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September 2020 | Joe Biden's Climate Plan

Highlights, Lowlights, and What We Can Do About the Joe Biden Climate Plan

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

In this post, we read, listen, act, and reflect on September’s topic: the Joe Biden climate plan. This blog has been adapted from our sustainability newsletter, so please sign up for it to stay in the loop.

What’s covered:

  • READ: the good and the bad of Joe Biden’s climate plan
  • LISTEN: the economics of the Green New Deal, which the Biden plan was unofficially modeled off of
  • ACT: 3 ways to hold our politicians accountable
  • REFLECT: An interview with a former climate change denier

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"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

READ: Highs and lows of Joe Biden's Climate Plan

This month's Changeletter is going to be on the Biden campaign's climate plan. I was initially going to include an impartial look at both candidates' takes on the matter, but... only Biden has a take, really. I guess it's technically still impartial.

A quick note about before we start: I don't believe news can truly ever be "neutral". I do, however, curate the content in these newsletters without creating or finding facts of my own, so I hope this will be an informative, ""impartial"" overview of the Biden climate plan: good, bad, and what we can do to continue holding the campaign accountable - especially if Biden is elected and the plan becomes reality.

Here, I'll lay out some positives of the $2 trillion (yes, TRILLION) climate plan, what it's missing, and who's involved. I'll let you decide on your own if it's #MoMoneyMoProblemz or if the plan will get us where we need to be.

First, a random fact: "Climate" is mentioned only 28 times and "jobs" is mentioned 53 times. Joe's trying to position this as more of a jobs bill than a climate bill - he's actually linking economic recovery from COVID times to fighting climate change. Let's hope it works and creates a win-win!

RollingStone gives a pretty good overview of the plan and its drawbacks.

  • Good: all electric - Joe is planning on a carbon-free electric power grid by 2035
  • Good: public transit - the plan provides cities with a population of 100,000 or more with zero-emissions public transportation like light rail, electric buses, and infrastructure for bicyclists
  • Good: jobs for days - creates 1 million new jobs in the U.S. auto industry by incentivizing the switch from internal-combustion engines to electric-powered vehicles
  • Good: energy efficient buildings - upgrades 4 million buildings and weatherizing 2 million homes for energy efficiency
  • Good: focus on communities - pledges that disadvantaged communities would receive 40 percent of the overall benefits of spending on clean-energy and infrastructure upgrades
  • Bad: silent on fracking, presumably because fracking is "beneficial" to economic recovery. But the costs of fracking are often borne by communities of color
  • Bad: focus on technology over political power - it's not clear how power will be redistributed to communities of color, who disproportionately face the impacts of climate change and are disenfranchised from the decision-making process
  • Bad: no mention on carbon pricing - "Most economists agree that dealing with the climate crisis in a serious and transformative way requires legislation that puts a price on carbon... Biden’s plan, for obvious political reasons, is silent on what kind of carbon price he might support, or, more important, how much political muscle he will be willing to exert to get one."

Also bad: Joe's climate advisors love fossil fuels?

I'll let you read this article from The Intercept, but... some of Joe Biden's climate advisors embrace fossil fuels and fracking. The $2T commitment is great, but when it comes down to it, the administration is going to need someone to hold it accountable. Biden's advisors may not be up to the task.

But we (* gestures at readers *) are!

LISTEN: The Joe Biden Green New Deal?

You might recall that I'm not a climate wonk; I'm just a wonky millennial trying to understand how we can do our part to fight climate change. So today, we're doing a little climate #throwback.

We're going to talk about the Green New Deal.

This week, for the second module of September, I'm sharing a 4-minute video that explains the basics of GND economic spending. It's critical that all of us as voters understand what we're getting into - politically, economically, and socially. GND basics are important as a framework, because although he hasn't actually said it, Biden's climate plan has a lot in common with the GND.

Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the policy lead for the Green New Deal, debunks the notion that it will cost taxpayers $93 trillion. I highly recommend you watch the full video here. It's only 4 minutes and it'll give you some ammunition to talk to folks who think climate investment is too expensive.

If you don't have time to watch it right now, here are 3 things I learned from the video:

  • Deep decarbonization is estimated to save $5 trillion in the long run & grow the economy 2.5x
  • In 2018, NASA saw the American economy lost $91 billion just from climate change (I'm unable to find that statistic on NASA's website but here's something from Yale that estimates $224 billion annual losses by 2090)
  • One reason costs compound is because of how much $ it takes to simply patch up disasters. Think of our current approach as really expensive duct tape.



After watching the 4-minute video, you'll be prepared to tell your friendly neighborhood fiscal conservative that spending money on green infrastructure saves money, grows the economy, and will in fact be one of the main drivers of the global economy.



If you're craving more, here's a 3-min video by Grist that goes into some more detail about what the GND contains.



P.S. - I highly recommend refreshing your knowledge on the original New Deal and some of its biggest wins and pitfalls.

ACT: 3 ways to prepare for the election and beyond

The Read + Listen two modules highlight how complex any climate plan is bound to be. Overall, though, this plan is ambitious. The question is: will it actually be implemented if we have a Biden Administration?


Bonus action: we have to have a Biden Admin in the first place for any of this to vote. If you believe that too, you can sign up to text bank. I signed up a few days ago and it's super straightforward.


Anyway, for this to happen, we need to hold politicians accountable on a national and local level.

These actions are simple but they mean a lot. Please do at least one:

  1. Join Sunrise Movement. It's a political action group for young people (sub-35) who care about the environment. You can attend trainings, phone bank, and organize your community. The Sunrise Movement was a key player in pushing for Joe Biden's climate plan - proof that organizing your community works.
  2. Vote... on local legislation. State and local policies are critical to national climate leadership. You can click on the map to learn more about why, but if you're a policy nerd and you want to understand what states are actually doing, read this. If you live in California and want some guidance on how to vote, here's an Environmental Justice Voter Guide for 2020.
100 percent clean energy.PNG

I also recommend you bookmark Govtrack, which keeps track of bills that go through Congress.

3. Be in touch with your politicians. You can find your elected officials in many places; Ballotpedia is likely a good place, though, because then you can find local legislation too. I follow San Francisco supervisors on Twitter and it's fantastic. For the first time in my life, I finally know what's going on on a local level. There's still room for improvement, but it's a great start.


Also, idea for anyone looking for a tech side project: build a politician promise tracker. All over the internet, people are giving advice like "reference your politicians' promises", but I can't find a single tool that looks helpful... other than in Kyrgyzstan.

REFLECT: 3 insights from an ex-climate change denier

Megan Brown is a registered Republican and rancher who lives in Butte County, a conservative area of Northern California that was decimated by the 2018 Camp Fire. I was actually up there in 2018 during the fires - it was... mind-boggling to meet people who had lost everything yet still refused to believe in human-made climate change.

Anyway, here's three highlights from an interview between Megan and Slate. You can find the full interview here.

I hope this helps some of you find a silver lining as we navigate politicization of crises!

On denying climate change: When you were a climate change denier, how did you see what was happening in the world? I’m curious about your path, because I don’t know that I’ve ever talked to anyone who’s changed their mind about climate change.


"I assumed the Earth is probably always changing and heating up and cooling and that’s normal. And then, more science was presented. The fires happened. I had to take a moment, take a deep breath, go to people that were smarter than me and listen to the science and listen to them. I’m a firm believer now."



On being unable to use the right words: So what do you say instead of climate change?


"You just blame it on each thing. It’s like, oh, the fires, oh, the grasshoppers. I’m hoping they’re going to start connecting the dots in their own head and then, in a year or two, I can use the term climate change. But we’ll see."


On success: What would success look like when talking to these politicians, and what are you hoping they’ll propose?

"
I’m not really asking for much right now. I’m just asking them to acknowledge it’s a thing that’s happening. If I could get that, I think that’d be just a great starting point: Man-made climate change exists."

Again, you can read the full article here.  

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Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 4,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Take action
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google