With environmental health firmly holding on to its place on the front page of the news, it only makes sense that politicians would attempt to use eco-friendly terms as a means of gaining the approval of the people. Days after stepping foot into the oval office, Biden announced a new plan to tackle the evergrowing problem of climate change. Priority number one of the Biden Plan is as follows: “Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050. On day one, Biden will sign a series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track. And, he will demand that Congress enacts legislation in the first year of his presidency that: 1) establishes an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than the end of his first term in 2025, 2) makes a historic investment in clean energy and climate research and innovation, 3) incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations across the economy, especially in communities most impacted by climate change.” Though this plan certainly is ambitious, let’s take a deeper look into the reality behind part of the Biden Plan.
The goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 raises concerns as to the legitimacy of the plan. This is because having net-zero emissions means that the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is the same amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere. Since the number of emissions produced far outweighs the number of emissions removed, hence the global warming trend, the most obvious way of reaching net-zero emissions would be to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Some examples of this would be driving less, taking fewer flights, and purchasing fewer items. However, the Biden Plan does not include any reduction measures outside of transportation and oil and gas production. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these two sectors combine for 42% of the nation’s emissions.
Even though a reduction of this magnitude seems to be more than enough, diving into the plan a bit further shows that the reduction will not be as steep as anticipated. The Biden Plan hopes to tackle the emissions produced by cars by implementing electric vehicles. As of now, the current technology isn’t available to make electric cars a viable alternative, environmentally speaking. In short, as of now, the emissions produced during production cause electric cars to produce more carbon dioxide over their lifetime than conventional vehicles.
Though technology has rescued humanity in times past, medical advancements for example allow humans to live longer, healthier lives, betting on technology is still a big gamble. Keep in mind that until this new invention that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a rapid pace is developed and manufactured on a large scale, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will only continue to grow. Essentially, the problem will continue to grow and the aforementioned invention is not guaranteed to arrive before irreversible damage is done to the planet. An example of this in the field of medicine would be having a disease and simply waiting for a cure. There is no guarantee that the cure will come in your lifetime and if you don’t attempt to mitigate the disease through changes in diet or current forms of medication, your condition will only worsen.
The third part of this section of the Biden Plan is perhaps the most interesting as it focuses on climate equity. Climate equity, or climate justice, is the goal of evenly spreading out the problems brought on by climate change as well as the technological advancements that have the potential to reduce those same problems. A simplified example would be a textile factory built upstream. The factory may be powered by wind or solar energy but the dyes and other chemicals used during the production process cause problems for those living down the stream. Climate equity would either force the factory to stop using the chemicals that pollute the water or give the people downstream the technology necessary to purify the polluted water. The Climate Equity Act looks promising in terms of bringing about climate justice. The Climate Equity Act consists of three major parts. The first is the establishment of the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability which serves to provide input on federal laws through an environmental lens. Second is the requirement of agencies to appoint a director of climate and environmental justice, which will hold the agency accountable for its environmental actions. Should that fail, each agency is given an equity score which could harm the agency legally and financially should it drop too low. Lastly, the Clean Equity Act redistributes capital investment to marginalized communities. This would diversify the portfolio of grant and federal loan recipients. Looking back at history, these types of policies tend to bring about positive results. A recent example of this would be the Clean Air Act which the EPA determined that the benefits “significantly exceed costs”. Should this be the case for the Climate Equity Act, there may be a massive increase in societal contributions as people can shift their focus away from the damage brought on by climate change.
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