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Despite McConnell and a hostile Supreme Court, Joe Biden will be known as the climate president.

5 min read

The crises facing the country are severe — from a pandemic to an economic recession, climate change to racial injustice — and the transition team will continue preparing at full speed so that the Biden-Harris Administration can hit the ground running on Day One. Biden Transition Team

As I write this, outside heavy rainbands from hurricane ETA is dumping torrential rain on my neighborhood, causing heavy flooding and raising my anxiety level for the potential of water damage to my home. I came across an article that raised my spirits and I want to share with you. It’s way past time that Trump is out of the headlines and instead, we have serious policy discussion and action that needs to be implemented on Day 1. 

Eric Holthaus, meteorologist, and climate writer, penned President-Elect Biden's day one climate agenda could be transformative – even without the Senate. It was published in the Phoenix. It’s an excellent read and has much more to offer than just the excerpts below. 

Holthaus talked to climate policy experts. They revealed four action items that Biden could implement to set us on the path for putting a huge dent into racial injustice, economic injustice, and environmental injustice. The items won’t be enough to fix the crisis scale, but It could go a long way to keep the planet habitable, he says.

Tipping points are falling, particularly in the polar regions that will make our lives increasingly miserable. There is no need for McConnell and the GOP’s supreme court antagonism toward the fight against climate change to deter us. We have to be ready to act; there is no other option.

Trump stole critical geological time from us; we can repair some of his damage but not all of it. Now that we have a President-elect who is determined to implement aggressive climate action, we can finally breathe and heal our broken hearts while staying vigilant.

1. Declaring a climate emergency

Let me be as clear as possible: Joe Biden campaigned and won the presidency in large part because of his escalating rhetoric on the importance of bold climate action. Just days before the election, Biden said climate change was “the number one issue facing humanity, and it’s the number one issue for me.” Black, Latinx, and Native organizers in Atlanta, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis know that the intersection of structural racism and inequality are inseparable from environmental justice and Biden’s climate plan to devote 40% of a $2 trillion climate plan to frontline and fenceline communities is a sign he understands the true nature of this problem is systemic.

To enact generational-scale change, we need a fundamental shift in the American culture. We need to view the climate emergency as it really is, a deep crisis of justice – not just a wonky technocratic market failure that solar panels can solve. Young people of color, especially, are the bedrock of this new climate constituency. Broadening that climate constituency should be a top priority of the Biden administration, and will *definitely* be a top priority of the climate movement as long as he’s in power.

2. Lots of executive actions

I’m talking the kind of actions far, far beyond just re-joining the Paris climate accord, and reversing the dozens of Trump’s regulatory rollbacks. Biden’s already got dozens of executive actions lined up that could make a meaningful difference on climate change.

On Day 1, Biden could declare a national climate emergency and deliver an enormous blow to the fossil fuel industry, ordering agencies to deny all oil and gas infrastructure permits, halt oil and gas exports, stop all new fossil fuel mining and drilling leases, and institute stringent new pollution regulations on emissions. He could direct the Federal Reserve to manage climate risk and end fossil fuel subsidies through the Department of Energy. He could direct the EPA to cap greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, under the authority of the Clean Air Act. He could mobilize the military to rapidly construct renewable energy infrastructure nationwide. He could authorize loan guarantees to retrofit every building in America and put solar panels on the roof of every home. He could direct the Attorney General to prosecute fossil fuel executives for misleading the American public for decades about the true nature of the climate crisis and begin the process to provide reparations to marginalized communities bearing the brunt of the climate emergency.

3. Centrist climate legislation

The national context for climate legislation is vastly different than it was 12 years ago, during the start of Obama’s first term. Public opinion, technology, and the severity of the climate crisis have all shifted in favor of bolder action. To underscore this, election day featured a whole host of down-ballot victories on climate in red states. (Leading climate wonk Leah Stokes has two great threads (1, 2) today on this.) The coal industry is dying, and the oil and gas industry isn’t far behind. There is no meaningful popular constituency left for fossil fuels.

4. A core focus on justice

So far, Biden seems to intuitively understand that climate action is about much, much more than carbon emissions.

Organizations like the Climate Justice Alliance have put together a 14-point plan for a regenerative economy that prioritizes a people’s bailout and a just transition, articulated by frontline and marginalized communities across the country. Issues like tribal sovereignty, protecting Black lives, and immigrant justice can cut across all of Biden’s climate actions if he chooses them to. Demos has another list of 13 executive actions in-line with climate justice, on everything from fixing the pipes in places like Flint to directing HUD to establish clear standards for equitable pre-disaster mitigation in housing nationwide.

I am under no illusions of how much trouble we are in. I share disturbing climate science frequently. The prognosis is increasingly bleak as the climate system breaks down. I always wondered what planetary climate hospice care would look like since it is so desperately needed. Holthaus spelled it out for us, a sliver of hope if we fight. 

I dream of a panel of climate scientists and eco, racial and economic justice experts, similar to what he plans for his COVID task force — populating a climate task force. Jason Box is one (among many) climatologists I would love to see on a climate task force panel while explaining the climate emergency to this climate science illiterate country daily. Day One is going to be exhilarating because when was the time we had any morsel of hope?

Whether Biden’s campaign statement on fracking was a true statement of his plan or whether it was done to kill a divisive nuance-free GOP talking point, the fact is that his plan, if implemented, will make things better.

 I’m fired up and ready to go. Let’s make the planet blue again.

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