President Biden gave us his climate plan on March 31. It was buried inside his American Jobs Plan. The 12,000-word Fact Sheet about it released by the White House hardly acknowledges the climate emergency. The plan is presented as a jobs through infrastructure program.
The climate emergency demands a radical and rapid decarbonization of the economy with numerical goals and timetables to transform all productive sectors, not only power production (27% of carbon emissions), but also transportation (28%), manufacturing (22%), buildings (12%), and agriculture (10%). That emergency transformation can only be met by an ecosocialist approach using public enterprise and planning.
Instead, Biden’s plan emphasizes corporate welfare: subsidies and tax incentives for clean energy that will take uncertain effect at a leisurely pace in the markets. Moreover, it does nothing to stop more oil and gas fracking and pipelines for more gas-fired power plants, or to shut down coal-fired power plants. Without out directly saying so, it is a plan to burn fossil fuels for decades to come.
The scale of spending falls pathetically short of what is needed to decarbonize the economy. An effective plan would not only reach zero emissions on a fast timeline. It would also move quickly toward negative emissions, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere because we are already at a carbon level that is triggering dangerous climate change.
It’s too late for gradualism. We must at least aim for the “initial target” of 350 ppm (350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) that was proposed 13 years ago by climate scientists James Hansen and colleagues in a 2008 study. Even in that research report Hansen et al. concluded that 300-325 ppm “may be needed to restore sea ice to its area of 25 years ago.” Other prominent climate scientists at the time, such as John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, were saying that only a return to pre-industrial level of CO2 of 280 ppm would guarantee a safe climate. The Earth sailed past that 350 ppm at the end of 1988. At the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, carbon dioxide averaged 414 ppm in 2020, averaged 418 ppm in March of this year, and set a record of 421 ppm on April 3.
The last time atmospheric carbon was this high was in the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period 3.6 million years ago when the temperature was 4ºC (7ºF) hotter and sea levels were 24 meters (78 feet) higher than today. At last year’s 2.6 ppm annual rate of carbon dioxide rise, the planet will hit 500 ppm around 2050. The last time carbon dioxide levels were at 500 ppm was in the Middle Miocene 16 million years ago when temperatures were as much as 8ºC (14ºF) higher and sea levels were 40 meters (130 feet) higher. These climate changes are locked into the climate system by the contemporary carbon emissions unless the world not only zeros out emissions, but soon gets to negative emissions by drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and into the biosphere by reforestation and by rebuilding carbon-rich living soils with regenerative agriculture.
Today’s rapid climate change entails more than the heat waves, extreme weather, and flooded cities in the headlines. Between now and 2050, we face mass extinctions, collapsing land and ocean ecosystems, agricultural crises and food shortages, economic contraction and increasing poverty, hundreds of millions of climate refugees, and escalating social conflicts and resource wars.
The U.S. National Intelligence Council takes projections seriously in its March 2021 “Global Trends 2040” report. In one of its scenarios, in the early 2030s “a global food catastrophe caused by climate events and environmental degradation” prompts “bottom-up, revolutionary change” where Green parties sweep European elections in 2034 and 2036, and later in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. The Western Greens are joined by a China that is suffering famine and social unrest due to depleted fisheries and depressed harvests around the globe. They lead a redistributive restructuring of the global economy to combat global warming, environmental degradation, and poverty. The petrostates in Russia and the Persian Gulf resist, but face their own disruptive domestic political movements. We shouldn’t have to wait for mass starvation a decade from now to instigate an emergency response to climate change.
It may still be possible, according to one aggressive and optimistic scenario proposed by James Hansen, to avert climate calamity. Hansen’s scenario is based on a rapid phase out of emissions coupled to a radical transformation of agricultural and forestry in order to drawdown atmospheric carbon to below 350 ppm by the end of the century. This drawdown scenario is based on maximizing the global potential for soil and forest restoration to absorb atmospheric carbon. The hope in this scenario is that the 350 ppm safety zone will be restored in time to avert tipping points that initiate self-reinforcing climate processes that could make catastrophic global warming irreversible.
We are nowhere near the kind of emergency response to the climate crisis that Hansen proposed. The 2018 special report on global warming of 1.5°C by the International Panel on Climate Change projected that to have a 67% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C, the remaining global carbon budget was 420 GtC (gigatons of carbon dioxide). Today the carbon budget is down to 280 GtC. If the burn rate continues at its current 42 GtC per year, we will blow through the budget by the end of 2027.
A 67% chance is like playing Russian roulette and pulling the trigger of a six-chamber revolver with bullets in two of the chambers. Those are not the odds we would choose, but it is the best chance that climate scientists tell us we have if we immediately begin an emergency transformation of our energy system. Unfortunately, Biden’s climate plan is not an emergency plan.
Much of the Biden plan’s investment budget is for needed improvements to physical infrastructure that does not directly affect carbon emissions, such as roads, bridges, and water systems, or can reduce emissions if it is built for energy efficiency and clean power, such as housing, schools, hospitals, and the broadband needed for an efficiency- and renewables-friendly smart grid. The White House Fact Sheet also outlines many social policies, including directing 40% of infrastructure funds to disadvantaged communities, $5 billion in grants to end exclusionary zoning, promoting union jobs and unions themselves by adopting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), and $400 billion for much-needed services for disabled people and seniors. In addition to the American Jobs Plan, Biden is expected to release in the coming weeks an American Family Plan for human infrastructure that will commit another $1 trillion to $2 trillion to child-care and pre-K, tuition-free community college, paid leave, child tax credits, and increased Obamacare subsidies to purchase private health insurance. All of these social policies move in a progressive direction, although that is debatable for the Obamacare subsidies instead of Medicare for All.
The final details of Biden’s plan will be pounded out over the next few months. The Democrats hope to have Congress vote on the plan in the summer. To what extent all these physical and care infrastructure proposals survive remains to be seen as corporations lobby and members of Congress horse trade, which will be enhanced with the return of earmarks. I will focus here on the climate impact of Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
At $2.3 trillion over 8 years, the Biden plan’s spending is a small fraction of what the climate movement and Green New Dealers have been projecting as needed to address the climate emergency.
After subtracting the $400 billion for home and community-based care for the elderly and disabled, only about $1.9 trillion will be spent on developing physical infrastructure that could affect carbon emissions. But it is hard see how even a quarter of the Biden’s plan investments would contribute directly to reducing carbon emissions.
Even without considering the costs of building a new clean energy infrastructure, $1.9 trillion is not even enough to cover 10-year funding gap of $2.6 trillion identified by the American Society of Civil Engineers to maintain and upgrade from C- to B quality the country’s existing infrastructure. In every sector covered in the White House Fact Sheet, the investments proposed are insufficient to meet the need. For example, the Biden plan budgets $16 billion to “capping hundreds of thousands of orphan oil and gas wells and abandoned mines” that leak greenhouse gases, especially methane which is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet over the first 20 years. Actually, there are estimated to be about 5 million of abandoned oil and gas wells and coal mines. The cost of plugging all of them is around $300 billion.
By comparison, the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda pushed by Green New Deal Network of 15 national progressive organizations calls for $10 trillion over 10 years. Bernie Sanders proposed $16.3 trillion over 10 years in his campaign’s Green New Deal. The Ecosocialist Green New Deal budget that I campaigned for running for President as the Green Party candidate was $41.7 trillion over 10 years. Of that, $27.5 trillion was for a Green Economy Reconstruction Program to rebuild all productive systems in the U.S. economy for zero-to-negative emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. $14.2 trillion was for an Economic Bill of Rights, including a job guarantee, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing for all, Medicare for All, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement for all by doubling Social Security benefits.
The “Net Zero” Trick
Not only is the scale too small, the plan has no intention of shutting down fossil fuel burning. By failing to halt fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure, the Biden plan locks us into burning fossil fuels for decades. It doesn’t even call for the rapid phase-out of coal-fired plants, only a third of which are scheduled to be retired by 2035 when Biden’s plan projects “net zero” emissions from the power sector. Biden’s plan is a recommitment to the “all-of-the-above” energy policy of the Obama administration. That approach was underscored the week after the American Jobs Plan was released when Biden refused to shut down the Dakota Access oil pipeline that is operating without a permit while it undergoes a court-ordered environmental review.
The trick here is the slippery term “net zero,” which is used interchangeably with the equally misleading “carbon neutrality.” The Biden plan impractically assumes the 2035 “net zero” goal will be met by the deployment of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which is being pushed by Big Oil as a new profit center. But that won’t happen without massive government subsidies. The technology is unprofitable because carbon dioxide is nearly worthless and the massive infrastructure required to pipe it to where underground storage is geologically possible is a huge cost with no revenues. Regardless of the economics, CCS should not be deployed because of its huge environmental risks of water pollution, asphyxiating anyone in close proximity to above ground leaks, and warming the planet with leaks. Moreover, as Mark Jacobson, an environmental engineer and renewable energy advocate at Stanford, found in a 2019 study of a CCS project, carbon emissions increased because of the fossil fuels required to power it.
The environmental scientist Barry Commoner warned us in 1990 in Making Peace with the Planet of the folly of pollution control approaches like CCS. He showed that prevention, not control, is the only way to end pollution. In reviewing the first two decades of modern federal environmental policy addressing water, air, chemical, and radioactive pollution, Commoner noted that pollution prevention – banning DDT, PCBs, lead in gasoline, and nuclear bomb tests – had worked. Pollution control had not worked. For example, catalytic converters and power plant scrubbers had not stopped air pollution and acid rain.
Most modern pollutants are products of the post World War II petrochemical industry that substituted synthetic for biological chemicals. Commoner explained that natural enzymes had co-evolved with biological materials that made them biodegradable and recyclable into the organic biochemistry of life. Synthetic chemicals accumulate to disrupt ecosystems and the health of organisms. Detergents replaced soaps. Plastics replaced paper. Nylon replaced cotton. Pesticides replaced crop rotation, inter-cropping, and natural pest predators. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers replaced manure and nitrogen-fixing crops.
We have to stop pollution at the point of production by converting to ecological production technologies that don’t produce pollutants. Commoner contended that this conversion required governing the economy by public democracy instead of private profit-seeking.
When it came to averting what he called the “global warming catastrophe,” Commoner did not propose pollution control in the form of carbon capture and storage by profit-seeking corporations. He proposed a public energy system to completely replace fossil fuels with the efficient use of clean renewables across the world. The program would also replace toxic pollution with ecologically sound production systems that rely on natural biological materials instead of synthetic petrochemicals. In today’s dollars, Commoner’s global program would have cost $25 trillion over 25 years. Had we taken his advice, we would have reached a pollution-free economy powered by clean renewable sources in 2015 and averted the climate and environmental emergency we are now in.
An effective climate plan would first determine what labor, materials, and new production systems are needed to decarbonize the economy and then figure out to finance it. Biden’s plan does it backwards. It determines what it can spend based on what it can raise in the plan’s tax proposals that feature higher corporate tax rates. Instead of this pay-as-you-go fiscal conservatism, the federal government should spend the money now to address the climate emergency and pay for it over time from taxes and, in an ecosocialist approach, from the sale of publicly produced energy, transportation, housing, and green machinery for pollution-free manufacturing and agriculture. The climate emergency won’t wait on a conservative pay-go fiscal policy.
Progressive economists calling for infrastructure investment on the scale of the THRIVE Agenda’s 10-year $10 trillion program say the economy has ample fiscal space to absorb the stimulus without triggering inflation in an economy operating at full capacity. However, we must acknowledge that the massive investments needed to meet the climate challenge have inflationary potential, particularly on the scale of the $41.7 trillion 10-year spending in our Ecosocialist Green New Deal. Building up the economy to fully utilize its labor and plant capacity will inevitably produce supply bottlenecks that bid up prices for labor and materials. Economist Stephanie Kelton recently addressed this inflation concern about the large-scale physical and social infrastructure investments that she supports. She suggested a variety of industrial, trade, immigration, heath care, and tax reforms that could stabilize prices by increasing supply and curtailing demand. If more aggressive measures become necessary to contain inflation, the U.S. could employ price controls and rationing as it did during the high deficit spending of the World War II emergency. Flexible price controls based on tax disincentives rather than direct administrative controls are an option proposed by three radical economists in 1983 in Beyond the Wasteland: A Democratic Alternative to Economic Decline (pp. 295-302). What we cannot afford to do is let fear of inflation prevent us from making the energy infrastructure investments we to make now for climate safety.
While the White House Fact Sheet makes no estimate of the number of jobs the plan would create, Biden said a couple days after its release that the plan would create 19 million jobs, referring to report by Moody Analytics. That report actually says there will be 19 million more jobs by 2030 due to the expected post-covid economic recovery plus the American Jobs Plan. The net increase due to the American Jobs Plan was 2.7 million jobs. A Georgetown study, arguing that the infrastructure stimulus is necessary for a full post-covid recovery, attributes a major portion of the employment increase – 15 million jobs – to the Biden’s infrastructure plan.
An economic analysis of a $9.5 trillion version of the THRIVE Agenda came to 15.5 million jobs. Sander’s $16.3 trillion plan projected 20 million jobs. Our $41.7 trillion Ecosocialist Green New Deal budget projected 38 million jobs, including 8.9 million in manufacturing, by making an analysis of jobs created per million dollars invested for each sector of production that must be transformed for zero emissions.
The monthly unemployment analysis by the National Jobs for All Network (NJFAN) for March 2021 found the real jobless number to be 22.4 million (13.4%) compared to the official number of 9.7 million (6.0%). The NJFAN analysis includes part-timers who want full-time work (5.8 million) and discouraged workers (6.9 million) who want jobs but were not looking and not counted at the time of monthly government survey.
At around 15 million jobs, the Biden and THRIVE Agenda proposals would not provide jobs for all of the 22.4 million currently unemployed. At 20 million jobs, Sanders’ Green New Deal would come close. At 38 million jobs, our Ecosocialist Green New Deal faces a labor shortage to complete program on a fast 10-year timeline.
That labor bottleneck is an argument for liberalizing immigration policy and relieving the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II in order to have the workforce needed to rapidly transform the energy system of the U.S. With far and away the world’s largest carbon footprint, what the U.S. does about it in the next decade is crucial to the future habitability of the planet. The U.S. has the world’s largest cumulative carbon emissions by far (25%, over 400 GtC). The U.S. carbon footprint remains the highest per capita and second highest in total annual carbon emissions after China.
Infrastructure jobs are currently 90% male. Social infrastructure investments that create jobs that are filled more by women. Earlier versions of what Biden will call the American Family Plan were incorporated into the THRIVE Agenda economic analysis yielding 15.5 million jobs. Sander’s platform presented his care infrastructure proposals separately from his Green New Deal proposal. Our Economic Bill of Rights is part of our Ecosocialist Green New Deal. The point is that greater investments in both physical and social infrastructure are needed for full employment for both men and women.
The biggest investment in Biden’s plan affecting carbon emissions is $621 billion over 8 years in the transportation sector, which accounts for 28% of U.S. carbon emissions. By comparison, our budget for the Ecosocialist Green New Deal would invest $6.8 trillion over 10 years in transportation reconstruction. It would electrify all road vehicles and railroad trains, build convenient mass transit across the country, and upgrade the nation’s conventional transportation infrastructure – roads, bridges, waterways, ports, aviation – to the specifications recommended by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Fully electrifying transportation would zero out carbon emissions and contribute, along with clean power and manufacturing, to saving around 200,000 lives a year in the U.S. from premature deaths due to air pollution even when it is below current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards.
The biggest commitment in Biden’s transportation budget is $174 billion to electric vehicles (EV), of which $100 billion would be spent on EV customer rebates and $15 billion in grants to leverage private investment to build 500,000 EV charging stations by 2030. An April 2021 UC Berkeley study found that in a scenario where all vehicles sold are electric for cars by 2030 and for trucks by 2035, 8 million public charging stations and 100 million home chargers must be built. As Melissa Lott, an energy policy expert at Columbia University, told The Guardian, “What Biden has proposed on chargers is a drop in the bucket.”
In January, GM and Massachusetts joined California in committing to eliminate the sale of gas and diesel cars, SUVs, and light trucks by 2035. The U.S. Postal Service’s 10-year plan released in March asks Congress for $8 billion to electrify its 208,000 delivery vehicle fleet by 2035. The 2035 deadline corresponds to the 15-year turnover rate for most of the current 250 million cars, SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks on U.S. roads today. In order for almost all vehicles to be electric by 2050, the year when the Biden plan projects economy-wide “net zero” emissions, the sale of gas and diesel vehicles would have to stop by 2035. Biden has resisted setting a date to end the sale of internal combustion vehicles.
Biden’s plan says nothing about replacing the U.S. fleet of 3.6 million heavy duty trucks, 98% of which have diesel engines whose emissions of particulates and other pollutants are especially damaging to health. Replacing diesel with electric power is a public health issue as well as a climate issue. Around half of deaths due to transportation pollution are attributed to diesel exhaust. Trucking accounts for 60% of the ton-miles and 85% of the value of freight even though freight trains use far less fuel. Moving a ton of freight 500 miles per gallon, trains use only 25% of the diesel fuel per ton-mile as over-the-road trucks.
The $85 billion for public transportation falls far short of the need. New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority alone needs $55 billion in capital improvements over the next 5 years.
The plan would invest $80 billion in upgrading railroads, but makes no specific commitments beyond passing references to electrification and to shifting some of the transportation of people and freight from personal vehicles and over-the-road trucking to passenger and freight rails. Electric motors already power almost all locomotives which are diesel-electric. Diesel combustion generates power for their electric motors. Electrifying rail is a matter of building the infrastructure to convey electricity to locomotive motors without burning diesel.
One proposal called Solutionary Rail for electrifying the U.S. rail system yields an estimated cost of electrifying the nation’s 160,000 track miles of $400 billion. Using their per mile estimate, it would cost $1.1 trillion to expand an electrified national rail network to the peak of 430,000 track miles that the nation had in the early 1930s. The rail network expansion would enable the shifting most of the moving of people and freight from roads to rails. Our Ecosocialist Green New Deal budgeted $1 trillion over 10 years to electrify existing rails using a higher cost estimate.
The Biden plan also has low ambitions for electrifying the nation’s 995,000 diesel buses. The plan’s Fact Sheet says it will replace 50,000 “diesel transit vehicles” with electric ones, presumably referring to buses. The electrification of the nation’s 480,000 school buses is more ambitious, calling for at least 20% in 8 years, or about 100,000 electric school buses. Combining the school and other buses, at the pace of 150,000 electric buses in 8 years it will take over 50 years to electrify the whole 1 million bus fleet, too late to meet the 2050 “carbon neutrality” goal of the Biden administration.
The Biden plan falls far short in terms of the investments and timelines that are needed to convert to 100% electric road vehicles sufficient charging stations, to electrified rails, and to convenient nationwide mass transit if the U.S. transportation sector is going to meet Biden’s stated goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
Biden’s plan commits a paltry $100 billion to the electric power sector, which accounts for 27% of U.S. carbon emissions. It is hard to see how these investments, mostly market incentives in the form of tax credits, could ever result in “net zero” carbon emissions by 2035, the stated Biden goal for the power sector.
Our Ecosocialist Green New Deal budget figured it would take $5.1 trillion over 10 years to transform the power production system to zero carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. Our plan relies on public ownership and planning to make a rapid transformation of power production and distribution based on the need, not the profits of investor-owned companies that will delay investments in clean renewables and a smart grid at least until their existing power plants and servo-mechanical grids wear out. Our budget includes buying a controlling interest in the energy companies and utilities in order to public planing of a rapid construction of clean renewable energy sources and the smart grid and energy storage systems needed to deliver reliable power from the distributed and intermittent nature of wind and solar energy.
The Biden plan’s idea of clean energy includes gas-fired power plants fitted with carbon capture technology, biofuels, and nuclear power. In addition to tax credits for clean energy generation, the Biden plan calls for a federal Clean Electricity Standard (CES). The CES policy is the alternative promoted by corporate energy interests to Renewable Portfolio Standards that 30 states, D.C., Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted. Renewable Portfolio Standards require utilities to provide increasing proportions of energy over time from clean renewables like solar and wind. The corporate-funded centrist Third Way think tank advocates “a Clean Energy Standard (CES) instead of a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which would take advantage of renewables as well as existing and new nuclear, carbon capture and storage, waste-to-energy, and other technologies in its effort to eliminate carbon from the power sector.” Never mind that nuclear, CCS, and burning garbage are far from carbon free. The idea has been kicking around center-right circles in Washington for years. Legislation for a federal CES was introduced by Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in 2010 and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) in 2012, members of Congress not known as climate champions but for their fealty to Big Nukes, Oil, Gas, and Coal.
The White House Fact Sheet states that its CES would “leverage the carbon pollution-free energy provided by existing sources like nuclear.” In touting Biden’s plan, his climate advisor, Gina McCarthy, confirmed that the CES would be “inclusive” of nuclear power and fossil fuels with CCS. We have already addressed here the folly of CCS, but the administration insists on pursuing this fossil fuel industry favorite. McCarthy had met with oil and gas industry executives the week before the plan’s release. Perhaps because these so-called “clean” alternatives to solar and wind are more expensive, the Biden plan also allocates $35 billion to energy technology research and development including CCS, biofuels, and “advanced nuclear.”
Biofuels are touted as carbon-neutral because they presumably recycle carbon already in the biospheric carbon cycle instead of releasing new carbon that was sequestered underground in fossil fuels. But this view doesn’t account for the carbon released by the degradation of living soils in the monocultural industrial farming required to grow and harvest the biomass crops like corn, switchgrass, and sugarcane. The result of large-scale biofuel production is a net increase in atmospheric carbon. The pesticides required for biomass plantations pollute soil and water ecosystems. Biomass plantations take land away that is needed for food production. Solar panels produce over 100 times as much energy as biofuels per acre and can be placed on non-arable land. While biofuels are not suitable for large-scale production for burning in internal combustion engines or electric power production, there are small-scale uses that are compatible with a sustainable energy and production system, such as capturing methane from landfills and the anaerobic digestion of waste water, food wastes, and other organic waste. These technologies already exist. They don’t need R&D investments from Biden’s infrastructure plan.
“Advanced nuclear” is catch-all phrase for Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and alternative fuels such as thorium. These technologies are so “advanced” that they have been researched and unsuccessfully developed since the 1940s. SMRs have been economic and technological failures for decades. Fifty years of thorium reactor development also failed. A Union of Concerned Scientists study released in March just prior to the release of Biden’s plan, “‘Advanced’ Isn’t Always Better,” warns that the so-called advanced nuclear designs are not safer, are not more economical, increase risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and still produce radioactive waste that must be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years.
Nukes are far from carbon free. Nuclear is the third-highest carbon emitter among power sources after coal- and gas-fired power plants. The lifecycle emissions of nuclear is 66 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour, compared to wind at 9 grams per kilowatt-hour and solar at 32 grams per kilowatt-hour.
Nuclear costs two to three times more per megawatt hour than most forms of solar and wind energy today, according the asset management firm, Lazard, which explains why investors have been choosing renewables over risky nuclear investments for years. Nuclear power has never been able to operate without public subsidies like the Price-Anderson Act, which caps the liabilities of the nuclear industry for accidents because private insurance companies won’t fully insure them.
Given the economic and environmental costs of nuclear power, it is hard to conceive of any reason why the Biden plan promotes nuclear power except the influence of the nuclear industry. Biden was the top recipient of campaign contributions from nuclear reactor provider GE. He was the only presidential candidate to receive donations from employees of the Nuclear Energy Institute.. The Nuclear Energy Institute PAC also made donations to pro-nuclear Democratic leaders in the House, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, and Paul Tonko and Mike Doyle on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Solar and wind now provide electricity a lower cost over the lifetimes of generation facilities than all forms of fossil and nuclear fuels, including the cheaper natural gas provided by the fracking boom. The lifecycle costs of solar and wind are lower because once their equipment is built and installed, they don’t have to continuously pay for fuel because they just harvest free sunlight and wind. The problem of making a rapid transition to renewables under capitalism is that investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have no incentive to shut down operating fossil and nuclear power plants in order to switch to renewables. This capitalist barrier to renewables is why we must socialize the power sector and operate it at cost for public benefit instead of for private profit.
The Biden plan for the buildings sector, which accounts for 12% of carbon emissions, allocates $213 billion in tax credits and grants to stimulate the building or retrofitting of 2 million private sector affordable housing units and commercial buildings, including 1 million apartments and 500,000 homes. At this rate of 2 million buildings over 8 years, it would take 480 years to retrofit the 120 million buildings in the U.S.
The Biden plan calls for $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of public housing. This investment doesn’t begin to the need. The New York City Housing Authority alone needs $68.5 billion through 2028 to fix problems with lead, mold, vermin, elevators, roofs, and boilers. In the winter of 2017, 80% of NYCHA residents went for periods without heat. NYCHA is the nation’s largest public housing authority, with about a fifth of the 950,000 public housing units in the U.S. Its 179,000 units in 326 projects are officially home to some 400,000 people but actually house about 600,000 people because many family and extended-family members are not on the leases and officially counted, but stay in these apartments in order to keep their rents down so they can pay for other essential needs. By comparison, the Green New Deal for Public Housing introduced by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for up to $180 billion to retrofit, rehabilitate, and decarbonize all public housing units in the U.S.
Our Ecosocialist Green New Deal budget is a 10-year $6.5 trillion plan to make all buildings in the U.S. zero to negative carbon emissions while providing affordable housing for all. It invests $2.5 trillion to build 25 million new units of public housing in order to make affordable decent housing a realized human right. The US had a shortage of 7.8 million units of affordable housing for very low income (7.5 million) and homeless (400,000) households and individuals in 2017, according the National Low Income Housing Coalition using US Census data. The US Department of Education reported that 1.5 million school children experienced a period of homeless in 2017. This public housing would be mixed-income in order to reduce race and class segregation, with professionals and middle-income working people living in the same developments with low-income people as they do in public housing in many European countries. The plan invests $2 trillion to cover the upfront costs of retrofitting private sector buildings for energy efficiency and heat pumps to replace fossil fuels for heating. The cost of these retrofits will be paid back by building owners and tenants overtime from the savings they get from the lower cost of electrified heating and cooking compared to fossil fuels. It also invests $2 trillion in rooftop and community solar and in energy storage to make buildings significant producers of clean energy.
Manufacturing accounts for 22% of the U.S. carbon footprint. Biden’s plan invests $300 billion in manufacturing, but the emphasis is on increasing domestic manufacturing and supply chains. Semiconductors and medical supplies are emphasized and, impacting on carbon emissions, heat pumps and electric vehicles mentioned. The only direct carbon reduction investment without any amount specified is to “establish ten pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities.”
Our Ecosocialist Green New Deal manufacturing program would eliminate carbon emissions, not seek to capture and store them. It would replace carbon-emitting production with carbon-free or carbon-negative production. It would go through all production technologies and substitute clean alternatives for dirty incumbents. It would replace coke ovens with electric arc furnaces for steel production. It would replace Portland cement, which accounts for 8% of the world’s carbon footprint due to its use of calcium carbonate in which the calcium hardens the cement and the carbon evaporates into the atmosphere. Replacements include a number of zero carbon alternatives using other hardening materials as well as negative carbon alternatives, including one that uses bacteria to grow cement bricks and another that hardens the cement by absorbing and sequestering carbon. While the chemical industry uses 29% of all energy used in manufacturing, there is no reason why it can’t be wind and solar instead of fossil fuels that produce the heat and electricity used. Our plans would spend $2 trillion over 10 years building the green machinery for carbon-free and carbon-negative production in all sectors – power, transportation, manufacturing, buildings, and agriculture.
In contrast to the Biden’s “Clean” Energy Standard promotion of waste incinerators that emit carbon and other highly toxic chemicals like dioxin, mercury, and lead, our plan would spend $1 trillion over 10 years building a zero-waste re-use and recycling industry.
Because profit-seeking industries want wear out the carbon-intensive production systems they currently use before they will consider replacement technologies, the Ecosocialist Green New Deal would socialize industries where needed in order to speed the transition to clean technologies. The depleted U.S. machine tool industry is a high priority because it is needed to build the green machinery that will be needed for clean production by other industries.
The Biden plan doesn’t have a plan for agriculture, which accounts for 10% of U.S. carbon emissions and has the potential to make a bigger impact in reducing atmospheric carbon from regenerating carbon-rich soils than from decarbonizing farm production. The White House Fact Sheet claims to be “positioning the U.S. agricultural sector to lead the shift to net-zero emissions while providing new economic opportunities for farmers,” but offers no policies or investments to make that happen.
The one concrete agricultural climate policy that Biden administration officials have broached didn’t make into the American Jobs Plan. The policy was “carbon farming,” which would have paid farmers up to $30 billion to adopt regenerative agriculture practices that draw carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil. Carbon farming can be a major contributor to carbon drawdown if it is incorporated into broader regenerative agriculture practices that integrate the agroecologies of farms into surrounding ecosystems. Without that broader approach, carbon farming could incentivize land clearing and monocultural plantations that reduce biodiversity, reduce the productivity of surrounding ecosystems, and lower the carbon uptake of the surrounding landscape.
Our Ecosocialist Green New Deal would invest $1 trillion over 10 years to support a transition to 100% regenerative agriculture. Since the labor requirements of regenerative agriculture are higher, the plan pays farmers for the additional labor needed to help subsidize the transition. Policies to support regenerative agriculture include banning corporate agriculture so the farms belong to the actual farmers and parity pricing of all agricultural commodities to guarantee a living income above the costs of production. The plan includes the production of green agricultural machinery and building regional processing facilities to support regenerative farms.
The Biden plan budgets for $10 billion for Civilian Climate Corps with the general statement that it will work on “conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice.” Our Ecosocialist Green New Deal budgets $2 trillion over 10 years to employ four million people to work primarily on the restoration of forest, wetland, grassland, and agricultural ecosystems for carbon drawdown. $100 billion is also invested upgrading national and state park infrastructure to the recommendations of the American Society of Civil Engineers and $100 billion budgeted over the 10 years for hazardous waste sites clean-up.
Carbon drawdown through natural climate solutions – restoring forest, wetland, grassland, and agricultural ecosystems – should be a central priority of any serious climate action plan. About half of the world’s original forests have been cut down. Fostering the regrowth of natural forests with all their biodiversity and ecosystem benefits, as opposed to planting monocultural tree plantations, would absorb 9 GtC per year over the first 30 years, equal to about 23% of current annual carbon emissions. Scientists have estimated that restoring the world’s original forests that have been cut down could draw down 205 GtC when the forests mature, which is about two thirds of the 300 GtC of extra carbon that exists in atmosphere as a result of human activity, primarily from fossil fuel burning, deforestation, soil degradation, and cement making. The study warns, however, that climate change is already reducing the area of land that can be reforested. Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, the area available for forest restoration could be reduced by a fifth by 2050.
The restoration of living soils also has significant carbon drawdown potential. The world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock. More carbon is stored in biomass below ground than above. Scientists estimate that there are 2,500 GtC in soil, compared 560 GtC in plant and animal life above ground. A 2020 scientific study estimates that soil carbon represents 25% of the potential of natural climate solutions. It could store 24 GtC per year, of which 40% would come from the protection of existing soil carbon and 60% from rebuilding depleted stocks.
Climate activists are making immediate demands on Biden, Congress, and state and local governments. They are fighting for a ban on fracking, a halt to new oil and gas pipelines, and an end to building any new fossil fuel infrastructure. If this infrastructure is built, the powerful corporations that build it will expect profits from burning fossil fuels for decades more.
We are winning some of these fights. The Delaware Basin Water Commission recently banned fracking in their jurisdiction. Michigan stopped expansion of Enbridge Line 6 last year. Biden stopped construction of the Keystone XL pipeline upon taking office. He could also halt by executive order construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline for moving fracked oil from the Bakken shale field in North Dakota and Enbridge Line 3 for moving tar sands oil from Alberta. These pipeline fights are going on across the country, from the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the east to the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline in the west. The movement is fighting the construction of new gas-fired power plants from coast to coast. Despite Obama-Biden loan guarantees for new nukes in 2013, the anti-nuclear movement is steadily winning nuke by nuke to shut down the aging and therefore more accident-prone nuclear plants in the U.S.
These fights against new fossil fuel infrastructure and nukes are about stopping more harm. We must also keep demanding more investment in clean energy and natural climate solutions. That is what the broad progressive environmental movement is demanding with its $10 trillion, 10-year THRIVE Agenda. All of us should Demand More!
But the climate emergency demands more than stopping more damage and more public clean energy investment in what remains a capitalist economy. It requires system change.
Capitalism is structured to grow endlessly without any balance or reciprocity with ecosystems at the foundation of the human economy. Incumbent for-profit industries fight to continue using the energy sources and technologies they now have and profit from. We cannot restore the climate to the safe zone in an economy where capitalism is the dominant mode of production.
We need to do what the U.S. did during the World War II emergency when the federal government took over a quarter of the nation’s manufacturing capacity in order to turn industry on a dime into the Arsenal of Democracy to arm the allies to defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. We need to do nothing less through the public sector now to defeat climate change.
That is why our Ecosocialist Green New Deal focuses on public enterprise and planning to get the clean energy transformation done on the rapid time scale it needs to be done. We need social ownership and democratic administration of the key industries of the economy in order to coordinate the rapid conversion of all productive sectors 100% clean renewable energy and zero and soon negative carbon emissions. We need economic democracy to carry through the transition. We need ecosocialist solutions now.