Joe Biden: “Climate Change Is The Number One Issue Facing Humanity.”

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What a difference a few weeks can make. During the first so-called presidential debate, the topic of climate change received scant attention. But last week, Joe Biden finally let the horse out of the barn when he said he would immediately rejoin the Paris climate accords, eliminate government subsidies for the oil and gas industry, and vigorously support a transition from an economy based on burning fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy.

His opponent, predictably, scoffed and mugged for the camera as he went into a full flopping meltdown about how the Biden plan would cost $100 trillion, tear down millions of buildings, and replace them with windowless structures in the name of energy efficiency. Add that to the over 20,000 lies Tyrannosaurus Trump has told since he took office.

Instead of listening to scientists, the Tyrant in Chief has chosen major campaign donors to fill important positions within his administration, such as Andrew Wheeler, the former Charles Koch acolyte and coal industry lobbyist how has eviscerated the Environmental Protection Agency in order to reward industries who have shoveled truckloads of campaign cash to Trump and his reelection campaign.

If the latest round of presidential debates has taught up anything, it is that presidential debates are a pointless waste of time. In what universe does limiting the discussion of important topics to 2 minutes make any sense? It trivializes the discussion and forces the participants to speak as rapidly as possible, like the fast talkers who take over at the end of car commercials — 0%financingnotavailabletoallcustomers. Termsandconditionsapply. Seedealerfordetails. Offervoidwhereprohibited.

Frankly, that sort of pressure packed format is not ideal for Joe Biden. At times, it seems his brain is racing faster than his words can follow, causing him to stumble over his ideas occasionally as they tumble from  his mouth. Shortly after the debate, he sat down for a virtual chat with Dan Pfeiffer and Jon Lovett of Crooked Media for the latest episode of its Pod Save America podcast. Pfeiffer is a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama.

This was a format that allowed Joe Biden to shine and shine he did. During the program, Biden showed he has an extensive understanding of the nuts and bolts of climate change and what to do about it. During the last debate, his opponent could do no more than bluster about how expensive wind power is and how it “kills all the birds.” The only problem is, wind energy is one of the least expensive energy sources on Earth but facts are not something the alleged president comprehends. He simply is incapable of second order thinking that goes beyond generalities.

“Climate change is the number one issue among young voters,” Biden said before adding that addressing the issue seriously is the essential to convince those same young people to get off the couch and vote. He claimed he was the first person in the government to proclaim that climate change was a serious issue.

The United States, he says, has always taken on serious challenges and turned them into opportunities. One of those challenges is to become a leader among the nation’s of the world. It is impossible to lead from behind, as the current occupant of the Oval Office has tried to do. Biden plans to lead from the front, beginning with recommitting the United States to the goals of the Paris climate accords.

The Biden plan calls for getting to zero carbon emissions from electricity generation by 2035. “No one will build another oil or gas fired generating plant,” he says, anticipating that plunging costs of renewable energy will simply make conventional energy generation uneconomical. But here’s where Biden steps up. We must not lose sight of the workers who will have their careers affected by the transition to renewable energy. Rather than hide behind platitudes, Biden has laid out his policy initiatives for the leaders of  America’s labor unions and pointed out that their members will have access to more than a million good paying jobs working in the wind and solar industries. All have endorsed Biden as a result.

“It’s going to create millions of jobs … We can’t be cavalier about the impact it’s going to have on how we’re going to transition to do all this,” Biden said of his plan on the podcast. “But I just think it’s a gigantic opportunity, a gigantic opportunity to create really good jobs.”

No one expects the US to stop using fossil fuels overnight (although Trump would like his supporters to think that), Biden admits fossil fuels will be with us for decades as the transition to renewables continues. But he says he will eliminate the federal subsidies the fossil fuel industries enjoy today. The actual number is $20 billion a year but that does not include the “untaxed externalities” associated with fossil fuels, things like higher rates of asthma, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases that lead to poor health and shorter life spans for many Americans. The International Monetary Fund suggests the total of all direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industries worldwide exceed $5 trillion a year.

Although his remarks did not sit well with the fossil fuel industry, there was a recognition that the industry may be able to work with Biden in a collaborative fashion. The idea that humanity must stop burning fossil fuels is beginning to sink in, even at the highest levels of the industry. Shell and BP have recently turned a more friendly face to renewable energy.

“Of course we were disappointed in the vice president’s comments,” Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, tells the New York Times. “You can’t just snap your fingers and get to a place where you are suddenly no longer using natural gas.’’ Biden understands that. Unlike the current president, who governs by jamming his policies down the throats of his opponents, the former vice president focuses on building a consensus that embraces all stakeholders.  This is the way leaders, not tyrants, behave.

Biden says the US has a moral obligation to lead on global warming, which he calls an existential threat to humanity. “Unchecked, it is going to actually bake this planet. This is not hyperbole. It’s real,” he said on the podcast. That overheating is why the Department of Defense says global warming is the greatest threat to America’s national security. More forest fires, rising seas, failing agriculture — all are factors that could force large migrations both within the US and around the world — migrations that could destabilize governments and endanger American interests at home and abroad.

Biden had a lot to say during the Pod Save America event and we will unpack some of his more detailed comments shortly. But the one word that sums him up best is “decency.” The outgoing president has been nothing but a loud mouthed braggart offending America’s allies and encouraging the nation’s foes for nearly 4 years. The prospect of having a president again who represents all  of us, not just those who kowtow to his enormous ego and make huge donations to his re-election campaign, is something that gives many people renewed hope. That decency will help repair the damage to democracy caused by the current administration and restore America to its traditional position as leader among the nation’s of the world.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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