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McKibben writes: "One of the first real debates of the Democratic primary broke out on Friday - and in both timing and substance it raised anew the half-suppressed doubts about whether frontrunner Joe Biden is too stuck in the past to be a credible standard-bearer."

Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Wilmington, Delaware. (photo: Jessica Griffin/AP)
Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Wilmington, Delaware. (photo: Jessica Griffin/AP)

Joe Biden Is Stuck in the Past When It Comes to Climate Change

By Bill McKibben, Guardian UK

12 May 19

Biden thinks fracked gas is an acceptable way to reduce emissions. He is too stuck in the past to be a credible standard-bearer for the Democratic party

ne of the first real debates of the Democratic primary broke out on Friday – and in both timing and substance it raised anew the half-suppressed doubts about whether frontrunner Joe Biden is too stuck in the past to be a credible standard-bearer.

A Reuters story Friday morning said that Biden’s energy policy team was looking for what the reporter called a “middle ground” on climate change, and in particular that it planned to rely on expanding the use of fracked natural gas as a way to reduce emissions. This is, to put it plainly, a return to the all-of-the-above energy strategy that marked the Obama years, and a terrible idea.

As is now entirely clear, increasing fracking increases the flow of methane to the atmosphere, and since methane is a potent greenhouse gas it drives up the rate of global warming. In the early days of the Obama years, when we knew far less about the chemistry of methane, it was a perhaps-defensible plan; in 2019 it’s embarrassing, the equivalent of idling your muscle car outside the Earth Day picnic. There is no “middle ground” on climate change—there’s only meeting the demands of physics and chemistry (and justice), or watching the temperature soar.

A few hours after the story, as environmental activists (and primary opponents) tweeted their dismay, the Biden team seemed to blush. Biden’s energy advisor Heather Zichal said that the Reuters reports were wrong, and that instead he planned to “enact a bold policy to tackle climate change in a meaningful and lasting way.” But the fact that it was Zichal making the statement essentially confirmed the accuracy of the original story: in the early Obama years, she’d headed up an interagency working group to promote the development of domestic natural gas.

The working group had been formed after pressure from the American Petroleum Institute, the chief fossil-fuel lobbying group, and Zichal, in a talk to an API gathering, said: “It’s hard to overstate how natural gas—and our ability to access more of it than ever—has become a game changer.” Zichal left her White House job in 2013; one year later, she took a gig on the board of Cheniere Energy, a leading exporter of fracked gas, which has earned her over a million dollars.

And Zichal said Biden was also turning for advice to former energy secretary Ernest Moniz, who oversaw the rise of the United States to its position as the biggest oil and gas producer on the planet and continues to recommend natural gas development, and Frank Verrastro, co-author of a report on fracking that found no “unmanageable risk that would require widespread reconsideration of current recommended practices.” In short, he’s relying on people deeply attached to the status quo.

The timing of the gaffe couldn’t have been more stunning—it came just 72 hours after the UN released a report pointing out that climate change would help wipe out a million species in the decades ahead. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo later that day lauded the rapid melt of the Arctic, saying it would increase access to gold and diamonds, not to mention make it easier to ship junk from China. You couldn’t have asked for a much better opportunity to draw a contrast, not search for a “middle ground.”

As recently as 2016, climate was seen as a losing issue. It was a distant problem, with unclear consequences, that would require huge sacrifices to solve. But then California caught fire, Puerto Rico got ravaged by a hurricane, and people woke up to the fact that this was clear and present danger. The IPCC report hammered home the threat. And with ideas like the Green New Deal gaining prominence, people have understood that solving the problem won’t require sacrifice as much as it will create opportunity. Why would we stay in the “middle of the road” when the left lane promises solutions that will not only help the climate, but also our economy, public health, and national security?

But Biden’s team apparently is fixated on the relatively small number of workers in the building trades unions who want to keep on constructing natural gas pipelines (and perhaps, since he hasn’t signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, on big donors from the hydrocarbon sector). This is old-school thinking at its best: throw young voters, overwhelmingly fixated on climate change, under the dirty diesel bus in an effort to win a narrowing pool of union leaders, who gathered in the Oval Office with Trump to celebrate in the early days of his presidency.

Obviously Biden will be better than Trump on this (and every other) issue; obviously everyone who cares about the earth should support him if he’s the nominee. (That paramount need is why I’ve been running the #DemUnityTwitterProject these past weeks). And he’s got time to turn his policies around—I remember when he gave a wink and a nod support to those fighting the Keystone pipeline, well in advance of Obama’s eventual veto of the project. His credibility with union workers is understandably high, which is why he would be the perfect person to push for large-scale retraining programs for clean energy jobs.

But for now Biden has done precisely the thing you’d think he’d be trying his hardest to avoid: showing that he’s stuck in the dirty energy past. If he’s going to mount a serious challenge to Trump, he’s going to need the huge number of Americans for whom climate change has become the issue. On the biggest issue our civilization’s ever faced, we need him thinking like it’s 2030, not 2010.

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+30 # ChrisCurrie 2019-05-12 09:59
Joe Biden's voting history as corporatist is a HUGE "red flag" against his candidacy for President, especially for most Democrat voters.
+28 # Texas Aggie 2019-05-12 10:50
Add this to a multitude of reasons that Biden is the absolute worst person in the crowded field to be president. He is Phat Boy lite in so many ways. And when people vote for a candidate, they chose the real one, not the watered down one.

His treatment of women is big in the news, but even more disqualifying is his favoritism of banks vs. consumers, his incarceration of minorities vs. whites, his favoritism for Comcast/Verizon et al over consumers, his hostility towards students in debt vs. lending agencies, ...He hasn't renounced a single one of those positions and shows no more remorse for his actions than he did for the royal shafting he gave Anita Hill.

If he is nominated, then we can expect 2016 all over again. If one of the others - Mr. Sanders, Dr. Warren, Ms. Harris - is nominated, then we can expect 2018 all over again.
+2 # lfeuille 2019-05-12 15:41
He's still leading in the polls so it seems the word isn't getting out about his true nature. So far he has skated by without having to be very specific. Maybe the debates will help, but it would also be good to see articles like this in the NYT and WaPo. Not enough people in the US read the Guardian UK.
+10 # elizabethblock 2019-05-12 13:40
He's living in the past in more ways than climate. How about the rest of us?
I will not vote for him under any conceivable circumstance.
+2 # JCM 2019-05-12 18:26
Forgive me elizabethblock, we've been around this block before. If we splinter our votes, like 2016 we will lose. Like 2018, together we will win. The soul, the economy and the life of our country is at stake. We must vote for whoever is nominated as the Democratic candidate.
Whoever that nominee is will be far better than the maniac we have now. Even Joe Bidden. If we lose, we will lose the Supreme Court forever, the Judicial System, Civil Rights, Healthcare all lost. And by far the most important the Earth. Please we all need to stick together.
+19 # DongiC 2019-05-12 14:34
America seems destined to follow a course of its own destruction. Nominate Biden and Trump and let these two pathetic candidates slug it out for the presidency. Let the ice of Antarctica, Greenland, and the Arctic Ocean melt and the seas raise 10 - 15 meters or 35 to 50 feet and we'll see first hand what is left of our vaunted culture. With the other environmental threats of decreasing bio-diversity and the spreading of plastics and plastic micro fibers our way of life will be in the tank.

Why anyone would elect this hell defies description but a brief survey of the past records of Trump and Biden demonstrates that neither really cares for the environment and neither has ever shown the talent to lead us in the gravest crisis that has ever faced humanity. So if it is extinction you want, vote for either of these two colossal misfits. If you seek a chance for survival, VOTE SANDERS-WARREN.
+2 # Observer 47 2019-05-12 17:04
0 # Moxa 2019-05-14 09:16
Here is a curious fact: In the latest Emerson poll, Biden is 8 points ahead of Sanders. In the latest Morning Consult poll he is 20 points ahead. People are siding with Biden because they think he is the one that can beat Trump. That would seem fair enough--BUT: Look at the latest Emerson poll comparing Biden and Sanders individually with Trump. BOTH of them are beating Trump by 8 points!

How is that possible? Shouldn't Biden be winning by a greater margin against Trump if he is so far ahead of Bernie?

NO, because it is a big illusion that only Biden can beat Trump. People vote for Biden due to this illusion. But faced with Trump, people would vote for either in equal numbers.

Biden would be a disaster for the climate and many other things. It is his type that got us Trump in the first place, by offering so little to so many.

The illusion that centrism is the ticket to getting rid of Trump is our biggest challenge as progressives. People are not excited about Biden. They just see him, in his non-descript complacency, the way to get rid of Trump. This is so wrong.

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