The Guardian • Issue #1948


Will we follow our allies this time?

It might be a good idea to return – in January 2022 – to the promises that Joe Biden made on his first day as President of the United States of America on the 20th of January 2021.

Everybody jumped for joy as he responded officially to a climate crisis, which most of the politicians around the world have been trying to “fob off” despite the increasingly dire facts being presented by the scientific community in the last decade. Congress was alerted to the fact that the planet was warming by James Hansen in 1988. So what Biden’s new administration has announced is mind-blowing, even though it is thirty years too late.

In just the last week, Biden has announced the following:

New oil and gas licences on public lands will be frozen.

A doubling of energy produced by offshore wind by 2030.

Electrification of the government’s huge fleet of vehicles.

Thirty per cent of federal land and water will be reserved for conservation purposes.

Forty per cent of the benefits from federal investments in clean energy and water will go to communities living with pollution.

Targets made to build 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes and seal off one million leaking oil and gas wells.

Construction of a new nationwide network of electric-car charging stations.

A crackdown on fossil fuel subsidies.

A commitment to put climate policy at the heart of foreign and national security decisions.

The creation of a new White House council on environmental justice.

Every federal agency to create a plan to protect its facilities from the impacts of climate change.

A new memorandum instructing agencies to make decisions based on evidence “guided by the best available science and data.”

All this following on from his intention for the US to rejoin the​ Paris agreement; to reinstate Obama’s vehicle emissions standards; and his cancellation of Keystone’s pipeline permit.

The news comes, of course, with caveats – these sweeping changes are not perfect, and will not be easy. Federal drilling makes up only twenty-two per cent of oil production and twelve per cent of gas. Long-term, permanent change really requires Congress and Biden’s majority in the Senate is small: just the vice president. That means, of course, that any one senator could have the power to alter outcomes, and this will prove very difficult given the power of the fossil fuel lobby.

Some corporations, such as General Motors, support some of the initiatives, announcing a quite “seismic” phase out of the internal combustion engine by 2035. However, the oil industry is “aghast,” according to one company exec. As critics challenge his plans, Biden’s strategy, in order to combat dissent, has to be to focus on the jobs that will be created in sustainable construction and renewable manufacture.

Despite the caveats, it would appear that in the US the winds have changed and Americans might even be allowed to feel hopeful. Let’s hope Australia, as the US ally, follows where Biden leads: this time not into another war of exploitation, but a war against the fossil fuel companies.

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