AnalysisClimate Crisis

CO2 levels continue to rise as Biden’s climate action falls far short

On April 3, the Mauna Loa research station recorded atmospheric CO2 levels of 421.21 ppm — the highest ever recorded, far above the 1950s levels of 315 ppm and pre-industrial levels of 278 ppm. CO2 remains in the atmosphere and will continue to cause warming for 100 to 150 years — why without comprehensive action, ongoing increases in CO2 levels foretell disaster. More warming means more frequent and severe droughts, extreme weather, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, and more suffering and destitution for the working class.

If you only read the headlines, you may get the impression the Biden administration is taking appropriate action to meet the urgency of the crisis. But a closer look shows otherwise. Biden’s recently announced American Jobs Plan, including actions that claim to address climate change, does nothing significant to draw down existing CO2 levels or curb future emissions. 

The plan proposes spending a total of $2.25 trillion spread out over the next decade. Some of this will go toward mass transit, electric vehicle infrastructure, and 1 million new “green” homes. 

Notably, electric vehicle infrastructure will receive more funding than mass transit and rail combined. With half the U.S. population at or near poverty before the pandemic, purchasing an electric vehicle is not accessible to the majority of the population. Plus, without a renewable energy system nationwide, the majority of those electric vehicles will be charged with power sourced from coal, oil and gas.

While emissions are slightly lower from those power plants than directly from tailpipes, it is hardly a cause for celebration. A truly sustainable path forward must shift away from a resource-intensive car culture to one based on accessible mass transit. It must also include a major reduction in housing costs in urban areas where most of the jobs exist, to eliminate the need for car ownership. 

The words “renewable energy” appear nowhere in the White House fact sheet on the plan, which instead refers to “clean energy.” That includes false renewables and environmentally destructive forms of energy like “clean coal,” nuclear and biofuels. 

The plan’s fact sheet states it aims to: “Establish the United States as a leader in climate science, innovation, and R&D. The President is calling on Congress to invest $35 billion in the full range of solutions needed to achieve technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis and position America as the global leader in clean energy technology and clean energy jobs.” 

No need for ‘breakthroughs’

But we do not need “breakthroughs.” Studies have shown that the technology exists to shift immediately to true renewable energy production using wind, water and solar and still meet global energy needs. But once the renewable infrastructure is built, there are few profits to be made by corporations, so there is little incentive for the capitalists and their friends in government, like Biden, to implement renewables in any comprehensive way. 

Accessible zero-emission mass transit and high-speed rail are the real sustainable path forward, but the capitalists much prefer profits from selling cars to individuals over true sustainability. 

The Biden proposal fails to demonstrate how the United States will meet its goal of a zero-carbon power grid by 2035 and a zero-carbon economy by 2050. It also fails to address the immense amount of CO2 that is already in the atmosphere, for which the Global North is responsible due to earlier development and consumer lifestyles. 

Projects that have already been implemented, along with ongoing studies globally, show utilizing the power of the Earth’s ecosystems to capture carbon from the atmosphere can cool the climate in just decades. But Biden’s plan says nothing about reforestation or wild-land and ocean restoration, because once again, this is not a profitable venture, although achievable and effective. Instead, money will go to carbon capture machines that can make profits for a few but have a high carbon footprint to make and run, unlike the Earth’s natural systems. 

Overall, the funding allocated for the plan falls far short of what is needed to truly address the climate crisis. It fails to even match Biden’s campaign promise of $2 trillion over four years for climate action. 

Studies show for the United States to achieve carbon neutrality, $1 trillion annually would be needed over the next decade. The $1 trillion annual U.S. war budget could be diverted to address climate change along with eliminating tax loopholes for major corporations — 55 of which paid no federal taxes in 2020, again.

The 2006 Stern Review — compiled by British economist Nicholas Stern — echoed the need for immediate investment. It advised that 1 to 2 percent of global GDP be spent annually on climate change mitigation to avert disaster, or face a 5 percent loss of global GDP if no action is taken. So even from a capitalist perspective, it is better to invest in climate action now than wait until catastrophe is upon us. 

Progressive Democrats and many in the climate movement criticize the plan for falling far short of the needed action, while centrist Democrats and Republican alike are balking at the cost. By the time the proposal, which has been split into two parts, makes it to a vote, it will likely be much watered down to have any hope of passing. 

So how can we expect to see real climate action from the government? The millionaires who claim to be our “representatives” represent only the interests of capital — that is, in the absence of a mass people’s movement that demands otherwise and threatens their continued profits. 

Capitalism is the cause of the climate crisis and all the suffering the working class is facing. The need to constantly expand markets and maximize profits on a planet with finite resources can never be sustainable. A few tweaks to the system through minor investment in things that are slightly less environmentally damaging will not cut it. 

Big Oil and transnationals continue to plunder

While Biden puts out this plan, brings into his cabinet faces from oppressed communities, and claims to favor a science-based view on climate change, Big Oil and transnationals continue to plunder the planet unhindered. Coinciding with the announcement of this plan, Native youth — from Standing Rock and northern Minnesota where tribal nations are fighting against the Line 3 pipeline — came to Wash. D.C , to demand that Biden shut down these environmentally destructive pipelines and end fossil fuel reliance.

In reality, fossil fuel extraction continues full speed ahead. Just last month, permits were granted in Kern County, California, for up to 43,000 new oil wells to be drilled! This shows a lack of seriousness about the shift to renewables even in California, which has the most stringent greenhouse gas-reduction goals in the country.

What we need is a true Green New Deal that funds an immediate shift to renewable energy and restores oceans and wild-lands to capture the CO2 already warming the planet, along with systemic change bringing humanity into alignment with the planet’s capacity to sustain life. And we can’t wait for those at the top who do not act in our interests to do it. We must build a mass people’s movement to demand it, that calls out capitalism as the cause of the problem and not the solution. Solving the climate crisis is possible if we act soon. And under a socialist system, where resources are shared instead of hoarded by a few, humanity has the potential to heal the planet and bring about a much better world for all. 

Tina Landis is the author of the book Climate Solutions Beyond Capitalism, which can be purchased here.

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