Updated: May 31
On July 14, 2020, Joe Biden unveiled an ambitious climate plan. If implemented, Biden’s climate plan could put a serious dent in climate change, and give the earth the chance that it needs to thrive. The problem is, there’s good reason to doubt that Biden, even with his good intentions will be able to put that plan into action.
What Biden Is Proposing
The centerpiece of Biden’s climate plan is a massive $2 trillion investment, to be spent on upgrading millions of buildings to be energy efficient, creating a modern transit network, and investing in clean energy technology, all in order to achieve zero emissions by 2050, just in time to meet a deadline that experts believe is necessary. Biden’s plan also includes new fuel economy standards, building 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes, and creating a new Climate Conservation Corps of federal employees to work on conservation on public lands. Although the plan never mentions Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, it’s massive federal spending and lofty goals pay homage to the original New Deal.
An Immediate Distraction
If Joe Biden is indeed elected (something which seems more likely than not), he will take office with America reeling from Covid-19. Unemployment has reached record highs, tens of thousands of people are contracting the virus everyday, and Americans have been sheltering in place in their homes for months. Until a vaccine is deployed, this will be the permanent state of affairs in the United States. Upon taking office, Biden may have to delay his climate plan in order to focus on expanding testing and contact tracing and passing the Democrats proposed stimulus plan to keep Americans afloat. Observers of American politics might assume that a president can walk and chew gum at the same time, but history shows that important legislation can take much longer than a president desires. Barack Obama wasn’t able to sign the Affordable Care Act until well over a year into his presidency.
A False Sense of Security
The coronavirus pandemic isn’t just a threat to the Biden climate plan because it would force him to delay passing his plan into law. It also threatens to lure Americans into a false sense of security regarding the climate. Because daily life has ground to a halt for many Americans, they might think that carbon emissions have dropped off enough that climate change is no longer a major concern. Scientists have predicted that emissions have dropped by 8 percent. While this may seem like a significant decrease, the effects of climate change are continuing to make themselves known. June 2020 was the third-hottest June on record, and earlier this week California’s Death Valley saw a temperature of 128 degrees Fahrenheit, one of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. These shocking temperatures should be a reminder that the pandemic hasn’t stopped climate change, and that rapid action is still necessary.
Politics and Other Obstacles
What else could derail Biden’s climate plan? In the event that Democrats fail to capture the Senate, President Biden could find his plan stuck in congress with no way of reaching his desk. It’s also possible that the fossil fuels companies which have given generously to Biden’s own campaign (to say nothing of the countless other Democratic campaigns that they have contributed to) could use their influence to water down the bill. Joe Biden has produced an important climate plan, but getting it passed will be much harder.
Optimists who believe that Biden’s climate plan stands a reasonable chance of being enacted might point out that Biden could use the current unemployment crisis as a justification for congress to approve his plan. It’s correct that his plan would, if enacted, create many jobs in the burgeoning renewable energy industry, but Biden will still face several obstacles. If the pandemic persists, congress may hesitate before creating jobs that will pay Americans to go outside and build solar panels and wind turbines (to say nothing of jobs that are performed indoors, such as working in a solar panel factory). They may see fit, as they have previously, to simply extend unemployment benefits, Paycheck Protection Program loans, and vote another cash stimulus bill into law. Biden would do well to look to the example of his predecessor, who also called for a major jobs program in the form of an infrastructure bill, only to see that bill ignored by congress. The future of the climate is too important to bet on congress doing the right thing.
Update: The Rise and Fall of the Green New Deal
Check out Sykom's video to see what happened to the Green New Deal.