Bob Sheak, Oct 16, 2020
Part 1: The climate change crisis
This post is organized in two interrelated parts. Part 1 presents evidence (again) that we in the US and all of humanity are in a disastrous, rapidly unfolding climate crisis. Part 2 takes up the political question of how Trump (and his allies) have responded to the crisis and what Biden plans to do. Trump has done a terrible job of it. Biden has a plan that shows some promise of addressing the crisis and creating millions of jobs in the process.
The scientific evidence
The International Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) is a UN agency established in 1988, as Robert Pollin says, “to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on the current knowledge about climate change” (from Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, Climate Crisis and the Global New Deal, p. 15). Pollin continues: “The IPCC does not carry out original research but rather serve as a clearinghouse for assessing and synthesizing the relevant literature.” The process includes: “Thousands of scientists contribute to writing and reviewing the IPCC’s reports, which are reviewed by governments.” For details, see the Union of Concerned Scientists review of the IPCC’s origin, its goals, how it works, and what is has accomplished (https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/ipcc-who-are-they).
In October 2018, the IPCC issued a special report for policymakers, with the assessment that global warming should be limited to 1.5Celsius, a more challenging target than the previously set forth IPCC target of 2.0C (https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-goverments). The change in the targeted goal of climate change mitigation is in response to the ongoing acceleration of global warming and the expanding and deepening scope of the effects. The earth’s temperature has risen to 1.1C since the onset of industrialization in the early 19th Century and humanity is already experiencing steadily rising temperatures, increases in severe weather incidents (droughts, floods, more frequent and damaging hurricanes), melting ice and snow cover in the polar regions, an Arctic Ocean free of ice, declining coral reefs, and devastation of the natural environment and more and more coincident harms to humanity. The majority of the problem has occurred since WWII.
The IPCC is recognized as one of the most authoritative sources of scientific information on climate change. The 2018 IPCC report is based on “the dedicated contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide” who examined “more than 6,000 scientific references.” On the basis of this assessment, the recommendation is to limit the earth’s temperature to no more than 1.5C. The IPCC scientists and experts recognize that achieving such a goal will require “far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” To achieve this goal, the IPCC assessment says that “Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air [which could be in part achieved by reforestation and sustainable, soil-enhancing agricultural; see Kristin Ohlson’s book, “the soil will save us”].
In an article for The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reports the IPCC is not too hopeful about the future prospects of climate change (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/22/what-is-donald-trump-s-response-to-the-un-dire-climate-report). She writes:
“Even as the I.P.C.C. warned that 1.5 degrees of warming would be calamitous, it also indicated that, for all intents and purposes, such warming has become unavoidable. “There is no documented historical precedent” for the changes needed to prevent it, the group wrote. In addition to transforming the way that electricity is generated and distributed around the world, fundamental changes would be needed in transportation, agriculture, housing, and infrastructure. And much of this would have to be accomplished by the time today’s toddlers hit high school. To have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, the I.P.C.C. said, global CO2 emissions, now running about forty billion tons a year, would need to be halved by 2030 and reduced more or less to zero by 2050. And this would still not be enough. All the scenarios that the I.P.C.C. could come up with to limit warming to 1.5 degrees rely on some kind of “carbon-dioxide removal”: essentially, technologies to suck CO2 out of the air. Such technologies exist, but so far only in the sense that flying cars exist—as expensive-to-produce prototypes. A leaked draft of the report noted that there was a ‘very high risk’ of exceeding 1.5 degrees; although that phrase was removed from the final report, the message is clear.”
The National Space and Aeronautical Agency’s research findings on the effects of climate change
NASA, another major source of information on climate change, summarizes the methods it uses in identifying climate change and identifies nine major effects on critical aspects of the natural world. It does his in a page on its website, “Climate Change: How Do We Know?” (https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence). I also include some additional research findings reported by NASA.
The research methods
“The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.1
“Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.
“The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2 Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause Earth to warm in response. Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming. Carbon dioxide from human activity is increasing more than 250 times faster than it did from natural sources after the last Ice Age.3”
The ocean is warming. “The ocean has absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 100 meters (about 328 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.33 degrees Celsius) since 1969.6 Earth stores 90% of the extra energy in the ocean.’
The ice sheets are shrinking. “The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019, while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year.7 In 2020, as reported on Sept 21, 2020, “Arctic sea ice minimum at second lowest on record” (https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3023/2020-arctic-sea-ice-minimum-at-second-lowest-on-record). NASA’s Pat Brennan reports that a new study finds there was a “record loss of Greenland ice” in 2019” (https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3010/study-2019-sees-record-loss-of-greenland-ice). Brennan writes: “The large loss – 532 billion tons – is a stark reversal of the more moderate rate of melt seen in the previous two years. And it exceeds Greenland’s previous record of 464 billion tons, set in 2012. The record melt will likely raise average global sea level by 1.5 millimeters. Using a hypothetical comparison, all the water combined would cover the entire state of California in more than 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water.”
There is widespread glacial retreat. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa.8
Sea Level is Rising. “Global sea level rose about 8 inches (20 centimeters) in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century and accelerating slightly every year.10
Declining Arctic Sea Ice. “Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.11
The number of extreme weather events is increasing. “The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.12”
Ocean acidification is rising. “Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30%.13,14 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the ocean. The ocean has absorbed between 20% and 30% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades (7.2 to 10.8 billion metric tons per year).15,16” According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Ocean acidification hinders the ability of corals to recover from these bleaching events because it reduces the amount of calcium carbonate available that corals need to grow back to health. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that 99 percent of the world’s warm-water coral reefs could disappear if global average temperatures rise 2°C or more above pre-industrial levels (https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/co2-and-ocean-acidification).
Wikipedia’s summary of the problem
“Climate change includes both the global warming driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century the rate of human impact on Earth’s climate system and the global scale of that impact have been unprecedented” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change). The Wikipedia account continues.
“That human activity has caused climate change is not disputed by any scientific body of national or international standing. The largest driver has been the emission of greenhouse gases, of which more than 90% are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane. Fossil fuel burning for energy consumption is the main source of these emissions, with additional contributions from agriculture, deforestation, and industrial processes. Temperature rise is accelerated or tempered by climate feedbacks, such as loss of sunlight-reflecting snow and ice cover, increased water vapour (a greenhouse gas itself), and changes to land and ocean carbon sinks.”
“Observed temperature from NASA versus the 1850–1900 average as a pre-industrial baseline. The main driver for increased global temperatures in the industrial era is human activity, with natural forces adding variability.
“Because land surfaces heat faster than ocean surfaces, deserts are expanding and heat waves and wildfires are more common. Surface temperature rise is greatest in the Arctic, where it has contributed to melting permafrost, and the retreat of glaciers and sea ice. Increasing atmospheric energy and rates of evaporation cause more intense storms and weather extremes, which damage infrastructure and agriculture. Rising temperatures are limiting ocean productivity and harming fish stocks in most parts of the globe. Current and anticipated effects from undernutrition, heat stress and disease have led the World Health Organization to declare climate change the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. Environmental effects include the extinction or relocation of many species as their ecosystems change, most immediately in coral reefs, mountains, and the Arctic. Even if efforts to minimize future warming are successful, some effects will continue for centuries, including rising sea levels, rising ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification from elevated levels of CO2.”
The Economic Impacts
Kimberly Amadeo considers the “causes” and “costs” of climate change in an article for The Balance, updated on June 30, 2020 (https://www.thebalance.com/economic-impact-of-climate-change-3305682). She says that climate change “should be called climate destabilization,” creating “more extreme and frequent blizzards, heat waves, and other forms of extreme weather, such as, tornados, wildfires, hurricanes, blizzards, floods and landslides, heat waves, and droughts.” The current destabilizing changes are occurring in decades, whereas “previous changes [in the earth’s vital systems]occurred over millions of years.”
What Causes Climate Change?
The principal cause is the rising of greenhouse gas emissions into the earth’s atmosphere. Amadeo writes: “Global warming is the planet’s response to higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They create a blanket that traps the heat from the sun and sends it back to the planet’s surface. Humans have contributed to the current crisis by burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases. The evidence? “As of May 2020, NASA-recorded carbon dioxide levels were 414 parts per million (ppm).8 The last time levels were this high was 2.6 million years ago during the Pliocene era. Back then, the Arctic was 8 degrees Celsius, or 14 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer in the summer than it is now.9 As a result, it was only frozen during the winter. With greater ice melt, sea levels were about 25 meters higher than today.10 That’s enough [if it happened today] to flood New York, London, Miami, San Francisco, and Shanghai.”
The earth isn’t as hot today as it was then because “the oceans have…absorbed 90% of the heat.” Scientists find that the “top 2,300 feet of the ocean has warmed more than 0.4 degrees since 1969.15 The last time the ocean was this warm was 100,000 years ago. Sea levels were 20 to 30 feet higher.16 The ocean presently is warming as it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the warming is accelerating and expanding the ice and snow melts in the polar regions. warmed so fast that there hasn’t been enough time for higher temperatures to melt the arctic ice caps. So, the ocean levels will continue to rise, inch by inch, meter by meter.
Amadeo refers to the percentage contributions that specific economic sectors of the US economy generate in greenhouse gas emissions. The evidence comes from a 2018 report by the Environmental Protection Agency. Here is the breakdown below.20
|Electricity Generation||Coal, Natural Gas||26.9%|
|Commercial and Residential||Heating Oil||12.3%|
|Forestry||Absorbs CO2||offset 11.6%|
Internationally, Amadeo points out that the US is one of the worst contributors to climate change, writing: “On a per-person basis, the U.S. is one of the worst offenders. In 2017, it emitted 14.6 metric tons of CO2 per person. Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Canada led the world in per capita emissions, with 16.1, 15.6, and 14.9 metric tons, respectively. China emitted only 6.5 metric tons per person.21
What’s the Economic Impact of Climate Change?
Amadeo refers to evidence for 1980 to 2019 on how extreme weather has cost $1,775 trillion and gives the example of the effects on Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance firms, on how insurance rates will rise. For example, the insurance company blame climate change for $24 billion of losses in the California wildfires, which are growing in ferocity and destruction. The rising costs to the insurance companies will lead to higher – prohibitively higher – insurance rates, or not be available at all.
Overall economic activity will be reduced by rising temperatures. She gives the following examples. “Scientists estimated that, if temperatures only rose 2 degrees Celsius, the global gross domesticproduct would fall 15%. If temperatures rose to 3 degrees Celsius, the global GDP would fall 25%. If nothing is done, temperatures will rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.28 29 Global GDP would decline by more than 30% from 2010 levels.30 That’s comparable to the Great Depression, where GDP fell to -26.7%.31 The only difference is that it would be permanent.”
Employment levels will also be affected. “The World Employment and Social Outlook 2018 estimated that climate change threatens 1.2 billion jobs.32”
The effects of climate change will cause immigration to soar around the world. Here’s what Amadeo tells us: “People are leaving flooded coastlines, drought-stricken farmlands, and areas of extreme natural disasters. Since 2008, events related to climate or weather have displaced 22.5 million people annually, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.3738 Some forecasts predict that by 2050, climate change could cause as many as 1 billion people to emigrate.3940” The pressure to immigrate to the US from Central America and other places will go up.” The World Bank estimates that as many as 3.9 million people in Mexico and Central America will migrate internally by 2050 due to climate impact, and that subsequent deterioration will further exacerbate the movements of these migrants.41 Drought, shifting rain patterns, and extreme weather destroys crops and leads to food insecurity. The World Food Program found that almost half of Central Americans left because there wasn’t enough food.42”
Climate change will also have an impact on “national security.” “Climate change endangers 128 military bases.43 A 2018 Pentagon survey revealed that U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland has experienced storm surge flooding and hurricane damage. The Cape Lisburne Long Range Radar Station in Alaska has lost a seawall from extreme weather.44 In response, Congress asked the Department of Defense to identify the 10 most vulnerable sites and recommend solution strategies.45” Michael Klare examines in-depth how the US military is attempting to respond to these changes in his book, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change.
Finally, Amadeo refers to the impact of climate change on “food prices.” Rising temperatures, droughts, floods, pests, will cause food prices to rise. There is a ripple effect. “As America experiences more extremely hot days, food prices are rising. Corn and soybean yields in the U.S. precipitously plummet when temperatures rise above 84 degrees Fahrenheit.46 Those crops feed cattle and other meat sources and create spikes in beef, milk, and poultry prices. Worker productivity declines sharply, particularly for outdoor jobs.47 That further increases the cost of food.” She comments on a 2019 study that found “a warming ocean has pushed global sustainable fish yields down 4% since 1930. That’s 1.4 million metric tons.” She continues: “In the North Sea and Sea of Japan, that decline is 35%. That affects Atlantic cod, haddock, and herring.48 Many species are threatened with extinction. That affects the 3 billion people who rely on fish for their primary source of protein.49 It also affects the $150 billion fishing industry and the 59 million people employed.50 It especially affects the U.S., which imports more than 80% of its seafood.51”
Part 2: The antithetical differences in the approaches by Trump and by Biden’s approaches to climate change
Trump’s disastrous environmental record exacerbates the climate crisis
Vernon Loeb, Marianne Lavelle, and Stacy Feldman go back through Trump’s record on climate change and other environmental issues and come to the conclusion that it “Has Been a Boon for Oil Companies, and a Threat to the Planet” (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/31082020/candidate-profile-donald-trump-climate-change-election-2020). Trump is a reactionary on these issues and has used his power, buttressed by the Republican Party and other like-minded allies, to not only deny or dismiss such issues but also to weaken pertinent regulations and regulatory agencies, oppose new regulations, appoint like-minded minions to decision-making positions in the agencies, open up public lands to fossil fuel interests, support pipelines regardless of their impacts, withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, promote the policy of US “energy dominance” based on the expansion of oil and gas mining in the US and the export of these fossil fuels abroad, waste resources in attempts to revive the coal industry, reject scientific research on climate change, reverse Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and more. There is no doubt that Trump has used his office to intensify the climate crisis and thus to diminish the chances for the US to contain the growing destructiveness of climate change and its myriad ecological and human effects that accompany it. He is like Nero fiddling away while Rome burned. Here are some examples from this very informative article.
- “…Trump has scaled back or eliminated over 150 environment measures, expanded Arctic drilling, and denied climate science.”
- “It had been a busy four years, and a breakneck 2020, as Trump and the former industry executives and lobbyists he’d placed in control of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior raced to rollback auto emissions standards, weaken the nation’s most important environmental law, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and reject stronger air pollution standards, even as research showed a link between those pollutants and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.”Bottom of Form
- “Trump promoted what he called a ‘very dramatic’ series of revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act, the foundation of environmental protection in the United States that had been signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon 50 years ago.” “Environmentalists have used the law to block everything from pipelines to the destruction of natural habitats. Trump has now limited environmental reviews under the act to between one and two years and relieved federal agencies from having to consider a project’s impact on climate change during the review and permitting process.”
- “He followed up, at the end of March by issuing a sweeping executive order directing all federal agencies to target for elimination any rules that restrict U.S. production of energy. He set guidance to make it more difficult to put future regulations on fossil fuel industries and he moved to discard the use of a rigorous ‘social cost of carbon,’ a regulatory measurement that puts a price on the future damage society will pay for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted.”
- “When U.S. government scientists released their latest volume of the National Climate Assessment in November 2018, it revealed much about the robust, sobering scientific consensus on climate change.” “The president rejected the assessment’s central findings—based on thousands of climate studies and involving 13 federal agencies—that emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by human activities, are already causing lasting economic damage and have to be brought rapidly to zero.” His response: “I don’t believe it. No, no, I don’t believe it,” Trump told a reporter after the assessment’s release.”
- “One of the administration’s first actions was to order scientists and other employees at EPA and other agencies to halt public communications. Several federal scientists working on climate change have said they were silenced, sidelined or demoted. The words ‘climate change’ have been purged from government reports and other reports have been buried.”
- “In September 2018, the Interior Department finalized a rule that loosens methane requirements for oil and gas operations on federal lands. A month later, the administration proposed a regulation to streamline and expedite oil and gas permits on national forest lands.”
- “After countless piecemeal rollbacks during Trump’s first two and a half years in office, the administration in June 2019 launched its long-awaited attack on Obama’s signature plan to tackle climate change. Designed to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants, Obama called it the Clean Power Plan.”
- “Next came Trump’s rollback of Obama’s 2012 automobile fuel efficiency standards, the single largest step any nation had taken to address global warming by cutting carbon emissions from cars and trucks. The weakened Trump plan will allow automakers to deploy fleets that average just 40 miles per gallon by 2025, instead of 54 mpg.” They note: “If Trump’s standard ultimately survives legal challenges, cars and trucks in the United States would emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide during their lifetimes than they would have under the Obama standards.”
- “Finally, in mid-August, Trump proposed the rollback of the methane rules, the last major Obama environmental regulation still standing. Methane, a super-pollutant, is 86 times more potent in warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.” This will reverse the “Obama rule [which] required oil and gas companies to monitor methane leaks and fix them. The Trump replacement weakens those requirements….”
- “In the climate realm, Obama is best known, of course, as the driving force behind the 2015 Paris climate accord.” “Trump first announced in a Rose Garden speech in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the accord in three years, as soon as the treaty allowed.” “So, right on cue, two years later, on Nov. 4, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the United Nations of the formal exit of the United States, activating the final one-year waiting period.” “The actual U.S. withdrawal is set for Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.”
The 2020 Republican Party Platform on climate change
The Republican Party is in full accord with Trump on climate change issues (and most other issues). David Frum summarizes the gist of the current Republican platform in one paragraph, noting that the 2020 platform is the same as the 2016 platform (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/new-gop-platform-authoritarianism/615640). Here’s what he writes. “Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about. If it’s worth worrying about, it’s certainly not worth paying trillions of dollars to amend. To the extent it is real, it will be dealt with in the fullness of time by the technologies of tomorrow. Regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.”
In an article for The Niskanen Center, Jeffrey Taylor recommends that if “moderate” Republicans want to be taken seriously on the climate change crisis, they should do the following – and they are not (https://www.niskanencenter.org/are-republicans-beginning-to-take-climate-change-seriously-not-yet-but-maybe-someday).
“First, as long as Republicans are denouncing anything that might impose economic costs on anyone, they should not be taken seriously. Innovation fairies will not save us. Only ambitious mitigation will do that, and there’s no way to spare fossil fuel producers some costs. There are ways, however, to spare consumers those costs. For Republicans to pretend otherwise demonstrates that … they are pretending.
“Second, Republicans need to stop attacking climate ‘alarmists’ in the course of their policy work. While it’s an exaggeration to say, as some on the left do, that we only have 12 years to save the planet, there is ample reason to be very alarmed about climate change. Failing to appreciate that is failing to appreciate mainstream climate science and the fundamental need for serious risk management.
“Third, Republicans should be embracing the most ambitious climate responses that political considerations will allow. If some of the excellent carbon tax bills that have been floated by a few House Republicans are too much for them, they should at least take their own innovation rhetoric seriously. That would mean supplementing the legislation they’ve forwarded with much more ambitious initiatives consistent with the demand for deep decarbonization. That means more federal resources need to be marshalled in general, and more attention needs to be paid in particular to long-duration energy storage, carbon-neutral fuels, low-carbon heat sources for industry, and decarbonizing the agricultural sector.
“Fourth, they should be willing to join with Democrats to pass an infrastructure bill that meaningfully invests in the industries and infrastructures we need to achieve decarbonization”
Noam Chomsky is worth quoting: “The Republicans have mostly gone off the [political] spectrum. Comparative studies show that they rank alongside the fringe right-wing parties in Europe in their general positions. They are, furthermore, the only major conservative party to reject anthropogenic climate change…a global anomaly” (Climate Change and the Global New Deal, p. 43).
One of the major items in Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign platform focuses on climate change in a policy statement titled “The Biden Plan to Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future” (https://joebiden.com/clean-energy).The emphasis is on how millions of jobs can be created around programs that are connected to building a more resilient, sustainable economy. He wants to create millions of good jobs around programs that resolve or begin to resolve the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and doing it in a way that pays particular attention to addressing the needs of African Americans, workers, and other groups that have suffered from historic and systemic discrimination. The Biden plan puts it this way. “At this moment of profound crisis, we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy – one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050. Joe Biden will seize that opportunity and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs that provide workers with the choice to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers.”
Marianne Lavelle writes on Biden’s record and documents how he is pushed for action to address climate change throughout his career, going back as far as 1986 (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/31082020/candidate-profile-joe-biden-climate-change-election-2020). For example, she notes that Biden was an early proponent for climate change. “In 1986, after testimony by NASA scientist James Hansen on the greenhouse effect, Biden introduced his Global Climate Protection Act,” which was “a bill [that] sought to compel President Ronald Reagan to set up a task force to study the issue, and the Delaware Senator urged Reagan to include climate in the summit talks then underway with then-Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev.”
Sophie Austin points out, the Biden plan aims at eradicating carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035 (https://www.politifact.com/article/2020/aug/03/joe-biden-climate-change-plan-explained). The plan calls for spending of $2 trillion over four years. According to Deborah D’Souza, some of Biden’s general tax plan will be used to pay for his climate change plan ((https://www.investopedia.com/comparing-the-economic-plans-of-trump-and-biden-4844340). D’Souza makes the following points.
Potential sources of funds
“Biden wants to raise the top income tax rate back to 39.6% from 37% and the top corporate income tax rate to 28% from 21%. If elected, he will apply Social Security taxes to earnings above $400,000, tax capital gains and dividends at ordinary rates for those with annual incomes of more than $1 million and impose 15% minimum tax on book income of large companies. The tax rate on profits earned by foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms will be doubled to 21%.
“According to the Tax Policy Center, Biden’s tax proposals will increase revenue by $4 trillion between 2021 and 2030. It estimated that 93% of the tax increases would be borne by taxpayers in the top 20% of households by income. The top 1% of households would pay three-quarters of the tax hike”).
There are other pockets of money that could be tapped. Robert Pollin suggests that funds could be transferred out of the military budget, by far the largest in the world (Climate Crisis and The Global New Deal, p. 106). And funds could be raised by ending subsidies to fossil fuels. This is an issue addressed by Clayton Coleman and Emma Dietz (https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-fossil-fuel-subsidies-a-closer-look-at-the-tax-breaks-and-societal-costs#). They make their point as follows.
“The United States provides a number of tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry as a means of encouraging domestic energy production. These include both direct subsidies to corporations, as well as other tax benefits to the fossil fuel industry. Conservative estimates put U.S. direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry at roughly $20 billion per year; with 20 percent currently allocated to coal and 80 percent to natural gas and crude oil. European Union subsidies are estimated to total 55 billion euros annually.
“Historically, subsidies granted to the fossil fuel industry were designed to lower the cost of fossil fuel production and incentivize new domestic energy sources. Today, U.S. taxpayer dollars continue to fund many fossil fuel subsidies that are outdated, but remain embedded within the tax code. At a time when renewable energy technology is increasingly cost-competitive with fossil power generation, and a coordinated strategy must be developed to mitigate climate change, the broader utility of fossil fuel subsidies is being questioned.
“There are many kinds of costs associated with fossil fuel use in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution resulting from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. These negative externalities have adverse environmental, climate, and public health impacts, and are estimated to have totaled $5.3 trillion globally in 2015 alone.”
In short, by phasing out fossil fuels, the country eventually saves $20 billion a year in subsidies and many billions a year in cleaning up the environmental devastation wrought by fossil fuel operations.
The health costs of climate change
In an article published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, Howard Frumkin and Samuel S. Myers write: “Climate Change policy provides one of the sharpest distinctions between Trump and Biden” (https://doi.org/10.1016/S1040-6736(20)32038-9). It appeared in Vol. 396 of the Journal, October 10, 2020. In a table, they compare Trump’s record and Biden’s platform on 9 issues, illustrating Trump’s denial of science and the dismantling of climate policy and Biden’s “proposed climate policies [that] would be expected to yield health benefits; mitigation action [that] delivers health co-benefits and adaptation, such as, disaster planning, heatwave preparedness, and planned relocation.” Climate change has extensive health implications through pathways that include severe weather events, infectious disease spread, hunger and reduced nutrition, mental health effects, and forced migration and conflict. The Trump administration’s denial of climate science, withdrawal from the Paris Accords, and dismantling of climate policy increase the risk of these outcomes in the USA and globally. By contrast, Biden’s climate change policies would be expected to yield health benefits; mitigation action delivers health co-benefits and adaptation, such as, disaster planning, heatwave preparedness, and planned relocation, can reduce human suffering.”
Excerpts on the employment goals from the Biden plan
Sustainable, “clean” jobs created in the US
“Biden will immediately invest in engines of sustainable job creation – new industries and re-invigorated regional economies spurred by innovation from our national labs and universities; commercialized into new and better products that can be manufactured and built by American workers; and put together using feedstocks, materials, and parts supplied by small businesses, family farms, and job creators all across our country.”
Employment opportunities for all
“We need millions of construction, skilled trades, and engineering workers to build a new American infrastructure and clean energy economy. These jobs will create pathways for young people and for older workers shifting to new professions, and for people from all backgrounds and all communities. Their work will improve air quality for our children, increase the comfort of our homes, and make our businesses more competitive. The investments will make sure the communities who have suffered the most from pollution are first to benefit — including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities.”
Support collective bargaining
“And, Biden’s plan will empower workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with their employers as they rebuild the middle class and a more sustainable future.
A $2 trillion “accelerated investment”
“Biden will make a $2 trillion accelerated investment, with a plan to deploy those resources over his first term, setting us on an irreversible course to meet the ambitious climate progress that science demands.”
The investments will support millions of new jobs in important economic sectors
“Infrastructure: Create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure – from roads and bridges to green spaces and water systems to electricity grids and universal broadband – to lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.
“Auto Industry: Create 1 million new jobs in the American auto industry, domestic auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure, from parts to materials to electric vehicle charging stations, positioning American auto workers and manufacturers to win the 21st century; and invest in U.S. auto workers to ensure their jobs are good jobs with a choice to join a union.
“Transit: Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities – ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“Power Sector: Move ambitiously to generate clean, American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. This will enable us to meet the existential threat of climate change while creating millions of jobs with a choice to join a union.
“Buildings: Upgrade 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over 4 years, creating at least 1 million good-paying jobs with a choice to join a union; and also spur the building retrofit and efficient-appliance manufacturing supply chain by funding direct cash rebates and low-cost financing to upgrade and electrify home appliances and install more efficient windows, which will cut residential energy bills.
“Housing: Spur the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.
“Innovation: Drive dramatic cost reductions in critical clean energy technologies, including battery storage, negative emissions technologies, the next generation of building materials, renewable hydrogen, and advanced nuclear – and rapidly commercialize them, ensuring that those new technologies are made in America.
“Agriculture and Conservation: Create jobs in climate-smart agriculture, resilience, and conservation, including 250,000 jobs plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock, and uranium mines – providing good work with a choice to join or continue membership in a union in hard hit communities, including rural communities, reducing leakage of toxics, and preventing local environmental damage.
“Environmental Justice: Ensure that environmental justice is a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build – creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation – rural, urban, and tribal.
Special attention on addressing the interests of workers
Strengthening the unionization process
“Biden will include in the economic recovery legislation he sends to Congress a series of policies to build worker power to raise wages and secure stronger benefits. This legislation will make it easier for workers to organize a union and collectively bargain with their employers by including the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, card check, union and bargaining rights for public service workers, and a broad definition of “employee” and tough enforcement to end the misclassification of workers as independent contractors. His bill will also go further than the PRO Act by holding company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts.
Ensuring livable wages
He will also ensure that all companies benefitting from his infrastructure and clean energy investments meet the labor protections in Senator Merkley’s Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act, applying and strictly enforcing Davis-Bacon prevailing wage guidelines, and that those benefiting from transportation investments meet transit labor protections so that new jobs are good-paying jobs with family sustaining benefits. And, as called for in his plan to strengthen worker organizing, collective bargaining, and unions, Biden will require that companies receiving procurement contracts are using taxpayer dollars to support good American jobs, including a commitment to pay at least $15 per hour, provide paid leave, maintain fair overtime and scheduling practices, and guarantee a choice to join a union and bargain collectively.
Ensuring a diverse workforce and strengthening communities
Biden will ensure these jobs are filled by diverse, local, well-trained workers – including women and people of color – by requiring federally funded projects to prioritize Project Labor and Community Workforce Agreements and employ workers trained in registered apprenticeship programs. Biden will make investments in pre-apprenticeship programs and in community-based and proven organizations that help women and people of color access high-quality training and job opportunities. Biden’s proposal will make sure national infrastructure and clean energy investments create millions of middle-class jobs that develop a diverse and local workforce and strengthen communities as we rebuild our physical infrastructure.
Assisting workers in industries being phased out
Biden also reaffirms his commitment to fulfill our obligation to the workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and decades of economic growth, as outlined in his original climate plan. This includes securing the benefits coal miners and their families have earned, making an unprecedented investment in coal and power plant communities, and establishing a Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities, as the Obama-Biden Administration did for Detroit when the auto industry was in turmoil.
The Biden plan further elaborates on its key clean employment goals: the infrastructure example
The plan calls for the creation of “millions of good, union jobs building and upgrading a cleaner, safer, stronger infrastructure – including smart roads, water systems, municipal transit networks, schools, airports, rail, ferries, ports, and universal broadband access – for all Americans, whether they live in rural or urban areas.” The infrastructure will be built so it is “resilient to floods, fires, and other climate threats, not fragile in the face of these increasing risks.” It will be “infrastructure that supports healthy, safe communities, rather than locking in the cumulative impacts of polluted air and poisonous water.” And it will be technologically appropriate, including, for example, “universal broadband, that unleashes innovation and shared economic progress and educational opportunity to every community, rather than slowing it down.”
The jobs will expand the middle class in numerous ways, as it transforms “our crumbling transportation infrastructure – including roads and bridges, rail, aviation, ports, and inland waterways – making the movement of goods and people faster, cheaper, cleaner, and manufactured in America while preserving and growing the union workforce. Biden will also transform the energy sources that power the transportation sector, making it easier for mobility to be powered by electricity and clean fuels, including commuter trains, school and transit buses, ferries, and passenger vehicles. The resulting reduction in air pollution will save thousands of lives and millions in medical costs burdening families.’
The Biden administration will “make sure that America has the cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world — for both passengers and freight. His rail revolution will reduce pollution, connect workers to good union jobs, slash commute times, and spur investment in communities that will now be better linked to major metropolitan areas. To speed that work, Biden will tap existing federal grant and loan programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and improve and streamline the loan process. In addition, Biden will work with Amtrak and private freight rail companies to further electrify the rail system, reducing diesel fuel emissions.”
Municipal transit networkers will be “revolutionized.” “Biden will aim to provide all Americans in municipalities of more than 100,000 people with quality public transportation by 2030. He will allocate flexible federal investments with strong labor protections to help cities and towns install light rail networks and improve existing transit and bus lines. He’ll also help them invest in infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, and riders of e-scooters and other micro-mobility vehicles and integrate technologies like machine-learning optimized traffic lights. And, Biden will work to make sure that new, fast-growing areas are designed and built with clean and resilient public transit in mind. Specifically, he will create a new program that gives rapidly expanding communities the resources to build in public transit options from the start.”
Every community has a right to clean, safe drinking water. So, investments will be made to repair water pipelines and sewer systems, while replacing lead service pipes, upgrading treatment plants, and integrating efficiency and water quality monitoring technologies. This includes protecting our watersheds and clean water infrastructure from man-made and natural disasters by conserving and restoring wetlands and developing green infrastructure and natural solutions.”
In today’s world, all households need to have access to broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G. “Communities without access cannot leverage the next generation of ‘smart’ infrastructure.” The COVID-19 crisis has revealed that “Americans everywhere need universal, reliable, affordable, and high-speed internet to do their jobs, participate equally in remote school learning and stay connected. This digital divide needs to be closed everywhere, from lower-income urban schools to rural America, to many older Americans as well as those living on tribal lands. Just like rural electrification several generations ago, universal broadband is long overdue and critical to broadly shared economic success.
The plan addresses the issue of reclamation. “Cleaning up and redeveloping abandoned and underused Brownfield properties, old power plants and industrial facilities, landfills, abandoned mines, and other idle community assets that will be transformed into new economic hubs for communities all across America.” Later in the plan, there is a commitment to “completing 4 million retrofits and building 1.5 million new affordable homes” and “creating 1 million jobs upgrading 4 million buildings and weatherizing 2 million homes over 4 years.”
No one left behind. “Biden’s plan will ensure that our infrastructure investments work to address disparities – often along lines of race and class – in access to clean air, clean water, reliable and sustainable transportation, connectivity to high-speed internet, and access to jobs and educational opportunities. This includes ensuring tribes receive the resources and support they need to invest in roads, clean water, wastewater, broadband, and other essential infrastructure needs. It also means funding investments in local and regional strategies to prevent a lack of transportation options in urban, rural, and high-poverty areas from cutting off after-school opportunities for young people and job opportunities for workers seeking better jobs and more economic security for their families.”
Noam Chomsky has long argued that the climate change crisis, along with the growing threat of nuclear war, represents “something new and dire.” He goes on: “History is all too rich in records of horrendous wars, indescribable torture, massacres, and every imaginable abuse of fundamental rights. But the threat of destruction of organized human life in any recognizable or tolerable form – that is entirely new. It can only be overcome by common efforts of the entire world, though of course responsibility is proportional to capacity, and elementary moral principles demand that a special responsibility falls on those who have been primarily responsible for creating the crises over centuries, enriching themselves while creating a grim fate for humanity” (Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal, pp. 1-2). This is a level of unity that appears unlikely in the US part of the world in the foreseeable future. We have a society in which the president, his administration, and the Republican Party, major parts of the corporate community, the wide-reaching right-wing media, and the increasingly right-wing federal judiciary make up powerful forces of climate denial or dismissal. Then, of course, we should not forget the tens of millions of people who make up Trump’s steadfast, unquestioning base, regardless of his lying, hypocrisy, and his plutocratic priorities. Consider the following Pew poll results.
Alec Tyson, an associate director of research at Pew Research Center, analyzes the data from a survey conducted July 27-Aug. 2 (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/06/how-important-is-climate-change-to-voters-in-the-2020-election). He finds, unsurprisingly, that there is a sharp partisan divide on the importance of the issue. While 68 percent of Democrats say that it is a “very important to the vote in 2020,” only 11 percent of Republicans do. Tyson adds: “In fact, climate change ranks last in importance (out of 12 issues tested in a recent survey) for Trump supporters.”
- “For Biden supporters, climate change is among several high-level issue priorities this election. Although 68% say it is very important to their vote, this ranks behind majorities on issues like health care (84%), the coronavirus outbreak (82%) and racial and ethnic inequality (76%) – and about on par with the level of priority given to economic inequality (65%). Climate change ranks ahead of several other issues for Biden voters, including foreign policy and violent crime.”
- “Liberal Biden supporters are especially likely to prioritize climate change in their 2020 vote. Nearly eight-in-ten Biden supporters who describe their political views as liberal (79%) say climate change is a very important election issue, compared with a somewhat smaller majority of moderate and conservative Biden voters (60%). – “Climate change ranks higher on the minds of White and Hispanic than Black Biden voters. About half of Black Biden supporters (54%) consider climate change to be very important to their vote; larger shares of Hispanic (75%) and White (71%) Biden supporters say the same. –“Trump voters place low importance on the issue of climate change, but there are some differences in voter priorities by ideology, gender and generation E
- “Biden and Trump supporters are far apart in how they prioritize the issue of climate change. But a May survey found Republicans and Democrats agree on some policies aimed at reducing the impacts of climate change. For instance, 90% of Democrats and Democratic leaners and 78% of Republicans and those who lean to the GOP say they would favor providing a tax credit to businesses for developing carbon capture and storage technology.” – [an unproven technology].
Biden is not the Knight on the Shining Horse that will save us from the assaults on the environment and the unfolding climate crisis, but he and his supporters will give us a chance – perhaps our last chance – to slow down and eventually stop further environmental destruction and all the harms that accompany it. So much rides on the November election. Most polls find that Biden has a lead over Trump. But there are disturbing questions. Will the Republicans be able to use their voter suppression apparatus to keep Democratic voters from registering to vote, from casting their votes, and/or from having their votes counted? If Biden wins the popular vote, will Trump claim that the election was rigged and refuse to accept the results of the election? Many historians and experts have considered this outrageous, anti-democratic possibility. Check out Lawrence Douglas’ book, Will He Go?: Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020, or Richard L. Hansen’s book, Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks Distrust, and the Threat to Democracy. Then there is the possibility that, if the process continues beyond the vote count to the undemocratic Electoral College, Trump could win there, as he did in 2016, despite losing the popular vote by close to 3 million votes in 2016 and, given current polling data, losing by 4 or 5 million this year? One thing is virtually certain, that is, if for whatever reason the election ends up in the right-wing stacked Supreme Court, Trump will win.
In the final analysis, we have a fragile “democracy” torn by partisanship and power politics. The questions: Can democracy, as represented by the majority of citizens, prevail despite the obstacles? If Biden and the Democrats are successful in November and end up controlling all branches of the federal government, will they push aggressively to advance the Biden Plan? Will they find ways to overcome Republican obstructionism and corporate power? The fate of democracy and the fate of the earth are at stake. This is not hyperbole. It’s realty based on verifiable facts.