The State Of The Union Address About Climate We Wish We Had Heard

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As President Biden delivered the 2022 State of the Union address on Tuesday night, many of us summoned our inner speechwriter selves and imagined a different presentation, one that more precisely confronted the looming climate crisis. So here is that wishful 2022 State of the Union address, reconceptualized with climate at the foreground and with the intent to write in Mr. Biden’s voice and a bit of his manner of speaking.

Text in italics are the President’s actual words from the 2022 State of the Union address. The rest is (sigh) hopeful thinking.

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Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President. Our first lady and second gentleman. Members of Congress and the cabinet. Justices of the Supreme Court. My fellow Americans.

Last year, Covid-19 kept us apart. This year, we are finally together again.

Tonight, we meet as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. But, most importantly, as Americans.

With a duty to one another, to America, to the American people, to the Constitution.

And an unwavering resolve that we have the ability to come together to tackle a crisis that beckons at our nation’s door. A crisis like one we’ve never seen before. One we never envisioned in our years of late 20th century prosperity and growth. One that affects ecosystems and biodiversity and human societies.

That crisis is the climate crisis.

The dangers of climate change are mounting so rapidly that they could soon overwhelm the ability of both nature and humanity to adapt. That is, unless greenhouse gas emissions are quickly reduced.

The US has rejoined the Paris Agreement, but that is just a start.

We heard last week a call to action from the most recent IPCC report. It described the rapid and significant changes in our climate and our world. How every country needs to be attentive to those changes. It said that nations aren’t doing nearly enough to protect cities, farms, and coastlines from the hazards that climate change has unleashed so far.

The record droughts.

The rising seas.

The even greater disasters that could loom ahead as the planet continues to warm.

Let me say that this administration is not turning its back on the climate. Our actions are starting right now, with the unacceptable Russian attack on the Ukraine.

Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the very foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. He met with a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined. He met the Ukrainian people. In this struggle, as President Zelensky said in his speech to the European Parliament, “light will win over darkness.” 

In response, I’m calling for bipartisan support for joint EU – US carbon border fees, also known as border carbon adjustments. These would levy a tax on polluting goods. Goods like aluminum and cement from Russia.

The carbon border fees could eventually be broadened to affect oil, gas, and coal imports.

Let’s also incentivize Europe to import lower-carbon goods made in the United States with higher environmental standards. Can this undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin’s power to coerce Europe amid the unfolding Ukraine crisis? You bet it can.

Clean energy has slowed down the growth of fossil fuel demand. That’s a move in the right direction. Yet it hasn’t yet led to substantial decrease in oil consumption in most countries.

It’s true: the US government has spent billions of dollars in subsidies to ensure that energy has remained affordable. I’m going to come out and say it: much of that money ended up in the pockets of fossil fuel companies. And they continue to report bumper earnings.

This has to stop.

I’m announcing tonight that US subsidies for fossil fuel companies are soon to become a thing of the past. Under my administration, we’ll phase out subsidies for fossil fuels and broaden support for renewables of all kinds.

We know that replacing fossil fuel-consuming infrastructure takes time. But we’re done talking about infrastructure weeks.

We’re now talking about an infrastructure decade.

It is going to transform America, to put us on a path to win the economic competition of the 21st century that we face with the rest of the world — particularly China.

I’ve told Xi Jinping, it is never a good bet to bet against the American people.

As I look around this joint session of Congress tonight, at the handshaking and smiles across the political aisles, at the goodwill our country’s lawmakers are showing, I have hope for bipartisan action on climate.

This bipartisan action can assist locally led adaptation and ecosystem restoration.

It can help to finance for loss and damage from climate change.

It can be a recognition of Indigenous land rights.

This administration can no longer support fossil fuel extraction.

Instead, we’ll create good jobs for millions of Americans, modernizing roads, airports, ports, waterways all across America.

We’ll revitalize the US grid so that we will become the first country to electrify everything.

And we’ll do it all to withstand the devastating effects of climate change and promote environmental justice.

We’ll build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, begin to replace the poisonous lead pipes, so every child — every American — has clean water to drink at home and at school.

Let’s cut energy costs for families an average of $500 a year by combating climate change.

Let’s provide investment tax credits to weatherize your home and your business to be energy efficient and get a tax credit for it.

Double America’s clean energy production in solar, wind and so much more.

Lower the price of electric vehicles, saving you another $80 a month that you’ll never have to pay at the pump.

The climate action goals are the first steps in a very long journey. But I am confident, as I look around this room, that the US is ready to take on this climate challenge. And it’s not just the Congress who we’ll be looking to for leadership.

Climate leadership needs to come from mayors, county executives, and governors.

It will come from tribal leaders, businesses, and faith groups.

It will draw from cultural institutions, health care organizations, businesses, and investors.

Our ability to tackle the climate crisis will come from all kinds of communities. Communities who have already worked together tirelessly to ensure sustained progress in reducing pollution in the United States and that are ready to contribute more.

Well, I know this nation.

We’ll meet the test.

Protect freedom and liberty, expand fairness and opportunity.

And we will save democracy.

As hard as those times have been, I am more optimistic about America today than I’ve been my whole life.

Because I see the future that’s within our grasp.

Because I know there is simply nothing beyond our capacity.

This is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time.

And we will, as one people.

One America.

The United States of America.

God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you. Go get ’em.

(Note: This article sprung from a cool idea that the New York Times had prior to the actual speech, in which they asked 4 of their regular columnists to envision what the President would say in the 2022 State of the Union address.)

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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