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Biden has a climate plan. It’s good—but does it go far enough?

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Speaker 1: This will be the most corrupt election in the history of our country.

Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Jaisal Noor. With less than three months to go until the 2020 general election, we’re not hearing much about what is likely the greatest threat to ever face humanity, climate change. The Trump administration’s stance on climate change can be summed up as denial and the dismantling of environmental regulations.

Meanwhile, a new generation of youth climate activists have demanded Democrats break free from the grip of the fossil fuel industry and center climate justice and programs like the Green New Deal in their agenda. Earlier this year, on the campaign trail, climate activists were demanding Joe Biden adopt a bolder plan to tackle climate change.

Speaker 3: For my entire life, Democrats have been failing to address the climate crisis, and we desperately need the Democratic candidate for president to be a climate champion. We’re running out of time.

Jaisal Noor: While there was a little hope for Trump and the Republicans to consider the climate crisis, has the climate movement succeeded in pushing Democrats to take this more seriously or are we doomed? Joining us to discuss this is Earther‘s Dharna Noor, who also happens to be my sister. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dharna Noor : Thanks for having me, Jaisal.

Jaisal Noor: So the Democratic Party platform made a lot of headlines for not adopting progressive stances popular within the party like Medicare for All and fully legalizing weed, but climate groups like the Sunrise Movement, who, as we heard, were challenging Biden during the primary, even handing him a jar of coal and New Hampshire asking him if he’s going to shut down the local coal power plant if elected and asked him for a bolder push for nuclear energy. They’re now backing him and praising some of his platform on climate policy.

Where does Joe Biden stand on the key issues? You argue the Democrats’ climate plan is improved, but it doesn’t go far enough. Can you explain?

Dharna Noor : Yeah. So I say… I think that in the past several months there’s been a lot of really kind of enormous plans from different Democratic Party bodies. The House’s select committee on the climate crisis put forth this massive proposal. We’ve seen the DNC put forth some climate policy proposals for their platform. Joe Biden updated his plan.

I think the kind of overarching theme in all of these is that, while there has clearly been a lot of progress, that progress is so far from the kind of progress on the scale that we need to combat this really urgent crisis. So I think a really good example is, as you mentioned, Joe Biden’s policy platform. Which has been praised, actually, by many climate activists.

And I think, for really good reasons, there are some really good ideas in it. There’s plans to transition the nation’s school buses to zero emissions. There’s plans to move the electricity grid off of fossil fuels by 2035. That’s way more ambitious than previous plans that we’ve seen. But ultimately, I think that the key thing is that there’s not a plan to really phase out of our existing fossil fuel infrastructure, or put a stop to creating more fossil fuel infrastructure in the future.

So my perspective is kind of, while I think that this progress really does show signs of improvement and shows, frankly, how far the climate movement has pushed the party in only just four, even two, years, that progress is really not dealing with the fossil fuel supply, which I think will be key to actually taking on these focuses.

Jaisal Noor: And how much of this, in your assessment, has to do with just how much the Democrats, or many Democrats, are in bed with the fossil fuel industry and sort of rely on them for campaign contributions?

Dharna Noor : Well, I think that, thanks to this climate justice movement, there’s been a lot more emphasis on pushing candidates to stop taking fossil fuel money. And many, many candidates, including most of those who ran for president, actually agreed to take that pledge. But I think that the next frontier for the climate movement will be trying to go even further and attack the adviser platforms to these campaigns.

So, for instance, while Joe Biden has committed to not taking fossil fuel money himself, he’s still being advised by [Theresa Call 00:00:04:24], who was on the board of [inaudible]. So I think that that’s sort of going to be the next frontier. But I do think that there has been more emphasis.

I would also say that there are many, many industries in this country and in others that are huge culprits of these greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not just about coal, oil, and gas companies. Although, of course, those are the biggest culprits. It’s also about big agriculture. It’s also about utility companies. So I think that there’s a long way to go. In fact, we are seeing some progress, but there’ll be a big fight in the future.

Jaisal Noor: And we know that Joe Biden has been, to some degree, endorsed the Green New Deal. How much would the Green New Deal go towards addressing some of the issues you lined out around with lowering emissions and building green infrastructure?

Dharna Noor : It’s tough to say, because I think the phrase Green New Deal, the term Green New Deal has been thrown around so much by so many different kinds of people. Frankly, so many people with so many different interests in recent months.

So again, while there has been more of, and at least purported commitment to environmental justice issues, like ensuring that the energy grid has expanded to meet those who don’t have energy right now, like measures to lower electricity bills for folks of color, low income folks of all kinds across the United States, those have been things that have gotten a lot more attention. But there’s a lot of parts of the Green New Deal that I think are really essential to it at its core that have not gotten as much attention.

So you mentioned earlier that Joe Biden and the DNC at large did not get that much praise from progressive healthcare activists for refusing to back Medicare for All.

And I think that any real climate adaptation plan would need to ensure that all people in this country have health care. Not only because, as there are more climate crises, climate disasters, all over the nation, all over the world, we’ll need to make sure that more people have access to health care that everyone has access to healthcare, but also because, frankly, a lot of people’s work right now is tied up in the fossil fuel industry. Not only people who again worked directly for coal and oil and gas companies, but also folks who work for the utility sector, in transportation and others who I think really need to be able to depend on not having to have their jobs continue in order to have healthcare.

So I think that there are these demands that are taken or thought of as sort of separate from the climate crisis that really should play a key role in anything that should be thought of as an actual brand new deal.

Jaisal Noor: So we’ve talked about the struggle within the Democratic Party. On the other hand, the other major political party, the Republicans have just denied this crisis exists. What would be the consequences of a second term for Donald Trump? We’ve seen his promises of opening up fracking and drilling and rolling back regulations. He’s really carried that out very effectively over the first three and a half years of his first term.

Dharna Noor : Yeah, I think there’s no question that if we had another Trump term, we would see far more devastation. We would see the continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. We would see the continued reliance on fossil fuels for transportation. We’d see more emissions from agriculture. And we’d also see, again, some of these lesser thought-of climate issues that I think are also huge contributors. For instance, the new NAFTA, the trade bill that Trump so proudly stood for just a couple of years ago or even just a year ago.

We know that the first NAFTA was hugely important in uplifting subsidies for energy companies. So I think that’s another really big issue that could play out. And I think that the Democrats could really stand to try to hold themselves in more opposition to the. Poll after poll shows that democratic voters, and even now some Republican voters, are really, really interested in seeing more aggressive climate policy that actually matches the scale and urgency of the crisis that we’re facing.

Jaisal Noor: And finally, the country is gripped by the coronavirus crisis, the devastating economic crisis, record unemployment. Do you expect climate change to be a greater issue going forward? We know that it hardly has come up in the debates, but do you expect that to be even raised in one of the three debates that Joe Biden and Donald Trump will face often?

Dharna Noor : I mean, do I expect it to? No, not really. But should it? Absolutely. Again, there’s polls that show that democratic voters and even some Republican voters want more talk of climate policy. Last year in the first Democratic debate, the top issue that Democratic voters wanted to hear about was the climate crisis.

And also, I think that there’s a tendency amongst some to say that we should push the climate crisis under the rug for right now because we’re facing this massive COVID-19 crisis. Okay, I understand. But it kind of misses the fact that these two crises really intersect in all sorts of ways, and kind of have cascading effects.

For instance, if there’s a hurricane like we’re seeing right now hitting the country, or when there are tornadoes, when there are heat waves, that can really create a lot of issues for many localities’ COVID-19 response plans.

We also know that the fossil fuel industry is responsible for so much pollution that can create so many respiratory issues and cardiovascular issues. And we know that people who have those kinds of issues because they live near a fossil fuel industry actually can see increased rates of COVID-19, increased vulnerability to death from COVID-19.

So I think that if, if the Democratic Party and the country at large or civic leaders at large, I should say, continue to treat all of these issues as so separate. We’ll just continue to see the same kind of crisis that we’ll have today. And also, Democrats will frankly run the risk of not really distinguishing themselves enough from the Republican Party to inspire a real platform of voters.

Jaisal Noor: All right, Dharna Noor with Earther, thank you so much for joining us and talking about climate. What a cheerful topic.

Dharna Noor : Thanks so much. Thanks for having me.

Jaisal Noor: Thank you for watching The Real News Network.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.