By Jon Lamson |Image by Xixi Qin
It is difficult to comprehend the threat that climate denying politics poses to us today. There have been few other moments in world politics where the fate of organized human life on Earth is at stake. And after we are able to collectively comprehend the severity of the climate crisis and ongoing mass-ecocide, where do we start? What is the proper response to the total destruction of our planet’s natural systems and looming loss of countless innocent lives?
An important place to start is recognizing the nature of the opposition. As esteemed intellectual and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky said in a June interview, “Trump is the worst criminal in history, undeniably. There has never been a figure in political history who was so passionately dedicated to destroying the projects for organized human life on earth in the near future.” He has also extended his critique to the modern-day Republican Party, calling it “the most dangerous organization in world history,” as a result of their politics around the climate crisis.
Detailing the entirety of the Trump administration’s dismantling of United States climate policy is difficult given its expansive impact, but the New York Times and National Geographic have both compiled detailed outlines of his environmental rollbacks (I did my best to outline the Trump environmental policy in a Catalyst article last fall). Looking beyond any one specific policy or regulation rollback, the administration’s agenda is now lead by two former fossil fuel lobbyists, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler, (who speaking on climate change, said “I don’t see it as the existential threat”) and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt (“I haven’t lost any sleep over it”), as well as the former Vice President of Ford Motor Company, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette (“I think we can debate that”), and former Republican Georgia Governor, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (“I think it’s just weather patterns”). And of course, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have repeatedly questioned established climate science throughout their time in office.
The Trump-led Republican party has not only wasted precious time in the fight against the climate crisis, but diligently moved our country towards an increased reliance on fossil fuels to appease their industry donors and chase short-term economic goals. This modern Republican Party, through a combination of ignorance, corruption, and downright malevolence, is actively inviting the ecological destruction of our planet, a fact that simply cannot be overstated.
On the other side, Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden is not the candidate most climate activists would have chosen to lead the opposition. Younger voters, who tend to see the Climate Crisis as a greater threat than older voters do, polled significantly in favor of Senator Bernie Sanders throughout the Democratic primaries. However, in comparison to his Republican counterparts, Biden is miles ahead. He recently release a plan for $2 trillion over four years to help transition to a fossil-free economy, with increased spending in communities of color. Such a policy is unprecedented in U.S. environmental history, and would be a major step in the right direction. However, the Democratic National Convention’s 2020 party platform is softer than Biden’s on climate, shying away from committing to end fossil fuel subsidies, taking a step back from the party’s 2016 platform. With Biden’s climate plan, it is important to note that there are few major differences between this and the policy he promoted during the primaries (which was much smaller in scope than the plans offered by his opponents to the left, including the $10 trillion plan proposed by Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris).
One area that Biden continues to receive environmental criticism for is his positions on fracking for “natural” gas (methane). Fracking and natural gas consumption in the U.S. expanded throughout the Obama administration, and natural gas has been touted by its proponents as a “transition” fuel. However, natural gas now appears to be a much dirtier energy source than initially thought (as noted in a 2020 study in Nature, due to how much methane is leaked into the atmosphere, opposed to burned as CO2), and is undoubtably a significant contributor to climate change (not to mention the local pollution problems that accompany the fracking process). Biden remains unwilling to support a sweeping ban on fracking (a ban which was supported by all other major democratic candidates). Three of Biden’s advisors, Heather Zichal, Jason Bordoff, and Ernest Moniz, have extensive ties to the natural gas industry, detailed in reporting by the Intercept. At the same time, Trump has recently repealed another round of methane regulations, freeing companies from requirements to clean up the methane leaks they cause. Regardless of the administration, the battle around the role of natural gas will be particularly important over the next four years.
Compromise is never easy. At a time when this country needs a drastic overhaul of our economy, infrastructure, social services, and foreign policy to meet the climate crisis in a manner that fights for all people, regardless of nationality, race, or socioeconomic status, another old, white, right-wing Democrat inspires little confidence. But the environmental policy differences between a Biden and a Trump presidency are giant, and the effects of these differences will be felt most by low income communities, by communities of color, and by people living off of land susceptible to rising sea levels or desertification. It is not Americans of privilege who are feeling the first effects (though everybody will eventually be deeply affected by the Climate Crisis), but the least powerful, those with nowhere to go as the degradation of our planet touches home. It is for this reason that we must thoroughly defeat climate denialism, and make the alliances and compromises when necessary, never losing the goals of a truly expansive, redistributive, and revolutionary climate policy.
In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination, Biden declared climate change to be one of the four major crises facing our nation, vowing to invest in clean energy and create millions of jobs though taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans. If elected, Biden must be constantly pressured to follow through on this promise, to undo every single rollback of environmental regulation by the Trump Administration, and to treat natural gas not as a transition fuel, but as the serious threat it is to our climate. At the very least, Biden will listen to these demands if they are loud enough, and he will maintain some understanding of the climate realities we face today. For progressives, believers of science, and those that care about impoverished communities and future generations, the differences between Biden and Trump ought to be stark. While Biden will not single-handedly solve this crisis, defeating Trump and the Republican party’s climate-denying death wish in the upcoming election is an essential first step towards environmental justice and the healing of our planet.