AnalysisAudioClimate Crisis

Biden’s climate plan: tactic to win Sanders supporters or something more?

Photo: Joe Brusky, CC BY-NC 2.0

Democratic candidate Joe Biden recently announced a $2 trillion climate plan to be implemented over four years if he wins the presidential seat. The plan promises a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050. A more moderate version of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal, the plan eliminates more progressive goals, such as universal healthcare and job guarantees. The Biden plan would need approval by the Senate and House, which after the coming election may or may not be controlled by the Democrats. 

Biden’s plan comes as the Trump administration continues to roll back environmental regulations that protect public health and the ecosystem — nearly 100 so far since he took office. While the Trump regime is particularly aggressive in its pro-business, anti-people/planet policies, are we really to believe that Biden is going to lead the charge toward meaningful climate action? 

The main focus of the plan is to reinstate Obama-era programs like the Clean Power Plan and fuel efficiency standards with a commitment to clean energy research and development and rejoining the Paris Agreement. These Obama-era policies fell far short of what is needed to reduce the U.S. contribution of greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will avert a runaway scenario. 

When you look at what Biden means by “clean energy,” he does not mean solar and wind energy, but is instead referring to nuclear and carbon capture technologies. Nuclear energy has the 3rd highest lifecycle emissions after scrubbed coal-fired plants and natural gas. This is not to mention the catastrophic risk of nuclear reactor failure and waste disposal. And carbon capture technologies actually create more emissions from building the facilities than those facilities can capture. Climate Solutions Beyond Capitalism

While campaigning, Biden made it clear that he will not end his support for fracking and recently hired Heather Zichal to help mold his climate plan. Zichal served on the board of the natural gas company Cheniere Energy from 2014 to 2018 — hardly an environmentalist position.

Fracking is incredibly detrimental to the environment, poisoning precious groundwater resources and leaking methane throughout the supply chain from wells to distribution to home appliances. More than 3 million oil and gas wells in the United States leaked nearly 281 kilotons of methane in 2018 alone! This is a major contributor to climate change since methane has 84 times the atmospheric warming potential than carbon dioxide. 

The Biden plan also includes a boost in electric vehicle production and infrastructure expansion, as well as road and bridge upgrades, which is a promise to keep the unsustainable car culture firmly in place. All the emissions created in the resource extraction and production process for this mass upscale in EVs will likely cause more pollution than it will ever save.

The plan also commits to address the uneven burden of pollution on communities of color. It seems like Biden is hoping that voters will forget that throughout his career, he has backed policies that directly hurt the Black community — from his pro-segregationist position in his early career to supporting mass incarceration and most recently suggesting that police use less lethal force against Black people by shooting them in the legs instead. Are we really to believe that Biden is now somehow moved to address the long legacy of environmental racism in this country?

Biden has always been in the pocket of Wall Street. As of March, 94 billionaires had donated to his campaign with the majority of support coming from the finance sector — hardly a pro-environment anti-status quo grouping.

The Biden climate plan in the end is just an opportunist ploy by the Democtratic Party establishment to win over progressive and younger voters who would have voted for Bernie Sanders. He has absolutely no intention of disrupting business as usual, which must be disrupted if we are to solve the climate crisis.

His climate plan video dutifully follows the establishment line of putting the blame on the Global South for their emissions. He says he will be tough on China when in reality the United States is by far the largest per capita polluter on the planet; China comes in 10th. He overlooks the fact that China is in reality the global leader in investments in wind and solar power both domestically and internationally. And what about the Pentagon? He never mentions the massive emissions from the U.S. military, which is the largest unregulated polluter and the largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet. Climate Solutions Beyond Capitalism

How can we address a global ecological crisis without cooperation between nations? The divisive imperialist policies of the U.S. and their European allies must be overturned to build a true global effort to tackle the crisis. International cooperation based on equality of nations is crucial, while taking into account the disproportionate responsibility of the wealthier nations for causing the crisis and the colonial legacy of undevelopment imposed on the Global South from centuries of plunder from the North. 

To truly meet the challenge of climate change, the current mode of production must also be addressed. The cause and solutions go way beyond just fossil fuels. We simply cannot continue to determine what is produced based on the whims of a handful of billionaires when we live on a planet with finite resources. 

To avert our own extinction and that of most other species, we need a socialist planned economy that produces what is needed for society with the capacity of the planet in mind. We need to immediately end fossil fuels and move to wind, water and solar energy, which is technologically possible right now! We need to uproot the destructive unsustainable system of capitalism that puts quarterly profits above the long term survival of humanity.

Instead of building machines to capture carbon that won’t actually reduce atmospheric CO2 levels in any substantial way, we need to restore the forests and oceans, which are by far the most efficient natural carbon capture and oxygen producing mechanisms in existence. We need to rethink how society functions, living, working and playing in close proximity, eliminating the need for long unsustainable commutes. We caught a glimpse of the benefits of this while the world was on lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring. 

This may sound utopian, but what is truly utopian is to think that we can avert climate catastrophe while making profits along the way. 

In the absence of a mass sustained broad-based movement for climate action, business as usual will continue. We can see from the uprising for racial justice that protests are a very effective way to win the people’s demands and young people see that capitalism is not working for the vast majority. We need to expand this uprising to demand climate action and to remedy all the ills of capitalism that afflict the working class — most immediately for a comprehensive science-based response to the pandemic, a guaranteed wage for those unemployed by the crisis and universal healthcare.

The impending climate catastrophe makes our task more urgent by the day. We need to uproot the system of capitalism and build a socialist system based on cooperation, sustainability and restoration of the global ecosystem. We literally need socialism to save ourselves … a system where the workers determine what is produced based on the needs of society in alignment with the life-support systems of the planet rather than a handful of billionaires determining our fate based on what can make them the most profits. 

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