The time to take real action against the forces of man-made climate change is dwindling. For years, scientists have warned that the planet is accelerating to a critical "point of no return," in which carbon emissions will reach a "tipping point" in just more than a decade, spelling disaster for ecosystems and communities across the globe.
Research shows that the United States leads the pack with the largest cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since the year 1750. The U.S. military, too, has emitted 1,212 million metric tons of greenhouse gases since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan—more than the militaries of any other industrialized nation. Despite steps to curb the amount of carbon dioxide output, scientists again warn that, without a complete and worldwide overhaul, our efforts won't be enough to mitigate against a climate doomsday.
Though politicians and activists offer solutions, one thing is certain: Incrementalism won't save us.
Animation: The countries with the largest cumulative CO2 emissions since 1750
Ranking as of the start of 2019:
1) US – 397GtCO2
2) CN – 214Gt
3) fmr USSR – 180
4) DE – 90
5) UK – 77
6) JP – 58
7) IN – 51
8) FR – 37
9) CA – 32
10) PL – 27 pic.twitter.com/cKRNKO4O0b
— Carbon Brief (@CarbonBrief) April 23, 2019
In 2017, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, an international agreement to keep the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by reducing emissions and adapting climate change-oriented policies. Of the withdrawal, Trump said the accord would "undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risks, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world."
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has released a $2 trillion plan to tackle climate change. While the former vice president has been adamant about cutting fossil fuel emissions and switching to clean energy, he has also made attempts to distance himself from the Green New Deal (GND), a congressional resolution from the party's progressive flank that works toward a 100 percent clean energy transition within the next 10 years.
Read on for a breakdown of Biden's climate proposals.
Biden wants to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Biden has set a goal of achieving a 100 percent clean-energy economy and net-zero emissions by the year 2050. In order to avoid the worst climate-related outcomes, recent research shows that carbon emissions must drop by 50 percent by 2030, and then reach net zero (or the process in which any emissions are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere, through processes like planting new forests or utilizing direct air capture technology) by mid-century.
His plan, which would cost $2 trillion over four years, also calls for making the power sector carbon pollution-free by 2035, revolutionizing the railroad system and municipal transit networks, initiating the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units, creating net-zero emissions standard for all new commercial buildings by 2030, and reforming and extending tax incentives in order to generate energy efficiency and clean energy jobs.
To pay for this, Biden will increase the corporate income tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent and use some still-undetermined amount of stimulus money, according to The New York Times.
The plan does not include banning fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting water and sand at a high pressure in order to create cracks in a rock formation that will release oil and natural gas. The technique, which is largely done within the oil and gas industry, is linked to a host of negative environmental impacts, including water contamination, methane emissions, air pollution, and habitat destruction.
At the vice presidential debate on Wednesday, October 7, Vice President Mike Pence falsely accused Biden of promoting a ban on fracking. Though Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris touted a ban on the harmful extraction technique during her own presidential bid, she has since walked back that commitment and emphasized that Biden's climate plan does not support an outright ban.
"I will repeat, and the American people know, that Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact," she said during the debate.
Rather than instating a ban on fracking, Biden has said that he would eliminate all oil and gas drilling on federal lands (keeping in mind that the federal government has no jurisdiction over state-owned lands).
His campaign has said that a Biden administration would not issue new fracking permits for federal lands, although he would allow existing operations on federal lands to continue as well as new fracking on private territories, as reported by The Washington Post.
"Fracking has to continue because we need a transition," Biden told CNN during a September town hall. "We're gonna get to net-zero emissions by 2050, and we'll get to net-zero power emissions by 2035, but there's no rationale to eliminate, right now, fracking."
.@andersoncooper challenges Joe Biden on fracking, saying "it sounds like, to some, you are trying to have it both ways."
"Fracking has to continue because we need a transition," Biden responded to Cooper. "...There's no rationale to eliminate [it] right now." #BidenTownHall pic.twitter.com/mGejEumHo6
— CNN (@CNN) September 18, 2020
Environmental activists and politicians in the Democratic Party's progressive flank have criticized the seemingly tepid steps to move away from fracking.
"Fracking is bad, actually," tweeted Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during the vice presidential debate.
Ashley McCray of the Indigenous Environmental Network also tweeted during the debate, "Fracking has destroyed my home state of #Oklahoma. Entire communities of all kinds torn apart at the seams bc of frackquakes, eminent domain, new cancers + respiratory diseases, & environmental destruction. #BanFracking NOW & keep fossil fuels in the ground!"
The plan is also linked to the U.S. economy and creating jobs.
Much of Biden's climate plan zeroes in on the creation of jobs and giving all workers the option to join a union and collectively bargain. Companies benefiting from the clean energy and infrastructure investments must also meet the labor protections laid out in the Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act. Those companies benefiting from clean transportation investments must also apply transit labor protections at their workplaces.
Biden says he will additionally require that companies receiving procurement contracts are using taxpayer dollars to support domestic 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.
Of the created jobs, he also wants to expand employment opportunities to women and people of color by requiring federally funded projects to prioritize Project Labor and Community Workforce Agreements. And for coal miners and their families, Biden says he will establish a Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities in order to secure their benefits.
"These are the most critical investments we can make for the long-term health and vitality of both the American economy and the physical health and safety of the American people," Biden said this summer. "When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is 'hoax.' When I think about climate change, the word I think of is 'jobs.'"
How does it differ from the Green New Deal?
Though Biden's new climate scheme (which evolved with much more ambitious goals and price tags from his original plan) has since received praise from some of the party's more progressive members, it still differs in critical ways from the GND.
There is some overlap between the two, but the GND extends far more social welfare policies than the Biden plan, such as guaranteeing a job with family and medical leave and paid vacations for every single American. And, where Biden sets a blueprint for a 100 percent clean energy power sector by 2035, the GND aims for 2030.
After Biden said at the first presidential debate that he doesn't support the GND, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced the resolution, tweeted, "Our differences are exactly why I joined Biden's Climate Unity Task Force - so we could set aside our differences & figure out an aggressive climate plan to address the planetary crisis at our feet. Trump doesn't even believe climate change is real."
Some climate scientists and activists are cautiously optimistic of Biden's plan.
At the end of 2019, the Sunrise Movement, a coalition of young activists sounding the bell on climate change action, gave Biden's original climate plan a solid F, reigning in 75 points out of 200. Since then, the former vice president has taken more ambitious steps to outline a more radical timeline on curbing carbon emissions and transitioning to clean energy.
"The pressure worked," said Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash to Inside Climate News. "We forced [Biden's advisers] to backtrack, and ... he put out a comprehensive climate plan that cites the Green New Deal and names climate change as the greatest challenge facing America and the world."
Still, others warn that there's yet more work to be done, even if a Biden administration is able to adopt the entire plan.
Indigenous Environmental Network, a grassroots organization formed by Indigenous peoples, has continuously warned that net-zero emissions aren't necessarily synonymous with zero pollution.
"Carbon mechanisms that support 'carbon neutral' projections are false solutions to climate change and don't stop co2 emissions," the organization tweeted. "Carbon credits are loopholes that allow big polluters to keep polluting & do not provide the relief we need."
Tom Goldtooth, the group's executive director, said in a statement about a climate report by Democratic senators, "Native nations continue to live on the frontlines of fossil fuel destruction and climate chaos. Targeting Native communities with carbon pricing is a false solution to climate change and does not mitigate the problems our communities face. It will disproportionately increase the wealth of polluters at the expense of Native lives. This is unforgivable and horrifying. … It is an easily manipulated term that allows the usage of 'net zero emissions' that will allow carbon pricing, carbon offsets, nuclear power, biofuels and geoengineering to be used as false mechanisms to look good on paper that a 100% clean energy future has been achieved—when it hasn't."
Carbon neutral doesn't mean zero pollution. Carbon mechanisms that support "carbon neutral" projections are false solutions to climate change and don't stop co2 emissions.
Carbon credits are loopholes that allow big polluters to keep polluting & do not provide the relief we need. https://t.co/eqYxt3xEBx
— Indigenous Environmental Network (@IENearth) September 22, 2020
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