A President for the Environment?

As I type this, Joe Biden is two hours away from being sworn in as President of the United States.  Biden has promised ‘a presidency for all Americans’.  He will be a president for the environment too.

Biden becomes President today, but he might not have.  A moment in the final presidential debate caused a scramble in the Biden campaign.   The former Vice President said something controversial. Something that was a gift to his opponent, President Trump.  Biden’s outrageous statement?  The United States should transition out of oil, into clean energy.

Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies have been backward-looking.  His very slogan ‘make America great again’ says it all.  Wanting to go back to a better time, a time when jobs felt more secure, when the future seemed bright, when people were more community-minded (1) is completely understandable. It’s normal, even, to long for that when the future feels so uncertain.  One thing Trump wanted to go back to was a time of industrial might: a time when Ford and Chrysler were powerhouses, when Texan oil helped make America rich.  And that notion has appealed to many voters.  Why wouldn’t it, when jobs are at stake? 

But we can’t go back.  Plenty of past politicians have promised to restore the glories of the old days, but never has this been a successful strategy.  (Comment below if you can think of an exception!)

What Biden is offering instead is a forward-looking vision.  He has committed to a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.  (2) Yes please to all that. 

Last autumn was my first term studying for an advanced degree in Environment and Sustainability.  During that term, my fears about what could happen if Trump were re-elected went from the occasional thought of, ‘I sure hope Trump doesn’t get re-elected’ to a preoccupation (obsession?) that it could happen.  During the first week in November, I refreshed the homepage of the New York Times unreasonably often, anxious to see whether Georgia or Pennsylvania had gone blue.   

Is it a little dramatic to say that a Trump re-election would have ended hopes of stopping global warming?  I don’t think so.  I’ve been learning that we are perilously close to environmental disaster, as this report describes in detail.  Global warming could reach 1.5°C as soon as 2030 if it continues to increase at the current rate.  1.5°C might not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to cause significant sea level rises, disruption to food production, more extreme weather events and even more catastrophic forest fires.  Biden’s commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is coming not a second too soon.

Wildfires in California

Time to hit the sofa and watch the inauguration …

(1) Going back would of course also mean going back to more racism, sexism, and many other things I would not want to go back to.  Rose-tinted glasses can be very misleading.   But it’s not all nonsense.  Check out this book to learn about the decline of social ties. 

(2) Net zero means not increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, which is how to stop global warming.

#sustainability #climatechange #joebiden #environment

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