The 2020 presidential election looms just around the corner. With primaries concluded, the race has essentially boiled down to Republican nominee Donald Trump versus Democratic nominee Joe Biden. President Trump’s four years in office have wreaked havoc on America’s social, economic and environmental systems, and many Americans hope to vote him out, using the rhetoric of “anyone but Trump.” We must vote President Trump out of office, but removing him is only the tip of the iceberg. We must not fool ourselves into believing that the election of Biden will solve the racial, economic, social and environmental crises America faces.
Climate change is among the most pressing issues, seeing as the climate crisis is unfolding as we speak. Wildfires rage across drought-ridden California, warming seas are creating massive storm surges and the melting of the polar ice caps is elevating sea levels. It is vital for politicians, including Biden in the event of his presidency, to act boldly and immediately.
What Is Climate Justice?
Climate justice can be defined as a marriage of environmental activism and social justice. Climate justice addresses environmental racism, abuse of Indigenous land and people and economic and social inequality.
Climate change disproportionately affects poor folks without the means to flee natural disasters or emigrate from harsh climates. A study by the National Center for Environmental Assessment shows that Black people are exposed to 1.5 times as much particulate matter as white people, and people living in poverty are exposed to 1.3 times as much particulate matter as those who don’t. In addition, pollution and toxic dumping are four times more likely in communities of color.
Organizations like the Sunrise Movement believe that climate change is a byproduct of the system of capitalism that produces white supremacy and colonialism, and climate justice activists seek to dismantle these interconnected systems of oppression.
What Is Biden’s Climate Justice Plan?
On Biden’s campaign page, he outlines his plan to address climate change. He vows to immediately rejoin the Paris climate accord. He intends to invest $1.7 trillion into clean energy industries, which will both combat climate change and create high paying jobs. He also promises to “stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities.” The rhetoric he has adopted aligns with the rhetoric of environmental justice. Yet Biden hasn’t been forthcoming with his support for the most comprehensive piece of environmental legislation on the table: Resolution 109, the Green New Deal.
Why Hasn’t He Adopted the Green New Deal?
The Green New Deal, championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, outlines a plan to combat climate change and reach net zero emissions within 10 years through the sociopolitical framework of intersectional environmental justice — acknowledging the interconnectedness of white supremacy, economic injustice, the free market and the climate crisis.
Interestingly, Biden mentions the Green New Deal only briefly in his campaign. Although his climate action plans align in large part with the plans outlined by the Green New Deal, he avoids explicit endorsement.
Biden won the Democratic primary due to his backing by the establishment and due to the rhetoric that a moderate Democratic candidate, like Biden, might attract enough moderate Republican voters to defeat President Trump. With moderate and establishment support on his side, Biden distances himself a bit from radical labels. Unfortunately, the Green New Deal has become a dirty label for people on the right, representing the government overreach that conservatives hate so much.
However, Biden’s plan, like the Green New Deal, promises to combat big oil corporations, invest in communities of color disproportionately affected by environmental degradation and bolster economic growth through the creation of clean energy jobs. And while his plan bears the title “Build Back Better” rather than “Green New Deal,” Biden has promised to elect Green New Deal author and champion Ocasio-Cortez to a task force.
Is Biden’s Plan Enough?
Leftists, like myself, remain skeptical about anyone’s ability to achieve Biden’s climate justice plan within the framework of the existing system, which empowers wealthy corporations.
Furthermore, Biden is a moderate politician, backed by the establishment and funded by moneyed interests. The systemic change necessary for climate justice requires economic overhaul, resulting in massive wealth distribution, the takedown of big oil, a rethinking of the farming industrial complex and more. Moneyed interests, even those that endorse a Democratic candidate, do not benefit from a systemic overhaul.
Even if Biden were a more radical candidate, government change is simply slow going. A system of checks and balances, while important, means millions of hurdles to leap over and hoops to jump through before new legislation can be passed. The clock is ticking.
Action Beyond Nov. 3
Electing Biden, along with a majority of Senate and House representatives who are committed to climate justice, is a start. But our work does not and cannot end there. With fewer than 12 years to prevent the planet from becoming entirely unlivable, we don’t have time for legislation to trickle leisurely from the West Wing to the House floor. Massive civilian pressure is required to force Green New Deal legislation to the top of the political agenda.
The Sunrise Movement has outlined a timeline for action. Following the 2020 election, the organization plans to “engage in mass noncooperation to interrupt business as usual and win a Green New Deal.” In other words, we must use civil disobedience as a tool to force the Green New Deal onto the agenda and to force it forward. Only by the unrelenting pressure of the American people after the election of Biden will a massive overhaul in favor of climate justice take place. Let’s get to work.