When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he knew much work lay ahead. In his acceptance speech, he talked about a “planet in peril.” Before entering the White House, Obama offered a message to the Global Climate Summit where he promised “a new chapter in America’s leadership in climate change.”
Fast forward a decade later, and the pages of that chapter remain blank. The tiny steps Obama took on climate change haven’t amounted to much. And we’re now facing a climate crisis that demands a lot more than a cap-and-trade system and bogus clean coal technologies—both of which he promised back in 2008 but didn’t deliver on. That’s not enough anymore. The crisis demands the end of fossil fuels. Stat.
Obama finally appeared to acknowledge his failure on climate action in an endorsement video for Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president and his former vice president. The question is if Biden is up to the challenge.
Obama said that the U.S. has to re-sign the Paris Agreement, but that it’s only a start. Any climate action has to go well beyond that.
“Science tells us we have to go much further, that it’s time for us to accelerate progress on bold new green initiatives that make our economy a clean energy innovator, save us money, and secure our children’s future,” Obama said in his endorsement.
The initiatives Obama led were not that bold. In fact, a large part of his energy legacy is the fracking boom across the U.S. In 2018, he took credit for it, telling an audience at Rice University, “that whole, suddenly America’s like the biggest oil producer and the biggest gas that was me, people.”
But the fossil fuel extraction method of choice for the Obama administration emits a shit ton of methane, a greenhouse gas with 84 times the warming power of carbon over 20 years. Obama wanted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, but that was never gonna be enough to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Science now shows that, by 2030, the world has to cut its emissions by nearly half the levels they were in 2010 with developed countries like the U.S.—the biggest carbon polluter—doing even more.
The details of Obama’s plans weren’t enough to get us out of this mess. Trump’s plans never involved solving climate change. Obama, however, is asking voters to put their faith in Biden to get it done.
Biden’s climate proposals aren’t bad, but they also don’t go far enough. He wouldn’t ban fracking. He doesn’t tell us what he plans to spend on expanding public transit. He doesn’t take seriously the need for a Green New Deal, which aims to transform our economy by decarbonizing large swaths of the economy in 10 years while pulling communities out of poverty.
That makes Biden essentially Obama, circa 2008. The difference is that the Obama who spoke Tuesday appears a lot wiser on the climate front than that senator-turned-president in 2008 or even 2012. Still, he wasn’t wise enough to call for a Green New Deal, which would bring about this bold structural change he mentions. He even alluded to the arguments within the party about it and other policies, saying “Democrats may not always agree on every detail.” But what better time to roll it out than during the economic crisis brought on by coronavirus?
Senator Bernie Sanders’ endorsed Biden on Monday, and the two have agreed to a working group on climate change among others that could push Biden to strengthening his climate plan. With Obama seeming to grasp the urgency of the moment despite past mistakes, there’s hope for Biden to do the same. As for the other guy?
“Our country’s future hangs on this election,” Obama said in his endorsement.
No, Mr. President. The world’s future does. Another four years of Trump would be a global disaster.