What Biden Needs to Say Tonight

March 1, 2022

David A. Super is a professor of law at Georgetown Law. He also served for several years as the general counsel for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Follow him on Twitter @DavidASuper1 

David Super in The Hill:

President Biden’s State of the Union address next week will surely focus heavily on Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. Much of this likely will involve immediate responses to the current crisis. The president also, however, has the opportunity to address the long-term problem of aggressivedictatorships propped up by oil revenues despite otherwise moribund economies. As long as they remain heavily dependent on fossil fuels, western democracies will keep dutifully funding the war machines of Russia and its ilk.

Biden has the opportunity to chart a bold future for the country, simultaneously unleashing the innovation to revitalize our economy, seizing the world lead in a crucial area of technology, defunding petroleum-fueled despots, and demonstrating an idealism that can win admiration around the globe.

He can achieve all of this by declaring that this country will be the world’s leader in combatting climate change. 

A determined focus on combatting climate change can transform and re-energize our economy. On the one hand, slowing climate change could head off some of the worst damage that would otherwise impoverish us. The projected one-foot rise in sea level by mid-century would destroy property of enormous value and require expensivereclamation projects to prevent even more losses. The drought in the western U.S. is the worst in over a millennium and only getting worse. It and resulting wildfires, too, are destroying more valuable infrastructure and reducing crop yields. Averting these losses would make us a much richer country.

And on the other hand, developing and implementing the technologies required to slow climate change would produce millions of jobs. Policymakers can cut interest rates and taxes to their hearts’ content, but if business cannot identify productive investments, little will happen. The boom of the 1990s occurred because business had a clear purpose: realizing the new potential of the internet. Although innovation continues in the information economy, the most obvious opportunities have already been exploited. This is why persistently low interest rates and even the massive business tax cuts enacted in 2017 failed to spur significant new investment.

Transforming the ways in which we obtain and use energy will open far greater business opportunities even than the dawning of the Information Age. Installing and maintaining solar panels, windfarms, and the like necessarily must be done in individual communities, ensuring that the jobs created will be broadly shared and cannot be sent overseas. Overall, if we start now we can add an estimated $855 billion per year to the economy by 2070 — more than the combined revenues of Alphabet, Amazon, and Microsoft. Even in the first five years, the investments pending in the Senate would create an estimated 2.3 million jobs.

President Kennedy committed us to the Moon landing because the Soviets had seized a strong early lead in the space race. In much the same way, we have allowed China to take a dominant initial position on responding to climate change. As with the space race, if we bring our ingenuity fully to bear, we can certainly catch up and then exceed the technological achievements of our competitors. That can only happen, however, if we make this a national priority. Business will naturally increase investments in climate-related fields, but that alone will not allow us to ramp up fast enough to retake the global lead. Well-designed government interventions, such as the proposed Build Back Better legislation, would dramatically accelerate our progress in these areas. If we fail to seize the lead, China, India, and Europe will fill the void. This will allow them to claim many of the best jobs in designing and building innovative solutions for themselves to dominate the global market.

Our failure to diversify our energy sources is a national security threat. As long as we and our allies are hooked on oil, we will have difficulty organizing lasting opposition to the naked aggression of Putin, the cold-blooded murder of journalists and political opponents, and the arrests and torture of human rights advocates.

Finally, dedicating our country — now — to becoming world leader in combatting climate change could reawaken idealism and national pride at a time when both are sorely needed. With polls indicating growingpessimism about whether future generations will enjoy the same opportunities that we did, an earnest, focused effort to slow climate change is something concrete we can do for our children and grandchildren. By moving aggressively now, we can avert some of the worst harms that otherwise would occur. 

Starting now also will allow our children and grandchildren to avoid some of the most painful trade-offs between mitigating harm and preserving their standard of living. We still have time to head off the worst effects while moving at a pace that stimulates economic growth rather than stifling it. This is truly the kind of decision — very much like banishing the Nazis in World War II — that will inspire praise and admiration for generations to come.

5 Responses to “What Biden Needs to Say Tonight”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    Biden “can achieve all of this by declaring that this country will be the world’s leader in combatting climate change.”

    Yeah, good one. I had to make sure you weren’t quoting the Onion. I can see him saying it—they’re all always happy to spin bullshit into straw like that—but either of the 2 big parties actually doing it? When will people adjust to the reality that that will never happen without a revolution?

    “The boom of the 1990s occurred because business had a clear purpose: realizing the new potential of the internet.”

    The boom of the 90s happened—for a few people—because the right wing had taken over, begun to remove constraints on business practices, bank profits, polluting, anti-union actions and lots more. Corporations were buying up other corporations, offshoring jobs, and doing everything they could to increase profits and concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Above all, they used the profits to buy media and government, then used that ownership of government to allow them to buy more media so they could convince people to let them buy more government… Thirty years of them doing all that has led us to the catastrophic state we’re in now, ecologically, socially, politically, economically, psychologically. It sure has been a clear purpose.

    • jimbills Says:

      If you meant it started in the 1890s, I’d agree. It’s endemic to capitalism and the sudden growth of populations and economies due to the industrial revolution (which is inextricably linked to fossil fuel use). What we see now was just as strong in the early 20th century. The Great Depression and WWII led to a brief period in the West of mass concern for the public good over private profits, but the Lewis Powell Memo in 1971 marked the beginning of the shift to reverse that concern in more recent years.

      Biden is a man of his time and has to act within the constraints of his time. If he starts preaching ‘revolution’, he’ll be considered a nut and treated as such.

      There is a rapidly closing window for Congress to pass some sort of however weak climate legislation before the mid-terms, though, and that is what he CAN accomplish if he intends to do so.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        Actually capitalism is just a symptom of Wetiko disease, which has existed at least as long as Homo sapiens has.

        But the article was talking about the economic boom of the 1990s, which yes, started when Republicans took power in 1980. What it really did was begin to end the egalitarian boom caused by the New Deal, WWII and post-war veterans’ programs, War on Poverty, and safety net, to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those least sane and qualified to use them. If we had continued with that, we’d have a much more democratic government, no threat of fascism, no climate-and-larger ecological catastrophe.

        You called me an ideologue once, which I’m absolutely not. I’m interested only in practical solutions, determined by ecological, psychological, and other science, and historical and current reality. Ecological reality is the overriding reality to be reckoned with in the world today. It can’t be bargained with. The political reality most people see is temporary, barely real, and changes constantly. Real reality is that there is essentially zero chance that either major party in the US will ever take steps that will even begin to solve the climate-plus crisis. Thousands of years of experience and accumulated knowledge confirm it. The officials in both parties happily lie, manipulate, deceive, distract, obscure, and in every other way they can, keep power while not solving any problem…

        …except the only problem that exists for them—to keep power for the oligarchy (aka them). It’s being solved by their continuing action to delay solutions. They’ve effectively closed off every path to change—electoral, legal, medial, Constitutional, activismal, and every otheral. The only conceivable path left to action that will avoid genocide and the collapse of civilization and nature is to remove the current Congress, POTUS, SCOTUS, and any other federal, state, and local officials blocking what to many is seen as radical action, but is no more than what’s absolutely necessary at this point.

  2. Ian Graham Says:

    ‘unprovoked’? You haven’t read your history. Totally jingoistic american exceptionalism. For starters try Chris Hedges take on the history posted at Scheerpost.com. and https://scheerpost.com/2022/02/24/not-one-inch-eastward-how-the-war-in-ukraine-could-have-been-prevented-decades-ago/
    And ModernDiplomacy, published in Indonesia, https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2022/02/25/the-real-history-behind-ukraine-putin-the-eu-gas-donbass/
    “…keeps Europe in its place as a U.S. vassal-region, which has consistently been ever since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. U.S. gas producers are laughing all the way to the bank, while blaming ‘the aggressive dictator” or “tyrant’, Putin, who is condemned by both America’s Republicans and Democrats. (Both of America’s Parties are nearly 100% neoconservative.)”
    “The Nord Stream project was, to a large extent, a European bid to work cooperatively with Russia and finally free itself of U.S. domination over European countries. “

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      The Ukraine’s choice to align with Western Europe provoked the Russian invasion like the ex-girlfriend’s choice to start dating other people provoked the guy to beat the shit out of her. Russia owns Ukraine, donchaknow.

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