Joe Biden promised to "transition" the fossil fuel industry last night. That's huge.
In an exchange with Trump on environmental justice at the final debate, Biden set out a bold path forward.
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Last night, Joe Biden gave us a glimpse of the inevitability of our fossil fuel free future. Now, all of a sudden, climate is center stage for the last 10 days of the election. Who woulda thought? Not me.
In last night’s debate, there was a remarkable scene: In the final question posed to candidates, moderator Kristen Welker, a woman of color, asked the candidates about environmental justice. Biden answered quickly: “I would transition from the oil industry… because the oil industry pollutes, significantly.”
Trump thought he caught Biden in a big mistake. And all day long today, the Republican Party has been gleefully celebrating. (Video below, and full transcript of the exchange is at the bottom.)
Biden later clarified those statements in a post-debate statement, but kept the central premise of his point: The fossil fuel era will end, and a Biden Presidency will make it end more quickly.
Now, I don’t think this was a particularly risky thing for Biden to say, in fact it’s pretty obvious. After all, not transitioning away from fossil fuels will kill the planet! It’s the same point that world leaders made in Paris five years ago, and since then, things have only gotten worse.
People are ready for transformational change. Fossil fuels aren’t popular. The science is clear that the fossil fuel era needs to end as quickly as possible. There’s a growing global activist movement on climate. Things aren’t looking good for the fossil fuel industry.
And somehow the conventional wisdom that Republicans (and mainstream political reporters) still cling to is that climate action will be bad for the economy, even when the focal point of a Green New Deal is jobs and a just transition for fossil fuel industry workers! (including a federal jobs guarantee! retrofitting every building in America! with trillions of dollars of investment in renewable energy!)
This year has not been kind to the fossil fuel industry. Between March and August, the industry lost 107,000 jobs – job losses at the fastest rate since the discovery of fossil fuels hundreds of years ago – and most are unlikely to ever return. The continued collapse of the coal industry, a fracking bust in Texas and the sudden shutdown of transportation networks worldwide means that we’re speeding up the transition away from fossil fuels – even under President Trump!
That Biden is now on record as supporting that transition can only help him – both in the short term and long term.
Even in Texas and Pennsylvania, climate action is overwhelmingly popular.
Before yesterday’s debate, I said that the evening’s conversation about climate change would be a moment unparalleled in the history of US climate policy, and at first glance, I think that’s true.
Polls overwhelmingly show that Trump’s climate denial is his greatest weakness – and that’s even after factoring in his colossal failure in the pandemic response that has left more than 220,000 Americans dead.
But of course the climate emergency poses a greater risk than even the coronavirus, and voters know that. These overlapping emergencies, happening alongside a racial uprising hundreds of years in the making, provides further evidence that the status quo can no longer continue.
Even in Texas and Pennsylvania, the two largest fracking states in the country, climate action is overwhelmingly popular. In Pennsylvania, voters are *even more* likely to support Biden when they hear messages about both candidates climate plans. In Texas, the heart of the fossil fuel industry, 20% of the state’s power now comes from wind. Texas now employs more people in renewable energy (254,000) than in oil and gas (162,000).
There’s anecdotal evidence on Twitter this morning that Biden’s courage to commit to an eventual end to the fossil fuel industry – something no presidential candidate has ever said on a stage this large – has boosted enthusiasm among younger voters.
A few years ago, I’d never have dreamed that we’d be where we are today: A presidential candidate campaigning explicitly on climate, the unification of a broad movement for racial, economic, and environmental justice, and a youth-run climate organization led by women of color as one of the most powerful political forces in the country.
This is how radical change happens. Slowly, and then all at once. Just like how you fall in love.
Climate change is an existential threat, but we’re finally beginning to meet that threat with a movement on the scale of the problem. Our movement and our leaders are nowhere near perfect. They never will be. But we’re on our way.
Full transcript of the question on environmental justice:
Let me ask this final question in this section and then I want to move on to our final section. President Trump, people of color are much more likely to live near oil refineries and chemical plants. In Texas, there are families who worry the plants near them are making them sick. Your administration has rolled back regulations on these kinds of facilities. Why should these families give you another four years in office?
The families that we’re talking about are employed heavily and they are making a lot of money, more money than they’ve ever made. If you look at the kind of numbers that we’ve produced for Hispanic, for Black, for Asian, it’s nine times greater the percentage gain than it was under in three years than it was under eight years of the two of them to put it nicely, nine times more. Now somebody lives, I have not heard the numbers or the statistics that you’re saying, but they’re making a tremendous amount of money. Economically, we saved it and I saved it again a number of months ago, when oil was crashing because of the pandemic. We saved it.
Say what you want to bet relationship. We got Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Russia to cut back, way back. We saved our oil industry and now it’s very vibrant again and everybody has very inexpensive gasoline. Remember that.
Vice President Biden, your response and then we’re going to have a final question for both of you.
My response is that those people live on what they call fence lines. He doesn’t understand this. They live near chemical plants that in fact, pollute, chemical plants and oil plants and refineries that pollute. I used to live near that when I was growing up in Claymont, Delaware and there are more oil refineries in Marcus Hook and the Delaware River than there is any place, including in Houston at the time. When my mom get in the car and when there are first frost to drive me to school, turning the windshield wiper, there’d been oil slick in the window. That’s why so many people in my state were dying and getting cancer. The fact is those frontline communities, it’s not a matter of what you’re paying them. It matters how you keep them safe. What do you do? You impose restrictions on the pollutions that if the pollutants coming out of those fence line communities.
Would he close down the oil industry? Would you close down the oil industry?
By the way, I would transition from the oil industry, yes.
Oh, that’s a big statement.
I will transition. It is a big statement.
That’s a big statement.
I would stop.
Why would you do that?
Because the oil industry pollutes, significantly.
Oh, I see. Okay.
Here’s the deal-
That’s a big statement.
Well if you let me finish the statement… because it has to be replaced by renewable energy over time, over time, and I’d stop giving to the oil industry, I’d stop giving them federal subsidies. You won’t give federal subsidies to the gas, oh, excuse me to solar and wind?
Why are we giving it to oil industry?
We actually give it to solar and wind. That’s maybe the biggest statement. In terms of business, that’s the biggest statement. Because basically what he’s saying is he is going to destroy the oil industry. Will you remember that Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania, Oklahoma?
Okay, Vice President Biden, let me give you 10 seconds.
Remember that Pennsylvania, Oklahoma… Ohio
Vice President Biden, let me give you 10 seconds to respond
He takes everything out of context, but the point is, look, we have to move toward net zero emissions. The first place to do that by the year 2035 is in energy production, by 2050 totally.
Have a great weekend, everyone.
If you’ve read this far, promise me you’ll take some time to get some fresh air over the next few days. Go for a walk. Collect leaves. Visit a lake. Remember that you are a person who has inherent worth and who exists at this specific revolutionary moment in time. Rest up. There’s a lot of work to do.