President Biden has lost no time in denying the false narrative of those who have denied, not only the critical nature of climate change, but the fact that it exists at all -- including the former denier-in-chief, Donald Trump.
Among a series of executive orders signed January 27, Biden ordered a 60-day “pause” on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters, and a “rigorous review” of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters.
In addition, steps were ordered to identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030, a renewable energy source ridiculed by Trump who worried that windmills cause cancer and kill birds.
An environmental organization dedicated to preventing offshore drilling in the Atlantic called Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic (SODA) is encouraged by Biden’s action, which is needed to both protect coastal waters and beaches and to combat the negative environmental impact of fossil fuel.
“We are very pleased with the news that the Biden administration is following through on its campaign promises and to, at least at this point, review permitting new drilling in U.S. federal lands and waters,” said Peg Howell, SODA spokesperson. “SODA’s mission is to have a durable, permanent moratorium, and we believe that President Biden’s actions are heading in that direction."
However, Biden's initiatives are much broader than simply addressing offshore drilling. He explained they will shift the U.S. away from fossil fuels, create millions of jobs in renewable energy, and conserve massive areas of public lands and waters.
“It’s not time for small measures,” he said, stressing that strong action to combat climate change, which he said is long overdue as he called it an “existential threat,” is essential.
Already, in his short time in office, Biden has rejoined the Paris climate agreement, stopped the Keystone XL pipeline, imposed new limits on oil and gas production, and mandated that climate change be made a priority in every federal agency.
The White House said the orders he signed January 27 will “tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad while creating good-paying union jobs and equitable clean energy future, building modern and sustainable infrastructure, restoring scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking across the federal government, and re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.”
Biden promised to create a federal fleet of electric cars, saying that would produce new good-paying jobs. The very next day General Motors announced plans to phase out vehicles using internal combustion engines by 2035, saying it will be entirely carbon neutral at all facilities worldwide by that date.
Was that a coincidence?
“General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe working to establish a safer, greener and better world,” company Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.”
Fossil Fuels Industry Howls
Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry and its political supporters were not quite so pleased. There were the predictable doomsday comments from the industry like this from Mike Sommers at the American Petroleum Institute on his Twitter feed. He even brings the tragic coronavirus pandemic into play:
“With a stroke of a pen, the administration is shifting America’s bright energy future into reverse and setting us on a path toward greater reliance on foreign energy produced with lower environmental standards. Limiting domestic energy production is nothing more than an “import more oil” policy that runs counter to our shared goal of emissions reductions and will make it harder for local communities to recover from the pandemic.”
The offshore drilling industry chimed in as well:
“This decision is contrary to law and puts America on a path toward increased imports from foreign nations that have been characterized as pollution havens,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association. “Any pause of American energy opportunities will do untold harm towards American economic, energy, and environmental progress. Reducing American offshore oil and gas development means lost jobs, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and less funding for outdoor parks and recreation activities for urban, underprivileged communities. There is no shortage of negative consequences from this leasing pause.”
Following Biden’s announcement, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and five other GOP attorneys general sent a letter to the president containing a thinly veiled threat of a lawsuit to block his actions.
“Our states have led the charge in successfully challenging unauthorized and unlawful executive actions, as you know from your years as vice president,” they wrote. “You can be assured that we will do so again, if necessary.”
No Time to Waste
Nevertheless, the fledgling Biden administration is pushing forward, fully cognizant of warnings of the world's climate scientists that there is no time to waste.
On January 27, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reported that the so-called "Doomsday Clock," which estimates how close the world is to apocalypse, will remain at 100 seconds to midnight, or total annihilation, in part because of the climate crisis.
The scientists pointed to the woeful response of world leaders to the coronavirus pandemic, the erosion of the public’s faith in science and government institutions, the acceleration of nuclear weapons programs, and the persistent threat of climate change as key factors in its estimation. The covid pandemic drove a record drop in global carbon emissions in 2020, largely because of restrictions in travel and other human activity.
Last July, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released the Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, which states that global average temperatures are likely to be at least 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels each year from 2020 to 2024. Those forecasts also show there is a 20 percent chance global average temperatures could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in at least one of those years.
The new outlook, based on models from climate prediction centers around the world, highlights the need for drastic action to have any hope of meeting the goals set out by the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.
“This study shows — with a high level of scientific skill — the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change target of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
Clearly, the Biden administration's fast action in addressing the climate change crisis is welcome news. Those executive orders are important, but more action, including action by the U.S. Congress will be needed. Biden's ability to bring two political sides together may not face a more important test than this.