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Climate justice groups are disappointed at the recently unveiled Biden-Sanders joint action plan on climate change, saying it fails to recognize the urgency of the situation which can overshadow Democrats’ efforts to rally the more progressive voices behind the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Since Sen. Bernie Sanders’ abrupt exit from the Democratic field mid-April, the respective teams of Biden and the Vermont senator have cooperated to build a joint action plan that can rally both Democratic conservatives and left-leaning progressives behind a unified political agenda.
On July 8, after weeks of haggling, the Biden-Sanders joint task force came out with wide-ranging policy recommendations, including on climate change, overseen and approved by top Biden supporter and former Secretary of State John Kerry and Sanders’ ally Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
As reported in TRNN’s climate roundup last week, the plan aims to convert four million buildings to comply with energy efficiency standards in the next four years; to achieve “net-zero” emissions by 2030; and to reach 100% carbon pollution-free power by 2035. There are other specific proposals to address systemic problems, such as climate justice, in addition to increasing taxes on corporations from 21% to 28%.
But critics were quick to point out the proposal makes no mention of phasing out fracking—an extraction method linked to water and air pollution, greenhouse gases, and increased incidence of earthquakes.
The Biden-Sanders team also recommends retrofitting power generating plants with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology—a measure backed by the fossil fuel industry and seen as a subsidy to keep oil and gas corporations in business.
This has attracted flak from key national climate action groups, including the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, which are demanding direct action to reverse the tide of climate-related catastrophes.
Talking to TRNN, Alyssa Morin of the Sunrise Movement put it bluntly: “Joe Biden has accepted $800,000 from energy companies. And the fact that he has done so speaks about how he is likely to act in future. We don’t have a reason to believe he will sign on to carbon tax and pollution tax because he did not sign on to the green new deal.”
Sunrise, a nationwide movement working to stem the climate crisis, largely comprises young progressive voices under the age of 40 who, Alyssa maintains, are most affected by the climate emergency and economic bubbles. The movement supports and endorses like-minded political candidates and aims to create millions of high-paying jobs through conversion to a non-fossil fuel-based economy.
“We only have 10 years to achieve a 100% carbon free economy,” Alyssa said, adding that “the targets set by the climate unity task force don’t convey the sense of urgency.” Acknowledging that Biden’s commitment to achieve 100% carbon pollution-free power is a significant step, Alyssa observed the unity plan commits to spending $2 trillion in four years compared to Sanders’ $16 trillion over 10 years, which is significantly more money available per year. “It makes you wonder how we will make the shift to renewable economy if we’re not spending as much.”
Matt Kearney, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion (XR), echoed Morin’s sentiment. Talking to TRNN from Boston, Kearney said XR bases its demands on available scientific evidence which suggests we have 10 years or fewer to switch to renewables and a zero-emission economy. “Biden’s campaign seems to be going in the same direction but the timeline is off the mark. We’re demanding a faster action because the science is telling us there is no time,” he said.
XR, a global environmental movement employing nonviolent civil disobedience to compel government action on the climate crisis, has attracted climate activists from all ages and walks of life and has staged rallies in major US cities over the years.
Commenting on the specifics of the Biden-Sanders unity task force climate proposal, Kearney said: “I don’t know why fracking was not mentioned [in the plan]. XR demands include mitigating the damage done by fracking and 100% carbon-fossil fuel free energy means an end to fracking.” He said there’s an opportunity for Biden to clarify what he means by carbon-free, and that “naming fracking as a don’t and wind and solar as dos would be consistent with XR vision.”
Mark Longabaugh is a Democratic strategist who advised Bernie Sanders in his 2016 presidential run. He had a word of caution for the activist circles: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
“This all or nothing mentality is not a good strategy,” he said, adding: “I understand the frustration in some quarters but we have to move forward. By any measure, Biden has put forward the most powerful and progressive agenda ever.”
Longabaugh, who was also a political strategist for Democratic candidate Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign, maintains that if Biden wins the presidency and Democrats manage to take back the Senate, then there will be a chance to get going on a more progressive track. “The environment today is very different from what it was in 2016. Biden’s politics is so much better today. He’s reached out to the progressives, formed unity commissions, and is bringing the party together masterfully.”
TRNN asked Kearney and Morin if the Biden-Sanders joint climate proposal will help or hinder Democratic efforts to get young, progressive voters to vote for Biden. “I’m not sure. Supporting Biden is going to be a very personal choice because of his past,” remarked Morin. She added it’s been a pleasant surprise to see young people getting involved in politics and beginning to see their voices can be heard.
Kearney agreed that voting will be a personal choice for many. “Some would vote for AOC, some would look at 100% carbon free economy slogan, and others would see this as a partial step. It’s fair to say that those who take their cue from climate science have totally been in Sanders’ camp and might actually drop out.”
Longabaugh added that the manner in which Biden has moved to the left is smart politics “because he understands the demands coming from the activist wing of the party.” Asked by TRNN whether it’s issues like climate change or the common opposition to Trump’s presidency which will ultimately forge political unity, Longabaugh said both of those factors are critical. “Trump is the ultimate unifier. We have to get him out. And most Americans believe climate change is real and care about it. So both these dynamics go hand and hand.”