by Birrion Sondahl
As a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign, I canvassed in three states talking to voters about Bernie’s policies, including the Green New Deal. It was clear that the climate and environment was an important topic for many of the citizens with whom I spoke. These people wanted a clean future for themselves, for their children, and their grandchildren. Even if they were undecided on Bernie as a candidate, they agreed that the climate crisis was a top concern. And this was before a powerful derecho storm blew through Iowa, leaving areas that I had canvassed without power and destroying hundreds of homes. This was before the Pine Gulch fire became the largest in Colorado history and left the entire state in a smoke cloud.
As I look out the window from my room in Colorado, I can see the haze of forest fire smoke obscuring the mountains. The skies of Oregon and California are orange and the air is hazardous to breathe. The climate crisis is not some vague far-off threat – wildfires have now burnt over 1 million acres in Oregon, killed ten people, and displaced tens of thousands more. The air quality index in my parents’ town in north Idaho is at a very unhealthy level of 212. The total economic impact of the wildfires so far in California is estimated to be between 130-150 billion dollars and we are still early in the fire season.
Yet amid all this climate destruction, Joe Biden has not embraced the Green New Deal that I campaigned for during the primaries, and fought for as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Biden still only pays lip service to the realities of the climate crisis. His plan comes up far short of what is necessary for halting the ongoing climate armageddon. His lack of support for a Green New Deal shows that he is still being influenced by oil and gas corporations and lobbyists. A comparison between the Green New Deal and Joe Biden’s plan shows just how weak his climate agenda is.
One easy way to get a big picture view of these differing climate plans is to compare their cost, which is to say, their investment in a green future. It is surely going to be expensive to transition away from fossil fuels, which is why Bernie’s Green New Deal stated that it would “directly invest an historic $16.3 trillion public investment toward these efforts…” This is a clear contrast to Biden’s plan, which proposes that “Biden will make a $2 trillion accelerated investment, with a plan to deploy those resources over his first term, setting us on an irreversible course to meet the ambitious climate progress that science demands.” Bernie’s plan spends $16.3 trillion over ten years while Biden’s spends $2 trillion over four years. This comes out to $1.63 trillion per year for the Green New Deal and $500 billion per year for Biden. In overall spending, the Green New Deal outspends Biden 8 to 1, over a much longer period of time.
The Biden plan calls for us to “move ambitiously to generate clean, American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.” In contrast, the Green New Deal calls for “Reaching 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030.” A five-year difference in decarbonizing the energy sector would be huge. Biden does not call for the entire transportation sector to be renewable, but rather “all new American-built buses [to] be zero-emissions by 2030.” This is an extremely weak position compared to the Green New Deal.
Another huge difference between the Biden plan and the Green New Deal is where they stand on fracking. Joe Biden has been very vocal on this subject, saying “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking.” The Green New Deal is very clear that it will “ban fracking and mountaintop removal coal mining…They must be immediately banned.” A study by Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson concluded that, “in terms of climate, natural gas causes greater global warming than other fossil fuels over 20 years across all applications.” It is not possible to achieve 100 percent renewable energy without banning fracking, yet Biden does not even mention it in his plan. The reason for this lack is an attempt to save fracking jobs by the Biden campaign. However, the Green New Deal has a solution for this job loss – a guaranteed “five years of a worker’s current salary, housing assistance, job training, health care, pension support, and priority job placement for any displaced worker, as well as early retirement support for those who choose it or can no longer work.” All Biden’s plan has to offer is to “make sure coal miners and their families receive not only the respect they deserve but also the pensions and health benefits they have been promised.” These platitudes do not represent a just transition for coal workers.
The Biden plan also falls short on research and development, spending $400 billion on clean energy technologies. The Green New Deal funds a “$500 billion effort to research technologies to fully decarbonize industry, and a $150 billion effort to fully decarbonize aviation and maritime shipping and transportation.” The GND also allocates $30 billion for StorageShot technology, and $100 billion on decreasing the cost of new electric vehicles to $18,000. In total, the GND spends almost two times the Biden plan on research and development.
The Biden plan does not once mention the military, which is the world’s largest polluter. In fact, Biden has called for potential increases in the defense budget, saying, “I’ve met with a number of my advisors, and some have suggested in certain areas the budget is going to have to be increased.” Meanwhile, Bernie’s Green New Deal “recognizes that the Pentagon is the largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and that the United States spends $81 billion annually to protect oil supplies and transport routes. We are uniquely positioned to lead the planet in a wholesale shift away from militarism.” No plan can be serious about addressing the climate crisis without taking on the military industrial complex.
Unfortunately, Bernie’s Green New Deal is no longer an option. Obama claims that “Protecting our planet is on the ballot” but it certainly is not a priority for Biden. Howie Hawkins and the Green Party are not on the ballot in every state, but their eco-socialist GND calls for $4.3 trillion in spending per year. A vote for the Green Party is indeed a vote for a Green New Deal. Yet as the Green Party has no real hope of electoral victory, the best approach comes from the Red Nation, a coalition of activists devoted to Native American liberation issues, and exists outside of the electoral system.
In their Red Deal, they note, “We cannot vote harder and place all our hope in a few individuals in Congress. Climate change will kill us before any of these strategies liberate the planet from capitalism.” The oligarchic corporate duopoly has a death grip on electoral politics. Whether under a Biden or a Trump administration, only mass movements and class struggle can tackle the capitalist system and fully address the climate crisis. As the Red Deal tells us, “Political elites act in the interest of corporate bosses, not the people (or the earth).” Whether Biden or Trump wins in November, the climate crisis will remain an existential threat to human civilization. Scientists suggest that we are dangerously close or past several huge climate tipping points. While there can be no going back, Biden’s milquetoast incrementalism that does not truly address the transportation sector, ban fracking, cut back on the military, or adequately fund research and development is no solution to this threat. The United States electoral system has failed the people – the only path to real change must be through massive organization of people’s movements following the examples of the Red Nation, Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion, and many others. The future livability of the planet is at stake, and the 2020 election offers no answers.
Photo: Noah Berger, AP