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Radical Climate Centrists? Say It Ain't So, Joe

Come on, man. For someone who talks so much about the need to be guided by science, why isn't Joe Biden’s climate thinking guided by the scientific consensus.

US President-elect Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with the United States Conference of Mayors at the Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 23, 2020. - US President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named the deeply experienced Antony Blinken for secretary of state, also nominating the first female head of intelligence and a czar for climate issues, with a promise to a return to expertise after the turbulent years of Donald Trump. (Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

US President-elect Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with the United States Conference of Mayors at the Queen in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 23, 2020. - US President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named the deeply experienced Antony Blinken for secretary of state, also nominating the first female head of intelligence and a czar for climate issues, with a promise to a return to expertise after the turbulent years of Donald Trump. (Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

After campaigning on the promise to address the climate crisis as the “existential threat” it is—and being carried across the finish line by countless climate voters like me—President-elect Joe Biden is already slipping back into the past. By this, I mean he is surrounding himself with Democratic Party establishment insiders who have been playing the political game almost as long as he has. He is packing his cabinet and transition team with corporate centrists who prefer a suicidal “all-of-the-above” energy approach to a socially and ecologically just Green New Deal. Despite all the lofty climate campaign rhetoric, it is starting to feel like the milquetoast climate mentality of the Obama/Biden administration all over again. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

"Joe Biden is either going to be a leader in the mold of FDR who future generations will honor for his courageous commitment to containing the worldfire or he is going to stubbornly embrace the stale, failed thinking of the past that got us into this climate mess in the first place."

After all the climate breakdown we have witnessed in the past year, climate campaigners—this time joined by progressive members of Congress—are still having to protest at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to get Joe Biden’s attention? Seriously? We had to do that last year in our failed attempt to convince DNC Chair Tom Perez to sponsor a presidential climate debate that almost every Democratic presidential candidate wanted to have. Come on, man. For someone who talks so much about the need to be guided by science, why isn’t Joe Biden’s climate thinking guided by the scientific consensus of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warns we only have a 10-year window remaining to enact “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avert climate catastrophe?
What America, and the world, needs to avert climate disaster is for President-elect Joe Biden to champion the boldest possible version of a Green New Deal and for him to assemble a fresh team of inspired professionals to shepherd it through Congress and guide its implementation at wartime speed and scale. Yet few of the names being floated by team Biden fit that bill. Most are deeply embedded in the corporate wing of the Party establishment. One name that is particularly troubling is nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, former Energy Secretary for the Obama/Biden administration, who is now a top candidate for Energy Secretary in the Biden/Harris administration. Mr. Moniz is free to do whatever he wants on his own time, but we cannot afford to have him anywhere near the levers of power guiding U.S. energy policy. Moniz is not just dismissive of the Green New Deal; he has actively sought to undermine it.

Consider what this “unrepentant founding father of the fracking industry,” whose MIT Energy Initiative received millions of dollars in funding from oil giants BP, Shell and ExxonMobil, told NPR in early 2019: “I'm afraid I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year timeframe. It's just impractical. And if we start putting out impractical targets, we may lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution on the most rapid timeframe that we can achieve.” Unimaginative defeatism is one thing. Shilling for Big Oil is another: “We will jeopardize what has been, I think, the very significant movement of the large energy companies towards developing their new business models to function in a low-carbon world,” Moniz continued. This is a preposterous claim. Big Oil is not transitioning away from fossil fuels and everyone, including Ernest Moniz, knows it. To the contrary, the world’s carbon barons are hell-bent on squeezing every last drop of oil out of Mother Earth while the world burns; future generations and other species be damned.
"Climate leaders fight for all that we love, not all-of-the-above."
 
Moniz even went so far as to team up with George W. Bush’s former Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Andy Karsner, to malign the Green New Deal’s urgent timelines as “feel good” while insultingly calling for a “Green Real Deal,” which unreally promotes the use of dangerous methane gas, nonexistent advanced nuclear technologies and unaffordable and unproven-at-scale carbon capture and storage schemes. I would place Moniz, along with other political dinosaurs like U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), in the camp of what U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez astutely calls “climate delayers.” These are people who act like we have all the time in the world to respond to the existential climate emergency. Anyone who believes we have decades to act if we hope to preserve a planet that is even remotely habitable for our children is not paying close enough attention to reality on the ground. Climate delay only ensures more climate death and destruction.
 
I join Friends of the Earth, Indigenous Environmental Network, Greenpeace, Sunrise, The Climate Mobilization and others in calling on President-elect Joe Biden “to commit to ensuring Ernest Moniz holds no public or private role, whether formal or informal, in your transition team, cabinet, or administration.” Joe Biden is either going to be a leader in the mold of FDR who future generations will honor for his courageous commitment to containing the worldfire or he is going to stubbornly embrace the stale, failed thinking of the past that got us into this climate mess in the first place. Climate leaders fight for all that we love, not all-of-the-above.
Say it ain’t so, Joe. Show us you have evolved. Release your grip on the past and charge boldly into the future. Create a climate legacy posterity will bless you for. What do you have to lose?

 

Tom Weis

Tom Weis

Tom Weis is the president of Climate Crisis Solutions in Boulder, Colorado.

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