were so high? They will ask us, what was it like? And we will tell them. We will tell them, not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did."  Joe succinctly captured the essence of the moment when he said, "May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation. And this is a battle that we, together, will win. I promise you."

This post has been updated to reflect the official confirmation of Biden's victory

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