As governments gear up to spend vast sums to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus, the world has an unprecedented opportunity to land a big blow against climate change by investing in clean energy and green infrastructure. This week, the Democratic nominee for president showed he gets it.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has drastically ratcheted up his ambition for the fight against climate change. Last year he envisioned an emissions-free power sector by 2050. Now he recognizes that the goal is achievable by 2035. As he explained Monday, “2050 is a million years from now in the minds of most people. My plan is focused on taking action now, this decade, in the 2020s.”
After years of climate inaction in Washington, the need for urgency has never been greater, and Biden is right to accelerate his timetable. If elected, he now promises to spend $2 trillion over four years to give the U.S. a mighty shove toward emissions reductions in not only electric power but also transportation, buildings, housing and other areas — in a way that provides jobs and cleaner air and water for the communities that need them most. Such an effort would ensure that the U.S. makes meaningful progress on climate protection and, in the process, provide the economic stimulus and jobs that Americans need to emerge from the COVID-19 recession and come out stronger.
Biden envisions a long list of clean-energy investments, including efforts to upgrade the U.S. energy grid; accelerate research on technologies such as batteries, advanced nuclear reactors and clean refrigeration; and expand subsidies for solar and wind power. All good ideas that will help lay a foundation for decades of green growth.
At the same time, he would give the auto industry incentives to develop electric vehicles, subsidize the retrofitting of millions of polluting buildings, plug abandoned oil and gas wells, promote climate-friendly agriculture and invest in emissions-free public transit and intercity rail — all efforts designed to create jobs. He would create a Civilian Climate Corps, patterned on FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, to help restore ecosystems, make forests more resilient to wildfires, plant trees, and in other ways improve public lands.
To address the fact that pollution has long fallen heaviest on low-income Black and Latino communities, Biden proposes to deliver 40% of spending to disadvantaged areas. A variety of investments would be made in improving transit networks in underserved neighborhoods, building sustainable housing, improving home energy efficiency, cleaning up “legacy pollution,” replacing lead water pipes and in other ways working to reverse decades of neglect.
Biden deserves credit for packing a large number of constructive policies into one big plan. If the name were not already taken, one might even think of it as a Green New Deal. But the name doesn’t matter. What matters is getting it done. And that starts with turning out the present administration, which has taken every opportunity to block progress on emissions. It will help if voters also deliver a Congress that understands the urgency of fighting climate change — and the unprecedented opportunity that now lies before us.
Michael R. Bloomberg is a former mayor of New York City and candidate for president.