Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden listens to U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris make a statement at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. (Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden listens to U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris make a statement at The Queen in Wilmington, Delaware on November 16, 2020. (Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

President-Elect Biden: Time for YOU to Follow the Climate Science

Big corporate media outlets are great at policing progressive Democrats who "go too far." They're not so watchful over Democratic presidents who cling to a go-slow, corporate-friendly "middle ground." 

Jeff Cohen

One of the keys to Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump was his constant and accurate accusation that Trump "refuses to follow the science" on COVID-19—that "he won't listen to the scientists." 

It proved to be a winning campaign theme. Indeed, it's sobering to realize that without COVID—both Trump's mishandling of it and the accompanying economic downturn—Trump might have easily defeated Biden. Presidents often win reelection if they can point to a decent economy, and it was relatively strong in certain job numbers (despite Trump) before the COVID crisis. 

Our country and globe face another huge crisis that scientists warn us about: the ever-worsening climate catastrophe.  On the issue of climate, Joe Biden too often seems unwilling to follow the science.  

"A president can do a lot in battling climate change, without Congressional approval, through executive orders and EPA regulations. Obama's record was mixed and hesitant. Biden will need to do many times better."

There are a couple reasons that Biden's reluctance to "listen to the scientists" on climate is somewhat obscured: 1) Republicans are far worse science deniers; and 2) much of the mainstream media—especially TV news—shares Biden's climate denialism. 

In covering the pandemic, TV networks have paraded scientists (epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, public health experts) on the screen day after day—and on cable news, hour after hour. Trump's refusal to listen is totally clear.  

No matter how many droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and floods hit our country and planet, there's never a similar parade of anxious climate scientists on corporate TV networks—which rake in millions from the auto, oil and gas industries. We do see continual ads telling us how much these corporations care about the climate crisis.   

It's this media environment that enables Biden to refuse to fully heed climate scientists . . . and get away with it. Soon after he launched his campaign in 2019, Biden's advisors on climate told a Reuters journalist that Biden was looking for a cautious, "middle ground" on climate policy. Reuters reported that an advisor said Biden's policy would include "fossil fuel options like natural gas and carbon capture technology, which limit emissions from coal plants." 

This report of a Biden "middle ground" brought an immediate and angry response from activists (including the Green New Deal-supporting Sunrise Movement) who'd gone into high gear after the world's top climate scientists issued their landmark 2018 United Nations report, which warned there were only 12 years left for bold action to prevent catastrophic damage by holding global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.   

Under intense pressure from progressives throughout the Democratic primaries, Biden developed a more serious, science-based climate policy. After securing the nomination, he included Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sunrise's Varshini Prakash in the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force on Climate Change, which made strong recommendations. These included 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035, heightened energy efficiency in housing and transportation (including 500,000 charging stations nationwide), programs to retrofit 4 million buildings, and millions of high-paying, non-exportable jobs.

It was a nice plan . . . amounting to mere campaign promises.   

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Biden again reverted to an evasion of climate science as he vacillated over fossil-fuel production and fracking, in the face of a united assault by Team Trump and mainstream media pundits. Scientists tell us that most of the world's fossil-fuel reserves must stay in the ground, and fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is a dangerous, often-dirty technology that extracts some of the most difficult-to-reach gas and oil from the earth. 

When Biden vacillated—he said at the final debate that he would "transition away from the oil industry," then backtracked to a transition from federal oil "subsidies," and that he wanted to halt fracking only on "federal land" (roughly 12% of all U.S. fracking)—he was targeting his pitch more to misinformed pundits than to voters. And certainly not to climate scientists.  

Those national TV talking heads kept insisting that criticism of fracking could cost Biden the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania. The commentary was way overstated. Rarely mentioned was a CBS poll in August that found 52 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania opposed to fracking. Or an earlier poll that found 48 percent of the state's registered voters supporting an actual ban on fracking versus only 39 percent opposed. It's all explained in a prophetic, pre-election Philadelphia Inquirer column by Will Bunch: "Trump, TV pundits don't have a fracking clue about Pennsylvania and fossil fuels."  

As we look to a Biden presidency, the question is: who will Joe be listening to? Will he listen to scientists—or to corporate media? Unlike the COVID crisis, during which corporate liberal and centrist TV networks have deployed many dozens of blunt-talking scientists to challenge Trump, those networks rarely feature blunt-talking climate scientists, and even less so to challenge Democrats.  

Big corporate media outlets are great at policing progressive Democrats who "go too far." They're not so watchful over Democratic presidents who cling to a go-slow, corporate-friendly "middle ground."  

When Team Obama slowed or undermined progress at U.N. climate conferences, that was spotlighted by independent outlets like Democracy Now. When the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exported fracking across the globe, that was exposed by investigative journalist Mariah Blake at Mother Jones.  

A president can do a lot in battling climate change, without Congressional approval, through executive orders and EPA regulations. Obama's record was mixed and hesitant. Biden will need to do many times better.  

A slow and steady "third Obama term" might thrill corporate media pundits. But it won't get the job done on the climate emergency. Just ask a scientist.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC. He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is jeffcohen.org.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Fulton County Subpoenas of Trump Allies Offer Hope 'That Justice Will Ultimately Be Served'

"The coordinated attempts by former President Donald Trump and his associates to discount and ignore the will of Georgian voters during the 2020 election cannot be swept under the rug," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett ·


Russian Official Makes Nuclear Threat Over US Support for Ukraine War Crimes Probe

Another official responded to Western sanctions by suggesting that Russia could reclaim Alaska.

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Denounced for Imposing New Sanctions as Iran Nuclear Talks Falter

One Middle East expert accused the U.S. administration of "continuing and embracing Trump's max pressure policy, while expecting a different result."

Brett Wilkins ·


Under 'Draconian Abortion Ban,' Woman in El Salvador Sentenced to 50 Years for Pregnancy Loss

Laws like El Salvador's are "now being replicated in states across the U.S.," noted one observer.

Julia Conley ·


Warren, Sanders, and Others Blast Biden's 'Failure' on Federal Cannabis Policy

While commending Biden's pardons and commutations, six senators wrote that "much more has to be done to address the racist and harmful legacy of cannabis policies on Black and Brown communities."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo