Biden’s Big Tent on Climate Change

July 6, 2020

Above, Varshini Prakash, the executive director of the Sunrise Movement, recaps her participation in the Joe Biden Climate Coalition over recent months. She is “cautiously optimistic”.

New York Times:

In recent weeks, supporters of Mr. Biden and of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, his chief rival in the Democratic presidential primary race, have met privately over Zoom, part of several joint task forces that the two contenders established to generate policy recommendations on core domestic priorities, and to facilitate party unity. After two months of those conversations, task force members representing both camps say they have finalized a set of ambitious, near-term climate targets that they hope Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, will incorporate in his platform.

“I do believe we were able to make meaningful progress,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, who headed the climate panel with former Secretary of State John Kerry, said in an interview last week. Representative Donald McEachin of Virginia, a Biden ally who was also on the task force, called it a “collaborative process” that developed wide-ranging policies.

Still, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who has previously clashed with Mr. Bidenover his approach to combating climate change, struck a note of caution.

“Now, what he does with those recommendations, ultimately, is up to him,” she said. “And we will see what that commitment looks like.”

Mr. Biden, the former vice president, last year proposed a $1.7 trillion plan aimed at achieving 100 percent clean energy and eliminating the country’s net carbon emissions by 2050.

But how he responds to the task force’s recommendations — and whether progressives in the group walk away feeling heard — will test his campaign’s ability to navigate an issue of great importance to ascendant forces in the Democratic Party.

“The work of the task forces has been collaborative and productive, and Vice President Biden looks forward to reviewing their full recommendations,” a campaign spokesman, Jamal Brown, said in a statement. As for Mr. Biden’s approach to the issue, Mr. Brown said, “As president, Biden will take immediate action to address the urgency of the climate emergency and create good-paying jobs that provide a chance to join a union, which is especially important now as tens of millions of Americans are out of work.”

In recent weeks Mr. Biden has made a number of overtures to climate activists. He has increasingly linked environmental issues to racial justice, and he said at a recent climate-focused fund-raiser that, if elected, in his first 100 days as president, he would send Congress “a transformational plan for a clean energy revolution.” Last week he announced the formation of an advisory council focused on mobilizing climate-focused voters.

At the first meeting of the task force in May, Mr. Kerry made a notable gesture to young progressives. After opening the discussion, he turned the forum over to Varshini Prakash, the executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group of climate activists who support the Green New Deal, to discuss how Mr. Biden could win over the climate movement’s most passionate wing, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

In a video Ms. Prakash posted on Twitter after the second meeting, she declared herself “cautiously optimistic” that Mr. Biden’s allies had taken tougher climate policies seriously.

“I don’t believe that Joe Biden has internalized how to communicate and mirror the real, existential fear and anxiety and anger that many millions of people in this country feel about the crisis,” Ms. Prakash, 26, said in an interview shortly after the task force was created. But, she added, “I believe that he really does care about the issue.”

Many advocates remain skeptical. When Ms. Prakash posted her video, she was inundated with replies calling her “naïve” and declaring that Mr. Biden was not serious about ending the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

But some public opinion polling seems to indicate that building a big tent on climate change may be easier than previously thought.

Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center have found that, despite a lingering partisan divide over the scientific fact that human activity is the main driver behind global warming, 60 percent of Americans view climate change as a “major threat.”More than half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents also favor stricter measures like restrictions on power plant emissions and tougher automobile emissions standards.

The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which is affiliated with a liberal think tank, recently tested messaging that might persuade voters to support Mr. Biden. They found that the voters who were still “up for grabs” leaned center-right but were also in favor of prioritizing action to tackle climate change.

Yet Mr. Biden was still facing challenges with young people, according to a report issued by the groups, which was based on internet surveys in May of voters in 11 potentially competitive states.

“It is not enough to just have a bunch of good policy and the strong and right goal,” said John Podesta, the founder of the Center for American Progress and an adviser to former President Barack Obama on climate change. “You have to show that this is going to be a priority, and that you really, passionately understand the risk associated with it.”

He said Mr. Biden needed to dovetail his “Middle-Class Joe” brand with tackling climate issues. “He’s never going to imitate Al Gore at the PowerPoint on science,” Mr. Podesta said, “but what he can do is express passion at creating an economy that’s going to work for everyone.”

The future of natural gas, and its implications for jobs, is a major fault line that separates the Obama-era climate policy leaders from the new generation of activists.

Natural gas produces about half the emissions of coal. Much of the Obama administration’s energy strategy centered on promoting it as a “bridge fuel” to wean the country off dirtier fossil fuels until the price of renewables dropped.

These days, the average cost of new wind or solar power is cheaper than the costs to keep running most coal-fired plants, according to an analysis last year by two energy research groups. And renewable energy generation in the United States has now surpassed coal, according to the federal Energy Information Agency.

Yet in places like Pennsylvania, a state Mr. Trump won by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, the natural gas industry is responsible for thousands of high-paying union jobs. So when Mr. Biden, during a pointed exchange with Mr. Sanders on the debate stage in March, declared “no new fracking,” some allies were alarmed, including former Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who said he called the campaign to voice concern.

Mr. Biden has proposed ending new fracking leases on federal lands, but not a national ban, something his campaign quickly clarified.

Andrew Baumann, a Democratic strategist and pollster, said that there were limits to how far Mr. Biden could push on climate matters without encountering political risk — but that he was “pretty far away from that.”


27 Responses to “Biden’s Big Tent on Climate Change”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    Substituting gas for coal gets us nowhere except closer to collapse and universal suffering. Reducing the cooling effect of coal’s aerosols while keeping GHG emissions as high is as close to being worse than doing nothing as you can get.




    (further disadvantage—low cost gas replaces renewables as well as coal. (Well, it used to, now efficiency always, and solar and wind capital costs generally are cheaper than all fossil fuels and still dropping in price while fossil fuels can only go up long term, with permanent, increasing fuel bills to pay, price volatility and the economic devastation of stranded assets. But entrenched political interests go against rationality and continue to build more, costly, near-future stranded assets.

    NASA Study Nails Fracking as Source of Massive Methane ‘Hot Spot’

    ”…regulations are only effective if they’re followed, and too often they aren’t. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, for example, was caused by BP and Halliburton violating existing federal safety rules. Whether allowing fracking to proceed could be helpful to reducing emissions in a laboratory is a different question than whether it would work in the real world.”
    And they clearly don’t work, in dozens of ways.

  2. tildeb Says:

    Attaching the ideology of social justice and equity to climate change polices is a HUGE mistake and will add fuel to not only Trump’s divisive re-election campaign but trim away necessary support from those centrist voters as well as those on the Right who see this ideology threatening Constitutional values. HUGE mistake. HUGE.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      No one’s attaching anything. Climate catastrophe comes with equity issues. The rich cause it. The poor suffer from it. The rich refuse to act on it or even to allow others to, while the poor clamor for action and are ignored, ridiculed, manipulated, and abused for it.

      Only making substantial progress on the inequality crisis will allow us to even begin to address climate cataclysm, let alone solve it.

      Damn the Democrats to an eternity in hell for lying and cheating to steal the nomination from Sanders to give it to the second worst major party candidate in US history–and in the most important election in history. Sanders could not only bring millions of progressive non-voters to the polls but could sell the increasingly independent Independents on the social programs they need, appealing to both their self-interest and compassion for others instead of the Republicans’ racism.

      Both parties are doing everything they can to maintain the power structures that have prevented climate action for half a century. Only breaking the corporate duopoly and reducing the income-motivation gap will let us move on the multiple crises we face. Those power structures and the increasing inequality that come with them are leading inexorably to fascism, the most anti-ecological form of government. If inequality, revealed by the lack of health care, unemployment, fair pay, worker-owned non-profit businesses, affordable education, universal basic and emergency services, and a bunch of other stuff, isn’t fixed, it’s game over.

      • tildeb Says:

        Do you see how you’re falling into the whole partisan political framing of what in reality is an energy byproduct problem? The issue all of us face globally with human caused climate change isn’t an equity problem; it’s a greenhouse gas emission problem. We have to reduce that to zero, and importing this social justice and equity portion will make that less likely and not more likely to successfully address and implement lasting solutions globally. Get your politics out of our scientific problem.

        • jimbills Says:

          It’s really unavoidable, though.

          Biden will run on a platform of many different issues. Social justice will come up in the debates, and he’ll have to answer them. If he just sounds like Trump in his answers, I don’t see how that would help him.

          Plus, he’s not going to come up with some sort of full legislative package by November that specifically ties climate change to social justice, or to guns, or to abortion, or to so on and so forth.

          On just climate, it won’t matter what he says to many voters. Anything coming out of his mouth will be seen as ‘radical’ and ‘far left’ to them. The conservative media and the Republicans will do everything they can to make anything he says seem crazy.

          (Technically, climate change has A LOT to do with equity – but I see how Biden over-emphasizing that point in the next few months might be problematic politically to certain voting blocs in the country.)

        • J4Zonian Says:

          The rich cause climate catastrophe. How are you going to change that?

          • tildeb Says:

            If you want to be a part of the solution, drop the ideology because it’s going to take ‘the rich’ (whatever that means) to do it. Remember, it’s a systemic change that is necessary and not an individual action thing (individual actions are what is called ‘statistically insignificant’).

          • J4Zonian Says:

            Again, the rich cause climate catastrophe and all our other problems, and for 50 years (or is it 5000?) have utterly refused to do anything to solve them. Instead, they double down on what’s causing the problems. Again, what are you going to do about that?

            Again, the only ideology here is your conservatism. The solutions Bernie Sanders, AOC, The Climate Mobilization… and I are advocating are grounded in reality and thus are the only way through. All the other “solutions” offered—denial, economic incrementalism, (aka denial), projection and blame…are based on fantasy.

            Of course systemic change is what’s necessary; I’ve said that a thousand times arguing with people taking the conservative/individualist position. Again, you refuse to get curious about what I’m saying and instead get haughty and defensive and add more straw people.

            It’s not going to take the rich to solve this; it’s going to take the wealth they hoard and the resources they refuse to commit to anything but their own aggrandizement. The question is not how to get them each to change; they can’t. They’re addicted and even with enough people of wisdom recognizing that, it will take a long time to heal them completely. The question is how to get and use the wealth they refuse to allow to be used—IOW, again, how to implement equitable solutions that will free up the world’s resources for what the world needs.

            The world can no longer afford the rich.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          Inequality is the cause of pretty much all our problems–war, crime, oppression, ecological destruction, physical ill health, Wetiko disease, (aka psychopathy, aka conservatism) what little is left of population growth, AND climate catastrophe.

          The ones who have and are inserting politics into science are the far right–corporations and ever more conservative political parties. They’re doing that because they are, and serve, the oligarchy. Science denial is a function of their refusal to give up their interlinked attachment problems, malignant narcissism, or their privilege and wealth, which exist because of and to further narcissistic, psychopathic domination.

          The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination
          by Jessica Benjamin

          Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection
          by Deborah Blum

          The richest 10% of people on Earth emit half of human GHGs–and control most of the rest. The poorest half of people emit only 10%. If the poorest 6 billion magically disappeared, we’d still have exactly the same problem; the collapse of civilization would be delayed by maybe 6 months. But the rich refuse to admit responsibility or to change, (even refuse to allow harm reduction through clean safe renewable energy). So they delay by denying, blaming our problems on population (aka projecting onto poor people of color), gerrymandering, suppressing voters, buying governments, and doing all the other things they do to maintain dominance. Ultimately, they’ll destroy civilization and most or all of the biosphere in order to put an end to all their doubt about who rules. Or we can stop them.

          • tildeb Says:

            There is a world of difference between EQUITY and EQUALITY. None of that matters when we’re talking about a public policy to effectively address climate change. It’s related, sure, because of unequal effects, but the problem and solution are independent to it. For an effective climate change policy we need two things: understanding the actual problem (greenhouse gas emissions as a byproduct of the energy we use used to provide humans with energy as a SYSTEM) and a solution (changing our energy technology to replace one system with another in order to reduce as much as possible emitting greenhouse gas emissions). There’s simply no other solution… no matter how much you may wish to alter the graphs about income inequity and blame those who currently use fossil fuels and so on and so forth. That’s just virtue posturing in this particular case. Okay, you’re virtuous. There. In the meantime, the solution to the climate change problem remains identical because the causal problem is known. Importing equity and social justice as an integral part of any policy to this necessary SYSTEMIC change is worse than a distraction; it is guaranteed to delay the implementation of a solution. I suspect oil companies execs will line up to sit down and spend years – decades – to talk about all this social justice and equity measures with policy makers.

          • jimbills Says:

            J4 has his own thing going – hard core idealogue – but I’ll list just two examples of equity in regards to climate change and replacements to fossil fuels.

            One, if we deprive regions like West Virginia a major industry, like coal, we need to replace that with something – training for new industries, social support, etc. It’s not just fair and moral to do that – it’s also politically necessary.

            Two, if we want developing countries to bypass fossil fuels, we need to provide them with the resources to do so – funding, technical support, etc. That’s less attractive politically, especially in an increasingly nationalistic country, but it’s likely necessary for the transition away from fossil fuels on a global basis.

          • J4Zonian Says:


            I’m not any kind of ideologue; everything I say is grounded in the 2 systems of reality that motivate everything humans do; without ecological and psychological understanding there’s no such thing as practicality. It’s frustrating to deal with people who not only don’t understand what’s going on in the world but let fear of their own shadows make them unwilling to find out. Look at the success people have had over the past 50 years in moving us to a free and sustainable civilization without paying attention to those. Every attempt that’s ignored them has not only failed but most have moved us in the wrong direction. I agree completely with both of your examples of equity; how can you not know they’re true because of psychology?

          • J4Zonian Says:


            Good. So we’re in agreement that since the situation is dire the only practical solutions—that is, the only ones that will actually solve anything except the PR problems of the oligarchy—tend to be categorized as “radical” by those who want to stop the solutions because they want everything to keep going the way it is.

            And we’re agreed that the only way forward is through a massive emergency Green New Deal that will create a network of agencies, businesses, people, and funding sources to sweep us out of World Depression II before it becomes that. In stopping it, it has to shut down the fossil fuel industry in an orderly way while it builds the efficient clean safe renewable energy system we need to replace it for civilization and most life to survive. Of course particular attention must be paid to those scapegoated—nature, people of color, indigenous people, women, children, future generations, and other ignored, projected upon, and externalized onto people like Appalachian miners’ families and impoverished Cancer Alley victims.

            And of course we have to follow the Willie Sutton rule and get the money from where it is. And we’re agreed that that’s all necessary and thus practical according to the only criteria that matter, so the only ideological, impractical things to do are to ignore all that and do something else. Anything else.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          I suspect your “energy byproduct” thing is either a byproduct of an engineering mindset (concrete, linear, dominance-obsessed) or an economic viewpoint (objectifying and thus commodifying every being, and aspect of life (and now space)). Probably both. They’re essentially attempts to conservatize the problem the same way the rest of the lunatic right wing does by first denying it entirely and then denying various aspects of it, thus claiming “growth” or a carbon price or “innovation” will fix it. All just more delaying tactics.

          In the end it’s only proximally an equity problem; ultimately, it’s an individual and collective psychological problem, which the right fanatically denies as well, since they’re no more able to face the reality of psychological connection than they are to face ecological connection.

          • tildeb Says:

            Left, Right, Conservative, far-Right, blah, blah blah. We have a global chemical atmospheric problem we’re trying to address with regional solutions… some of which are chemical. How equity plays out in the chemistry of the atmosphere depending on one’s position of the political spectrum is truly a mystery to me but obviously not to you. Kudos.

          • J4Zonian Says:


            “the problem and solution are independent to it.”

            No, they’re not. The problem isn’t just that burning fossil fuels increases the temperature. If that were the entire problem we would have solved it decades ago by not doing that any more. The problem is that FFs are a uniquely ubiquitous and also monopolizable product, so a few particularly ruthless people can and eventually always do use manipulation, externalities, etc. to profit and dominate because they’re compelled to. The problem that causes that problem is that those people are mentally ill, so the simple physical-world solution doesn’t work, as anyone who’s halfway aware can tell. And what keeps us from solving the mental illness problem is that too many people are stuck not recognizing that mental illness is the problem. They’re playing tiddlywinks in a world of 3 dimensional Go.

            For example: We have a civilizational psychological problem that manifests in all sorts of ways, including psychoid, the meeting place of physical and psychological (Jung). It’s not coincidence that heat, CO2, mercury, lead, and other results of burning fossil fuels result in lower IQ, aggression, and various other cognitive and emotional disorders. With fossil fuels the oligarchy has found the perfect weapon to create the world they thought existed already and that also suits their need to dominate, and they don’t want to give it up.

            When someone refuses to accept the fact that they have a particular quality that they actually have, they project it onto other people, nature, objects or concepts and believe the quality actually exists “out there”. Sometimes they go further and take actions that get people to act the way the someone already believes the other person acts. That’s projective identification. Burning fossil fuels is a psychoid form of projective identification. And there are lots of things like that going on all the time. Those who don’t recognize that reality are keeping us from stopping the burning of fossil fuels.

          • tildeb Says:

            “Burning fossil fuels is a psychoid form of projective identification.”

            Do you even read what you write?

          • J4Zonian Says:

            I’ve patiently—and then less patiently—tried to catch you up on some crucial parts you weren’t getting and your main response has been to get pissy and oddly, condescending.
            Ridiculing things you don’t understand is a sad but common response; ridiculing things you refuse to understand because you’re afraid is pitiful, and unfortunately, threatens humanity.

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    “Many advocates remain skeptical.”

    Skeptical that someone who for his whole life has said one thing, and recently assured the oligarchy that nothing will change, is changing his mind during a campaign?

    Noooooooo! Why would they be skeptical about that?

  4. jimbills Says:

    I don’t have any illusions that Biden will be some sort of environmental savior. But, it’s at least a positive sign that he’s talking with Sunrise instead of just dismissing them.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      No. it’s not.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          I would think that would be obvious. Politicians often lie. Biden is obviously lying. I mean really, who honestly believes that after 40 years of consistent right wing action and recent reassertions that he won’t change anything about him or the rule of the oligarchy, he’ll suddenly chuck it all and become a progressive? Is that what you’re claiming will happen?

          • jimbills Says:

            I’m not claimin’ nuthin’ nohow. I’d just rather have a President that at least meets with a group like Sunrise than a President that labels anyone on the left ‘radicals’ and equates fighting them with defeating the Nazis in WWII – or one who overturns every bit of environmental regulation he can get his grubby little hands on.

            You seem to think we have another option.

            I voted for Dr. Jill Stein, twice, but those were pretty much protest votes because I live in Texas and there was no way Obama or Clinton were going to carry the state, because I knew they wouldn’t do what was needed on climate change and other environmental issues, and because I think a strict two-party system is doing massive damage to our country in this era – so I got to vote for the candidate closest to my own beliefs in those elections.

            I’ll be voting for Biden this time, even though I know he won’t do anywhere near what’s needed environmentally, as he might actually win Texas (slim chance, but it’s there), and I’d pick pretty much anyone over the guy currently there.

            Again, our own beliefs are in the tiniest of minorities. I actually think many of the things you write as far as what we need to do as a society environmentally are pretty close to accurate – but virtually no one else in this country does. You really think that’s going to change? Or change in the next four months?

          • J4Zonian Says:

            Over and over and over politically and climatologically aware people recommended NOT falling for the Lesser Evil Gambit the corporate duopoly was using to move the country more to the right every 4 years. Over and over and over people ignored the advice. They didn’t abandon the Democrats en masse; they didn’t threaten to; they didn’t stop voting or vote in someone else or blockade the Democrats or in any way signal that they wouldn’t just surrender to it again, and again, and again.

            So here we are. Our choices are the cheating right wing rapist with malignant narcissism or the cheating right wing rapist with dementia. Fascism followed by ecological destruction and the end of civilization and millions of species, or just the end of civilization and millions of species. So sure, go ahead and once more accede to the degradation of the world.

            Or get out in the streets in numbers bigger than you see now, and say to the Democratic rulers NO MORE! Enough With The Superficial Changes and Empty Promises. You Stop Cheating And Bernie Wins This Nomination And We Do What We Need For Civilization To Survive, Or No Democrat Will Ever Win Another Election.

            End The Lying,Cheating, And Manipulation Or We’ll End The Party.

          • jimbills Says:

            Okay, then.

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