Can Biden Fix Climate Change With $1.3 Trillion?

In his Democrat Party nomination acceptance speech last night, Vice President Joe Biden indicated that he could solve the problem of climate change. And he said he could do it all with the money the government would get by changing the tax code. In two sentences and just 75 words he laid out some unspecified plan for saving the environment, ending global warming and transitioning away from fossil fuels. 

This is not meant to belittle Biden’s plans. He and his team have much more detailed goals and concrete paths to achieving their policy goals. The Democrat party has a whole platform with a detailed set of policies to, “combat climate change, build a clean energy economy, and secure environmental justice.” Biden’s campaign has also published, “the Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice.” However, Biden and his staff do not expect voters to search out the DNC platform or his campaign policy proposals. 

Biden’s acceptance speech highlighted a problem with political talk about energy and the environment: it is always meant to appease each party’s base and not focused on reality. Biden simplified the issues to the most basic level and offered an even more basic solution to appeal to the voters attracted to a populists message. Biden said that he could “deal with climate change” with the relatively measly sum of $1.3 trillion that he would find by ending President Trump’s, “tax giveaway to the wealthiest 1 percent and the biggest, most profitable corporations.” That is an elementary—maybe even crude—solution to a complicated issue, even if we omit the debate about climate change and accept just one explanation of its meaning. 

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Biden and his staff showed how politicians on both sides now think about issues of energy and the environment. They have realized that the best way to take advantage of the topic politically is to focus on the economics of today—nothing more and nothing less. Biden appealed to age-old class sentiments, telling typical voters that they can have a healthier environment by taxing the wealthiest voters now. The Green New Deal is also about today’s economics, putting some industries (e.g. coal) out of business and propping up others (e.g. solar panels). On the other side, the Republicans talk about jobs in the oil fields or refineries and low gas prices. 

It makes sense for politicians to focus on current economics, because that is what Americans care about most as long as their families are safe and healthy. However, there are other issues to consider concerning energy and the environment. Among them are: the health and longevity of America’s oil and gas reserves, the age of our refineries and whether they are sufficient, the trade-offs between pipelines and transport by rail or road, the age of our nuclear reactors and whether they are sufficient (including the benefits of SMR), improving the unreliable electrical grid, the damage to birds and the environment caused by wind and solar arrays, the improvement of wind and solar technology, the absolute need to improve storage (battery) technology if we ever plan to transition away from fossil fuels, the geopolitical impact of policies limiting domestic fuel production and accurately assessing the impact of man-made emissions on the environment. 

As long as politicians devote 75 words to wild claims that they can cure climate change, we will never have the national fortitude to even consider these important issues that actually impact our long-term economy, energy usage and environment.

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