Biden Faces Left-Wing Criticism on Climate Policy

Despite offering the most progressive environmental platform in major party history, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee faces disapproval from some progressive groups.

When former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed former V.P. Joe Biden for president on Monday, the former Vice President announced that he would form special policy groups with Sanders—among them a special committee on climate. On the livestream, Biden pledged that the United States would “take a backseat to no one” when it comes to climate action—but many climate activists, most of whom supported Sen. Sanders in the primaries, share doubt about the former V.P.’s commitment to the issue.

While the campaign’s outreach strategy of policy groups and promises may offer respite to some progressives, a tranche of left-wing activists are holding out. For one, there’s no talk yet of who will staff the committees, according to Axios, other than the fact that they will represent the “diverse viewpoints” within the Democratic Party and reflect the Vice President’s “progressive vision for America.”

For some, the ambiguity reflects Biden’s overall lack of definition on the issue. Despite calling climate change an existential threat, Biden has repeatedly refused to endorse banning fracking, a policy long lauded by left-wing groups but dreaded by fracking-dependent economies like Pennsylvania. And for some groups, Biden’s truism that we simply need to stop using fossil fuels isn’t enough, especially after a primary season that saw intricate plans from candidates Warren, Inslee, and Sanders.

According to the New York Times, leadership in The Climate Mobilization—a group that backed Sanders and worked closely with the campaign on policy matters—is pressing Biden to offer more a more comprehensive plan before the general election. Former staffers for Gov. Jay Inslee’s short-lived presidential bid have consolidated to promote the campaign’s commended climate policies to Biden and other down-ballot Democrats through an initiative called Evergreen. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the foremost progressives in Congress, told the New York Times that although she hadn’t yet spoken to Biden, she believes that the campaign must bolster its approach to climate in order to secure the progressive vote in November. Groups like U.S. Youth Climate Strike and the Sunrise Movement have even explicitly refused to endorse the former V.P., as announced via Twitter.

Even in the face of harsh criticism, Biden is offering what many see as the most progressive climate change platform in history, going as far on his website to acknowledge that the Green New Deal is a “crucial framework” for mitigating the climate crisis. Just last year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) dismissed the Green New Deal as the “green dream or whatever”. Now, the phrase is at the center of a core policy of the party’s presumptive nominee, demonstrating the stark change in political will surrounding the issue.

Although the platform is markedly more progressive than Clinton’s in 2016—and drastically more so than Obama’s in 2008 or 2012—it falls short of Inslee’s, Sanders’s, and Warren’s. For one, Biden loosely advocates complete decarbonization of the economy by 2050, while Sanders’s plan set a benchmark of placing the electricity and transportation sectors on entirely renewable energy by 2030. (The Biden plan argues for some sort of benchmark in 2025 to “ensure we get to the finish line”, although it’s not clear what the target includes.) And while Biden advocates “aggressive” caps on methane emissions, any mention of fracking—one of the most notorious methane emitters—is conspicuously absent. The Clean Energy Revolution, as Biden calls his climate plan, costs just a tenth of what Sanders’s did, reflecting the plan’s dampened ambition. Groups like 350 Action have pushed Biden to adopt at least a $10 trillion investment.

Climate change was one of the most prominent issues on Democrats’ minds throughout the primary season, ranking just below health care in contests like Iowa and Nevada. To win in November, Biden will need to pull some Republicans into his camp, too—and while older conservatives are more likely to show skepticism towards climate action, research from Yale argues that younger Republicans are concerned about the issue. Millennial Republicans don’t just believe that climate change is real, according to the survey, but they also want to see something done about it—something that Trump hasn’t offered. So while climate remains the top issue for self-described liberal Democrats, it could be more of a bipartisan appeal than many in either party realize. What has been a mainstay of progressive politics over the past decade may finally be suffusing into moderate—and even conservative—territory.

The Coronavirus Might Decrease Our CO2 Emissions

Unlike the response to climate change, which has been largely haphazard and milquetoast, the response to the coronavirus has been aggressive and vigorous. So far, the virus has killed over 4,000 people—a fraction of the ultimate human cost of unmitigated climate change—and infected over 116,000. These are, of course, just confirmed cases. But the preventative measures caused by the outbreak have an unintended consequence: a drastic reduction in carbon emissions.

China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, has seen a drop in emissions of nearly 25%, producing clearer skies and significantly less air pollution. With only a small reduction in growth, the coronavirus has demonstrated that we can very feasibly reduce global pollution while keeping the economy stable.

We can expect to see more emissions reductions, in line with the cancellation of large events like South by Southwest and Coachella, the closing of schools, and the cessation of international flights. Chicago cancelled its St. Patrick’s Day parade. International conferences, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, are being postponed, cancelling hundreds of flights that would have pumped carbon into the air. Global air traffic has already decreased by about 4 percent, but this will only yield long-term benefits if the drop is sustained, according to the Global Carbon Project.

Opinion | Warren Must Endorse Sanders to Preserve a Habitable Planet

Warren and Sanders were the only candidates to receive an A rating or above from Greenpeace. Now that Warren is out, she must throw her weight behind Sanders.

Elizabeth Warren’s climate plans—while not as ambitious as those of Bernie Sanders—were some of the best in the field. Although that bar is low, Warren’s plans were detailed and incorporated some of the best ideas from the campaign of Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who attempted to assert himself as the climate candidate early on in the race. Her latest proposal, released shortly before she dropped out, correctly pegged Wall Street’s greed as a major contributor to the climate crises and planned to prevent major corporate investments from contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

As Warren has withdrawn from the race, there are just two options now: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. On climate change, the differences are stark, as I wrote in my last opinion; as a self-proclaimed progressive, Warren can’t claim to want “big, structural change” without endorsing Bernie Sanders, the only candidate in the race promising that. Joe Biden famously said to a group of wealthy donors that no one’s standard of living will “fundamentally change”—it’s safe to assume that that logic applies to climate action, too. Why would Biden tell a group of donors that nothing would change if he saw the need to restructure our economy to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions? (He wouldn’t.) Warren’s taking time to “consider” her endorsement shows a potentially frightening abandonment of the progressive movement. If she wants to retain her position at the forefront of the movement for “big, structural change,” she must endorse the Green New Deal and Bernie Sanders.

New York's Plastic Bag Ban Goes Into Effect

The United States' largest city bans one of the least recycled plastic items in the world.

New York stopped selling single-use plastic bags on Sunday, moving to decrease the amount of plastic that ends up as dangerous litter, harmful ocean pollution, or leaking toxics in landfills. Starting on Sunday, customers in the state will no longer receive the classic plastic bags that have for so long carried takeout and groceries, and must instead opt for paper or reusable options.

Before the policy, New Yorkers used approximately 23 billion plastic bags per year. Only about 1 percent of all plastic bags worldwide are returned for recycling, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

New York is the third state to stop selling plastic bags; California and Oregon have already enacted similar policies. All of Hawaii’s counties ban the use of plastic bags as well.

Americans use approximately 100 billion plastic bags each year, which require about 12 million barrels of oil to produce.

The bags also contribute to the decline of marine ecosystems. They cause approximately 100,000 marine animal deaths each year, both by consumption and suffocation. 33 percent of leatherback sea turtles have been found to have consumed plastic.

Protect Yourself from Pesticides

The industrialization of agriculture has given rise to an exponential increase in pesticide use in just the last century. According to the Environmental Working Group, over 70 percent of all produce now sold in the United States is contaminated with some type of pesticide. But while these chemicals may increase agricultural productivity, they are linked with some of the most debilitating diseases that afflict modern-day civilization.

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine recently found that people who do not regularly consume pesticides suffer from 25 percent fewer cancers than those that do. Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health found similarly disturbing data: participants who consume foods high in pesticides are significantly more likely to experience fertility problems.

One pesticide in particular, glyphosate, which is banned in the European Union but not the United States, is linked to hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, strokes, autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple types of cancer, according to a study published by the National Institutes of Health. Glyphosate is found in Roundup, a common household pesticide, as well as in industrial practices.

Consumption of triazines, another set of common pesticides, has been correlated with higher breast cancer incidence and reproductive toxicity.

Chlorpyrifos, widely regarded as one of the most toxic pesticides, harms the brain of developing fetuses and children. An organic diet, according to the journal Environmental Research, reduces one’s consumption of chlorpyrifos, as well as malathion, a carcinogen, and neonicotinoids, known to kill bees.

While pesticides seem to be ubiquitous, it is possible to reduce your consumption of these toxic chemicals. Eating organic produce is generally seen to help. Scientists tested the urine of individuals eating a conventional diet, and then tested their urine again when they switched to an organic diet. On the conventional diet, participants had 40 different pesticides evident in their urine. After the organic diet intervention, their overall pesticide level reduced by 60 percent.

If you’re not able to buy all of your produce organic, there are twelve products that absolutely must be purchased organic. These products, known as the “dirty dozen” to the Environmental Working Group, have repeatedly tested positive for multiple pesticides and contain higher levels of pesticides than typical produce. These are:

  1. Strawberries

  2. Spinach

  3. Kale

  4. Nectarines

  5. Apples

  6. Grapes

  7. Peaches

  8. Cherries

  9. Pears

  10. Tomatoes

  11. Celery

  12. Potatoes

On the other hand, there are 15 crops that frequently contain little to no pesticide residue:

  1. Avocados

  2. Sweet corn

  3. Pineapples

  4. Frozen sweet peas

  5. Onions

  6. Papayas

  7. Eggplants

  8. Asparagus

  9. Kiwis

  10. Cabbages

  11. Cauliflower

  12. Cantaloupes

  13. Broccoli

  14. Mushrooms

  15. Honeydew melons

More than 70 percent of these samples had little to no pesticide residue.

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