The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a stark and sobering picture: a global future of extreme weather events that are guaranteed to become more frequent and more intense over coming decades. The horrific flooding that has recently shocked Europe will become more common. The unrelenting fires that have engulfed the western United States and Canada will intensify and widen. And some island nations, it seems, may already be doomed to eradication by inevitable sea level rise.
The only glimmer of hope offered in the IPCC report is that immediate, aggressive action by world leaders could still prevent a future of assured climate chaos from being even worse. As devastating as a 1.5C global temperature increase will be, a 2.5C increase would be unfathomable.
Being the historical top emitter of climate-killing greenhouse gases, the United States has a clear obligation to help lead the world in rapidly reducing emissions and transitioning the planet to clean, renewable energy. Yet every indication thus far from the Biden administration suggests that this critical, urgent action won’t be coming.
In order to stand a reasonable chance of avoiding the worst, science overwhelmingly dictates that Earth must cut all greenhouse gas emissions in half in just nine years, and essentially zero them out by 2050. Like other world leaders, President Biden has publicly adopted this target. But his actions show something very different. Since Biden took office, Food & Water Watch has been diligently tracking notable comments and commitments on climate and energy issued by Biden and administration officials. The results are clear: they apparently have no intention of taking up this existential fight.
Simply put, a serious commitment to aggressively curtailing climate emissions must involve rapidly halting new fossil fuel development (while at the same time making robust investments in clean energy production and distribution, to facilitate the decommissioning of existing fossil fuel networks). Some signs from Biden the candidate last year were encouraging. His promise to ban new drilling and fracking on federal lands – an action that would be a simple, decisive first step in curtailing new fossil fuel extraction – was unequivocal: “No more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.”
The administration claims to be in the midst of a formal review of its policies on land resource extraction. Yet since taking office, Biden’s interior department has approved more than 2,000 new permits for drilling and fracking on federal land. In May, it appealed a federal court order that had paused fracking in Wayne national forest. In June, it advanced a proposal for new oil and gas exploration at Dinosaur national monument – a proposal the Trump administration had actually suspended under immense pressure from activists.
There are other similar disappointments – from the shocking approval of Trump’s plan to open Alaska’s North Slope to new oil drilling to the approval of the infamous Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline. At precisely the moment when we must be forcefully rejecting new drilling, fracking and pipeline infrastructure, Biden isn’t just tolerating fossil fuels – he’s uplifting them.
Other worrying signs forecast that more disappointment is yet to come. While they have not fleshed out a definitive policy, administration officials continue to tout the expansion of liquified natural gas (LNG) production, a relic of antiquated Obama-era climate policy, when officials peddled the absurd notion that fracked gas was a clean “bridge” fuel.
Similarly, the administration consistently boosts “carbon capture” as a climate solution, despite abundant evidence that it is absurdly inefficient, cost-ineffective and ultimately unproven. Existing carbon capture projects have cost billions of dollars without removing a significant amount of emitted carbon anywhere.
Furthermore, carbon capture serves as a boon to the oil and gas industry; the US energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, recently went so far as to boast that it would facilitate an increase in fossil fuel production. So billions of dollars in new subsidies will go towards propping up a failed experiment in faulty, corporate-friendly policy.
The Biden White House yanked much of its modest climate agenda from the bipartisan infrastructure package that just passed the Senate. Instead the White House proposes that a larger, separate spending package will include things like a national “clean energy payment program” that advocates claim will facilitate a speedy transition to renewables – apparently without any need for clear, enforceable emissions regulations. Climate activists should be skeptical; some of these proposals have even counted fracked gas power plants as a clean energy source.
It can’t be known precisely how the White House intends to proceed on each of these fronts. But this has become perfectly clear: Biden has thus far abdicated his responsibility to usher in an era of real climate action. We may all pay an unaffordable price.