Since Senator Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential primary last month, Joe Biden has been making noise like he’s trying to win over the climate movement. This week, he won endorsements from dozens of climate scientists and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who was a climate champion in the Democratic primary race. But on Thursday night, Reuters reported that Larry Summers is advising Biden’s campaign on economic policy.
Progressive climate groups are pissed and asking Biden to drop Summers to show he’s serious about climate. And frankly, if Joe’s getting advice from Summers, he can fuck right off.
Summers is a prominent American economist who was once the vice president of the World Bank, a senior Treasury Department official under President Bill Clinton, and director of President Obama’s National Economic Council. He’s also a Bad Guy. Setting aside some of the ridiculous shit Summers has said about women’s inability to do scientific research, his apparent close relationship with the late convicted serial rapist Jeffrey Epstein, and his regressive opinions on instating a wealth tax, dude also has a disastrous environmental record.
In 1992 when Summers was chief economist at the World Bank, he signed an infamous memo which argued that “underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted.” The memo said the World Bank should be encouraging more dirty industries to move into developing nations where they could have “very little direct health impact”—and would, of course, would be save those industries money. To this day, wealthy countries really do export fuels they deem too dirty to use at home to developing nations on the African continent.
Summers later claimed the memo was meant to be sarcastic (yeah, OK), but he never said the same about his support for the repeal of the decades-old ban on crude oil exports under President Obama.
“I believe that the question of whether the United States should have a substantially more permissive policy with respect to the export of crude oil and with respect to the export of natural gas is easy,” Summers told an audience at the Brookings Institute in 2014.
Obama repealed the ban in 2015, just days after signing the Paris Climate Accord. In essence, the repeal allowed the U.S. to reduce its fossil fuel consumption domestically, while its oil companies continued to profit—and pollute—by export millions of barrels of crude abroad. Research shows that reinstating the ban would have the same effect on carbon emissions as closing up to 42 coal plants each year. Biden committed to putting the ban back in place when pressured by Greenpeace, but what will happen with Summers whispering in his ear?
Summers wasn’t just an advocate for shipping polluting products overseas. He also advised President Obama not to transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels too quickly, arguing doing so could kill jobs, hurt the economy, and raise energy costs. Again, research shows with proper government investment, the opposite is true. Not only that, climate policy will actually save us money in the long run. Plus, you know, survival is also a nice perk. And as recently as 2015, Summers was also a prominent supporter of the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The news that Summers is advising Biden is particularly troubling in our current political climate. As we at Earther have argued extensively, the government’s response to the economic fallout of the covid-19 pandemic should include massive investment into a rapid and just transition away from the fossil fuel economy. If Biden wins the election in November, he could be at the helm of a green recovery if he so chose.
But judging by his advice to Obama after the 2009 financial crisis, Summers is not a big fan of government intervention into the economy. In fact, he advised against the administration’s idea to create a federally-built clean power grid. Dude also shot down another proposal to create federal green banks to help fund energy-efficient building upgrades and a build out of renewable energy. Summers has pushed for deregulation, but it’s never been clearer that loosely regulated fossil fuel corporations are the ones who got us into the climate crisis in the first place.
For Biden, who already has a steep hill to climb to win over progressives after bashing them throughout the primary, taking advice from Summers is a laughably bad look. At a time when massive federal investment is needed to clean up the current fossil fuel mess, Summers’ penchant for supporting private companies at the expense of the rest of us—and the planet—could be deadly.