For months, the bourgeois press has gushed over Joe Biden’s supposedly progressive climate plans. A headline in the New York Times tells us, “Biden Plans to Move Fast with a ‘Climate Administration.’” The article goes on to paint a glowing picture of a visionary “Climate President” boldly changing course after four years of Trump’s climate denial and environmental rollbacks. Taking the Biden campaign at face value, many climate scientists and activists have also expressed hope that this administration will be a step forward.
At first glance, their “lesser-evil” reasoning might seem like common sense, at least regarding the climate crisis. Considering that Trump placed the EPA in the hands of a professional climate denier, isn’t a Biden administration a sound case of harm reduction?
Although most people may not realise it, the Obama-Biden administration presided over rapidly growing output of fossil fuels during each year of its two terms, resulting in the largest boom in oil production in the country’s history. Climate advisors and energy sector liaisons from that administration—who went on to find lucrative jobs as fossil fuel executives—are now being recruited to advise the Biden climate policy team. All of this might come as a surprise to anyone following the mainstream liberal media’s lauding coverage of the “Biden Green Deal”!
From a ruling-class perspective, this is the beauty of the two-party system. It allows them to create the illusion of “ambitious reforms” and “progress” while ensuring business as usual. This is the real program of Joe Biden, a man who was happy to attend a climate forum one day, and a fundraiser hosted by fossil fuel executives the next.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has repeatedly issued dire reports from scientists around the world warning of the catastrophic—not to say apocalyptic—consequences that await billions of people unless there is an immediate change of course. Specifically, there is a decade-long window to stop burning fossil fuels and carry out a complete transition to clean energy on a global scale, or an irreversible tipping point could be triggered, plunging the world into unimaginable barbarism.
Biden has no intention of carrying out this transition. For all his folksy bluster about “green jobs,” he has not renounced fossil fuels. The world is barreling at record speed toward a climate catastrophe, and the liberal media tells us to enjoy the ride—just be grateful that Trump is no longer at the helm! In the context of the climate crisis, lesser-evil logic tells us that if we’re going to drive off a cliff, it’s better to go with the driver who will only step on the gas a little—because the other driver will put the pedal to the metal!
Record oil boom
Explaining the importance of assembling a policy-focused presidential transition team, the above mentioned New York Times piece informs us, disapprovingly, that “George W. Bush’s transition created a fossil fuel focused Energy Task Force.” But when Obama and Biden took over the reins from the “Texas oilman,” did they take steps to reverse course? Their administration began with full control of the Senate and the House, so surely they presided over a period of bold climate action to curb emissions between 2008 and 2016?
Far from it. The Times article doesn’t bother to mention that by the end of the Obama-Biden years, six million more barrels per day (BPD) of fossil fuels were being pumped out compared to their “fossil fuel focused” predecessor. In fact, under Bush, US oil production was below 1970s levels, averaging 5.8 million BPD, only to go into a bonanza under the Democrats. Oddly enough, in all of its coverage of Biden’s alleged climate crusade, the New York Times doesn’t find this bit of news fit to print.
In 2016, at the end of the Obama years, Forbes drew a balance sheet of an administration that had delighted in putting forward an environmentally progressive image, and concluded that, in reality, the fossil fuel sector had never done better:
The irony is that President Obama—who is not viewed as a friend of the oil and gas industry—has presided over rising oil production in each of the seven years he has been in office … From that low point in 2008, US oil production has grown each year to reach 9.4 million BPD in 2015—a gain of 88% during Obama’s presidency. This is, in fact, the largest domestic oil production increase during any presidency in US history. (our emphasis)
Throughout his election campaign, Biden frequently played up his legacy as part of the Obama administration. And there we have it, an earth-warming 88% increase in the production of crude oil and natural gas—the fastest fossil fuel expansion in the history of the country.
Helped by Obama and Biden, fossil fuel companies doubled their contribution to global warming in recent decades, emitting more greenhouse gas globally in the last 30 years than in nearly two and a half centuries since the rise of modern capitalist industry. This, with the perfect knowledge of capitalist governments—the IPCC has been publishing its warnings since 1988—and of the fossil fuel companies themselves who were allowed to conduct a massive disinformation campaign about climate science for decades.
Predictably, the fossil fuels boom and the resulting emissions have led to a breakneck acceleration in global warming and the onset of catastrophic climate chaos. We can thank the smiling, environmentally friendly Democratic administration for helping to speed up the process.
“Here’s the Deal. I Don’t Support the Green New Deal!”
After four years of unpredictable instability under Trump, Biden’s victory represents the victory of Wall Street’s candidate—a reliable instrument for defending the common interests of the ruling class. To the great annoyance of the respectable capitalist establishment, Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement. This symbolic and toothless accord carried no mandate, and therefore allowed the member states to make a climate gesture at no extra cost. Biden will restore the gesture, and all will be well—or so we are told.
During the campaign and on the debate stage, Biden made clear where he stood concerning the Green New Deal when he outright rejected the signature policy platform supported by Bernie Sanders and AOC. As we have explained elsewhere, the Green New Deal has severe limitations. Unlike its counterpart in the British Labour Party, which calls for “public, democratic ownership as far as necessary for the transformation,” the proposal put forward by AOC suggests that the complete retooling of the economy could occur within the limits of capitalist private property and the market. Although the resolution includes sweeping goals like ensuring universal employment and protections for workers transitioning out of the fossil fuel industry, its only really actionable item is the creation of a congressional committee to draw up a plan—a committee that would be dominated by pro-capitalist politicians. Still, it is widely perceived as a call for a root-and-branch transformation of the country’s energy infrastructure—and this explains its rising popularity.
When Biden blurted out, “Here’s the deal. I don’t support the Green New Deal,” it had a ring of betrayal for many climate activists. No need to worry, some liberals were quick to argue, “his plan was inspired by the GND.” The political director of the Sunrise Movement responded in the same approving vein: “The Biden Green Deal is not a bad deal, it’s not the plan we have, but it’s a damn good start. [winking emoji]”
“The Green New Deal is not a bad deal, but it’s not the plan I have—that’s the ‘Biden Green Deal’”—@JoeBiden— Evan Weber 🌅🔥 (@evanlweber) October 1, 2020
Seems right! Lol 😂
Conversely, the Biden Green Deal is not a bad deal, it’s not the plan we have, but it’s a damn good start. 😉 pic.twitter.com/ws7wktkgW1
Though liberals are dazzled by the sound of each rehearsed utterance from Biden’s mouth, actions speak louder than platitudes. Within days of clinching the election, Wall Street Joe wasted no time gathering his fossil fuel pals to get down to business and discuss West Wing job openings.
First up, for his White House climate liaison, who better than US Rep. Cedric Richmond, one of the top oil men in Congress. During his time in office, Richmond has collected $341,000 in donations from oil and gas companies—more than almost any Democrat—from the likes of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Valero Energy, Phillips 66, etc.
While the appointment is yet another letdown for activists who thought the incoming administration could be “pressured to the left,” it comes as no surprise when we look at Biden’s team of climate policy advisers: one fossil fuel executive after another. For example, Ernest Moniz, a strong advocate of fracking and natural gas who served as Energy Secretary under Obama before joining the board of Southern Company, an Atlanta-based natural gas company. The multi-millionaire fossil fuel executive has been advising Biden’s campaign and might even land his old job back under the new administration. There, he could continue to argue that fossil fuels have an essential role to play in a “low-carbon” future.
Other former members and partners of the Obama administration have taken the same route, from go-betweens for the White House and the energy industry to industry executives, full circle back to Biden advisers and hopeful candidates for his policy teams. In fact, the Wall Street Journal identified 40 current or former lobbyists hired by Biden’s transition team, including representatives from fossil fuel companies like BP America, and other “team members [who] are well-respected in their fields and for their extensive experience in the federal agencies they review.”
This revolving door is nothing new for the bourgeois state—the Trump administration employed 281 lobbyists. After all, the state is “nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” to use Marx’s famous words. Managing those affairs in this epoch means paying lip service to the urgency of addressing an impending climate crisis while ensuring that whatever transition takes place will be a profitable one for capitalism, at the expense of the working class.
Capitalism is humanity’s obstacle
In 2020, the world has lived through a decade’s worth of crises compressed into a single year. With the international media focused on the pandemic, the US elections, and the onset of a deep world slump, the looming climate crisis can get buried in the headlines. Yet this issue is front and center in the lives of millions—it’s a hard one to ignore when vast regions are once again in flames or underwater.
So far in 2020, the combined land area that has burned in the western region of the US is nearly 14,000 square miles—equivalent to about half the land area of South Carolina. This year is not only on track to be the hottest globally in history, but it also saw record concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It also saw a record-breaking 29 tropical storms in the Atlantic—so many that the scientists naming them had to resort to the letters of the Greek alphabet after exhausting the Latin one.
The evidence of climate change is not only overwhelming, but it’s also accelerating, and climate activists are understandably desperate for some good news. But holding out hope for progress under the right-wing administration of Joe Biden is a dead end and a recipe for demoralisation. The experience of yet another capitalist government putting profits and capital accumulation above all else will be a hard lesson for the quickly-radicalising generation of youth who see this century’s climate crisis as their own future. But rather than succumbing to doomsday pessimism, it should be grounds for drawing a self-evident conclusion—that capitalism and its political representatives are responsible for bringing humanity to this brink.
More than any other issue, this crisis has revealed the narrow limits of private property and the nation-state. The very logic of capitalism makes it impossible to carry out the urgent measures required to address this crisis—the conscious coordination of society’s productive forces and the rapid retooling of the economy on an unprecedented scale. In short, the crisis is screaming out the need for a democratically planned economy under the control of the working class. Answering the call means fighting for socialist revolution in our lifetime.