During his town hall event Thursday night on ABC, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden declared banning fossil fuels within the decade an impossibility, just as the latest filings showed that major U.S. oil and gas companies have increased their financial contributions to Democratic candidates this election cycle, prompting one critic to warn Friday about the negative role that Big Oil donors play in weakening climate policies.
"The difference between me and the new green deal is they say, automatically, by 2030 we're going to be carbon free. Not possible," Biden said on Thursday night.
Biden's comments coincided with news that Chevron and Exxon Mobil, the two largest energy firms in the U.S., have "increased their share of campaign donations to Democrats this year... amid a looming battle over fracking," as Reuters reported Friday.
"These two things are related," Matt Huber, a geographer specializing in labor, energy, and climate politics, noted Friday on social media, connecting the dots between the growing Democratic share of the fossil fuel industry's political donations and Biden's more moderate approach to emissions reductions.
These two things are related. pic.twitter.com/trLSNou6ch— Matt Huber (@Matthuber78) October 16, 2020
In a Twitter thread, Huber pointed out that the ruling class used to say the same thing about an eight-hour work day and other democratic regulations on the power of capital that Biden now says about rapidly ending the use of fossil fuels.
In the nineteenth century, Huber pointed out, "capitalists proclaim[ed] laws to limit the working day, bans on child labor, and other moral basics were simply 'impossible.'"
Unsurprisingly, Biden is light-years ahead of President Donald Trump, who as Climatewire noted, "didn't mention climate or energy issues during his combative NBC town hall" Thursday night.
Although progressives are pushing for a faster timeline for transforming the country's energy infrastructure, Biden does have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the next few decades while creating millions of green jobs, unlike the current White House.
For instance, while the Trump administration has bailed out the faltering fossil fuel industry during its pandemic-driven downturn, Biden proposed using public subsidies in more socially and environmentally beneficial ways.
The government could provide funding "to hire 128,000 of these people who are working in the industry to cap these [abandoned, methane-emitting] wells and get a good salary doing it now," he said.
As Climatewire reported, "Biden also returned to his usual climate pitch: Use the federal government's purchasing power to expand the electric vehicle market, invest in charging stations, and hire union workers to weatherize millions of buildings."
However, Biden also echoed his running mate Kamala Harris' recent defense of hydraulic fracturing when he said, "First of all, I make it clear, I do not propose banning fracking"—even though recent polling shows that fracking's negative impacts on human and environmental health have made it unpopular in places like Pennsylvania.
As Common Dreams noted earlier this week when reporting on the Sunrise Movement's new ad for Mike Siegel, the Democratic candidate for Texas' 10th congressional district, climate justice advocates have begun using unions as a vehicle to increase support for the Green New Deal among coal, gas, and oil workers as well as the public at large—many of whom have either not heard of or do not have a clear understanding of the plan, according to recent research.
Yet at the same time, Biden has been distancing himself from the Green New Deal, diluting its more ambitious and aggressive approach to achieving zero-emission electricity generation and transmission.
"My deal is a crucial framework, but not the new green deal," Biden said. "The new green deal calls for elimination of all nonrenewable energy by 2030. You can't get there. You're going to need to be able to transition."
Huber—who has written at length about the need to interweave the labor and environmental movements to realize a just transition to renewable energy that is supportive of and supported by the working class—acknowledged that problems like solar and wind intermittency and inadequate storage technology render it "very difficult" to completely eradicate dirty energy sources within the decade, but he argued that "it's bad to claim impossibility from the outset."
"If you take seriously the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report," Huber said, "and the need for the U.S. [to achieve] disproportionate reductions [of greenhouse gas emissions], we need radical curbs of fossil fuels FAST."
Regarding the possibility of eliminating fossil fuels in 10 years, 350.org co-founder and director of Fossil Free Media Jamie Henn tweeted Friday: "Yes it is. And we're going to do it."