Joe Biden Climate Policy Tailored To Avoid Mean Tweets From Greta Thunberg
Back during the primaries, Joe Biden made a lot of people groan when it appeared, early on, that he intended to pursue a "middle ground" when it came to climate change. But as the debates got rolling, Biden actually put together a pretty decent climate proposal. By the time of the convention and the general election, Biden had developed a heckin' good climate plan, one that clearly borrowed heavily from the highly detailed plan put forward by Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Biden has gotten some religion on climate, including it among the four crises he's devoting his presidency to addressing (we bet you already know the other three, but for the person sitting near you who doesn't, they're the pandemic, the resulting economic recession, and racial justice).
Now that he's in office, Biden is already getting to work on rolling back some of the worst policies of the Trump administration, and preparing to do more. His first-day executive orders hit several vital policies, chief among them rejoining the Paris climate agreement. And there's much more to come. Biden has been devoting each day of his first couple weeks in office to a particular issue (yesterday was the pandemic, today's the economy, and so on), and he'll be devoting next Wednesday, January 27, to fleshing out his climate proposals, announcing a climate summit for world leaders to be hosted in the US on April 22 (we're betting that'll be a virtual meeting; if it is, hooray for saving on jet fuel). In addition, he'll sign an executive order calling on all federal agencies to institute "science and evidence based decision-making." As opposed to doing whatever the president or his Cabinet members see on TV any given morning.
Because he's a smart guy, Biden knows exactly how serious the climate crisis is, and how politically important it is to younger voters who, before the pandemic at least, were mobilizing and marching and getting Greta Thunberg named Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2019, which is odd, since it feels like 2019 was 300 years ago, predating the Industrial Revolution. That honor, as designed, cheesed off Donald Trump so much that he tweeted she should "work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend." Thunberg promptly changed her Twitter profile to "a teenager working on her anger management," etc., and went right on activisting. Trump, piling on to the rightwing attacks on Thunberg, also sarcastically suggested, "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!"
Not surprisingly, Thunberg had something to say about Trump's departure Wednesday with an Instagram post wishing Trump a happy rest of his life:
And in response to an idiotic Ted Cruz tweet that, borrowing from Trump, complained that rejoining the Paris agreement would be more popular with people in Paris than Pittsburgh, Thunberg tweeted yesterday,
So happy that USA has finally rejoined the Pittsburgh Agreement. Welcome back!— Greta Thunberg (@Greta Thunberg) 1611227453.0
So our point here is that Biden is out to court the approval of one of the more influential teenagers on the planet, not to mention preserving the capacity of said planet to sustain human life and civilization. Both are actually pretty challenging goals, because Ms. Thunberg has little patience for happy talk on climate. She wants action.
And that's what the biosphere needs, too. Yelling at coral reefs about coal jobs hasn't kept them from dying as the oceans become more acidic due to warming.
Biden's goals for reducing greenhouse emissions — achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, is certainly ambitious, and in line with other industrial nations' goals. As we've noted, his Cabinet is full of some terrific people who'll be devoted to pushing for emissions reductions, not just in the US but internationally, where we're now working to stop being a pariah. To that end, he's planning to push China, and US allies too, to eliminate coal exports and other polluting technology, possibly by imposing carbon tariffs.
Also, in among the other positive stuff his initial executive orders got rolling, like rejoining Paris and directing the reversal of all sorts of Trumpian nastiness, Biden's first-day orders included what might seem a small matter, but which as TechCrunch explains may be the biggest fuckin' deal of all. Tucked into the fifth section of his mellifluously titled "Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis," there's an absolutely vital order that doesn't mention polar bears, rain forests, or even waste exhaust from Donald Trump. It's actually all about accounting.
Please, try not to hyperventilate from the excitement. But this is big, serious stuff. As Tech Crunch notes, the US, unlike many advanced countries,
hasn't had a framework for accounting for what it calls the "full costs of greenhouse gas emissions" by taking "global damages into account".
And that matters, because greenhouse emissions have a cost, just as reducing them will provide a value to the economy. Again, we'll let TechCrunch handle the lifting, because recycling saves mental energy:
As the executive order notes, "[an] accurate social cost is essential for agencies to accurately determine the social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when conducting cost-benefit analyses of regulatory and other actions." What the administration is doing is attempting to provide a financial figure for the damages wrought by greenhouse gas emissions in terms of rising interest rates, and the destroyed farmland and infrastructure caused by natural disasters linked to global climate change.
These kinds of benchmarks aren't flashy, but they are concrete ways to determine accountability. That accountability will become critical as the country takes steps to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement. It also gives companies looking to address their emissions footprints an economic framework to point to as they talk to their investors and the public.
To that end, Biden's order will put in place a working group to develop metrics to calculate the external costs — in hard dollar terms — of emissions of the three gases that trap the most heat in the atmosphere: carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. That will allow more accurate cost benefit analysis of actions aimed at reducing those emissions, which will not only help measure progress on greenhouse gas reductions but may also make clear that there are real economic costs to not taking action. You want to talk job losses in the oil sector? Look at how badly the economy is hit by lost farmland as the planet warms, and so on.
We can only imagine that's the sort of statistical nerdery that would make Greta Thunberg grin.
There's a lot more that Biden has planned on climate, and we'll get to that too, especially when he rolls out his plans next week. That should give us time to finish photoshooping an electric car into that old Onion story about a shirtless Joe Biden washing his Trans Am in the White House driveway.
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