Columnist Marty Nathan: Biden’s turnaround on climate change

  • An emergency vehicle drives along Silverado Trail as the Glass Fire burns in St. Helena, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 27. ap

Published: 10/1/2020 9:29:11 AM

Last month I focused on the slow-rolling avalanche that is climate change and why we must vote President Donald Trump out to provide ourselves with the political space to fight for our survival.

Trump and the Republicans are wholly in the pockets of the fossil fuel corporations and their allies. Most of their policies are focused on providing maximum short-term profits from industries that are creating climate catastrophe which threatens all life on earth. We must vote against Trump, or spend the rest of our lives explaining to our children why we allowed fires to destroy the drylands, agriculture to be devastated variously by drought, heat and intermittent flooding, our coastal communities to be swept away by megastorms and rising seas, life-threatening heat waves to dominate our cities and the oceans to die from acid and plastic.

We must remove Trump and the Republicans not only for their environmental crimes, but also for their racism, thievery, lawlessness, misogyny, intentional ignorance and all-round cruelty. That would be reason enough to fight like hell to mail in our ballots or get our masked and distanced selves to the polls.

But our choice is actually better than the lesser of two evils. I want to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris because, in climate terms, they are offering an opportunity that we have never encountered in a major party candidate in a general presidential election. Their proposal is not perfect, but I am not holding my nose. I can fight for this and I am asking you to do the same.

I was a top-flight “Bernie Babe,” seeing his visionary climate justice policy, the best version of a Green New Deal, as necessary for the colliding crises of our lives: Climate emergency, racist violence and expanding poverty and the pandemic. I still do.

However, after Bernie’s withdrawal from the race, there was recognition among mainstream Democrats that there was no chance of winning without the support of progressives. Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s support was based on their policies, not personalities. There had to be serious modification of Biden’s limp and lackluster climate plan at the very least.

Negotiations with youthful progressives led to something that I for one can live with — for now. Former UMass student climate leader, now head of the Sunrise Movement Varshini Prakash, proclaimed, “(Biden has) responded to many of (our) criticisms: dramatically increasing the scale and urgency of investments, filling in details on how he’d achieve environmental justice and create good union jobs, and promising immediate action — on day one, in his first 100 days, in his first term, in the next decade — not just some far off goals.”

The Biden/Harris plan links economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic to addressing climate change, following the thrust of the Green New Deal. The Build Back Better’s major goals are to eradicate carbon pollution from the electric power sector by 2035 and to achieve economywide net-zero emissions by 2050. Here are some details:

■Two trillion would be invested over four years, and five million jobs would be created, some of them part of a Civilian Climate Corps to restore wetlands and protect forests.

■Five hundred million solar panels and 60,000 wind turbines would be installed.

■By 2030, all new buses would be nonpolluting.

■All new commercial buildings would be net-zero emitters and the new administration would build 1.5 million energy-efficient homes and public-housing units.

■Those new green buses would join a system of “quality public transportation” in all cities with populations above 100,000, and connect to new and refurbished intercity rail. All school buses would become nonpolluting, there would be major investment in electric vehicle recharging stations and auto companies would receive incentives to make the cars that need charging. All this as part of a major revamping of the entire transportation system to electric power to be sourced by the clean grid.

■All new fossil fuel drilling on federal lands and waters would be stopped, including drilling in the National Wildlife Refuge.

■ Some 250,000 jobs would be dedicated to reclaiming abandoned mine sites and plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, which are now spewing super-greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere.

■Disadvantaged (poor, people of color) communities would be set to receive 40% of the jobs and investment in the new green infrastructure spending, and the plan will focus on cleaning air and water in those communities, including replacing all lead water pipes. Workers would be enabled to join unions to enhance their pay, benefits and power.

■The country would immediately rejoin and lead the 2015 Paris Agreement, calling together countries of the world to create and fill more ambitious goals.

There is a whole lot to like here.

It is not enough, nor fast enough, and it has some greenwashing mixed among the solid proposals. Nuclear energy is neither carbon-free, nor “clean” and should be eliminated from the energy arsenal. Fracking must be banned. A just (key word) price on carbon should be adopted to financially power the transition and further serve economic equity. Carbon capture and storage cited in the plan is at present a costly pie in the sky with the money best spent elsewhere. The black hole that is the budget for the polluting military must be shrunk drastically.

But I’m ready to vote for Biden and Harris with gusto. And then on Nov. 4, or whenever the votes are finally counted, we’ll dive in to implement what’s best while fighting to make the plan what we need.

Marty Nathan is a retired physician, mother and grandmother who writes a monthly column on climate change.

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