Joe Biden is pushing by far the most aggressive plan to address climate change in U.S. presidential history. His path reflects the convergence of science, energy and activism trends.
Why it matters: The culmination shows the new permanence the problem has gained on the campaign trail despite President Trump’s dismissal of it. Although this election is more about other issues, its outcome will significantly shape future efforts on this front.
How it works: Over the last decade, and especially in just the last few years, the scientific and economic landscapes have changed significantly to push Democratic politicians — and other parts of our society, like investors — to support more aggressive positions on climate change.
The biggest changes:
- The plummeting costs of wind and solar energy.
- Growing concern about the environmental footprint of natural gas.
- Increasing scientific urgency about climate change, especially an October 2018 United Nations report calling on world leaders to limit global warming to 1.5°C relative to preindustrial levels.
Where it stands: The Biden campaign, along with an increasing number of companies, states and countries, is now calling for a net-zero carbon goal by 2050, far more aggressive than the Obama administration’s goal.
What they're saying: “It’s not often that scientific reports have profound effects on people’s thinking,” said John Podesta, a Democratic insider on an advisory board of a climate advocacy group created earlier this year.
- “But I think the 1.5 report of the [United Nations] told policymakers that they had a completely different goal they had to manage toward.”
Between the lines: Biden has embraced aggressive goals pushed by the progressive side of his party, including a $2 trillion spending plan, but when it comes to specific technologies he has actually staked out a more centrist position.
- The campaign is supporting existing nuclear power and carbon capture technologies. The latter could likely prolong society’s use of oil and natural gas.
- This support persisted despite opposition from grassroots activists. Campaign spokesperson Matt Hill said the support for these comes because “the scale of the climate crisis requires us to leave all of the options on the table.”
- Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement co-founder and a member of a task force giving recommendations to the campaign, said in a recent interview: “The Biden team was fairly adamant that nuclear and [carbon capture] should be part of the platform. ... We were clear about where we stood.”
Go deeper: Such aggressive climate plans come with risk though, and click here to read that part in my full column.