NEWS Biden-​​Harris victory can bring social justice into battle for a livable climate

From The Daily Cal­i­forn­ian, Novem­ber 13, 2020.  Click here for the orig­i­nal.

With Joe Biden and Kamala Har­ris’ pres­i­den­tial vic­tory came an inter­na­tional sigh of relief. After the dis­mal past four years, sci­ence, social jus­tice and both domes­tic and global part­ner­ships to address cli­mate change are now back on the agenda in the United States.

More than any one spe­cific action, the com­mit­ment Biden has already shown to a science-​​driven admin­is­tra­tion is crit­i­cally impor­tant domes­ti­cally and worldwide.

Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 10.52.42 AM

One exam­ple of the global urgency — and, now, relief — is that in an unprece­dented move, sci­en­tific jour­nals world­wide, from Nature to Sci­ence to Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can, endorsed the Biden-​​Harris ticket. Biden fur­ther sig­naled his plat­form with a state­ment that the United States would rejoin the Paris Agree­ment, poten­tially on day one of the administration.

The visual of the vir­tual COVID-​​19 advi­sory board meet­ing with Biden and Har­ris — words that feel incred­i­bly good to write — already shows how this admin­is­tra­tion plans to meet crises head-​​on. The COVID-​​19 pan­demic crit­i­cally needs this lead­er­ship after we have watched week after week of a blank White House calendar.

The cli­mate emer­gency will require a sim­i­lar mix of deci­sive and inclu­sive action, and the Biden-​​Harris admin­is­tra­tion has already pre­viewed the many ways it is up for the task and chal­lenge. Biden has made a trans­for­ma­tive deci­sion to not only lead on cli­mate solu­tions but infuse cli­mate action in all fed­eral actions. Make no mis­take: This is a game changer.

The devel­op­ment of the president-elect’s plan for entirely clean elec­tric­ity by 2035 is par­tic­u­larly wel­come and impor­tant because it shows how clearly inno­va­tion in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and cli­mate sci­ence fac­tors into his plans. Solar, wind and energy stor­age costs have fallen dra­mat­i­cally this past decade, so much so that these tech­nolo­gies are now afford­able options across the United States and much of the world.

This tech­no­log­i­cal progress opens the door but alone does not ensure the energy tran­si­tions we will need to keep the 1.5 degrees Cel­sius limit on warm­ing within global reach. It is the crit­i­cal enabler, cer­tainly, but it is just the start of what must be a social move­ment on cli­mate change, human rights and the envi­ron­ment. Last year, my lab­o­ra­tory pub­lished a study show­ing that rooftop solar, for exam­ple, is dra­mat­i­cally under­de­ployed in com­mu­ni­ties of color rel­a­tive to what we see in white-​​majority com­mu­ni­ties, even when we con­trol for income.

Enter the other game-​​changing pil­lar of the Biden-​​Harris energy and cli­mate plat­form: a focus on social and cli­mate jus­tice. The Biden-​​Harris plan calls for 40% of fed­eral pro­posed clean energy ben­e­fits and cli­mate pro­tec­tion to meet the needs of com­mu­ni­ties of color and regions in the United States not cur­rently meet­ing water and air qual­ity stan­dards, among other under­served areas.

By acknowl­edg­ing the legacy of sys­temic racism and trans­lat­ing that into an action­able fed­eral agenda, Biden has built a crit­i­cal bridge con­nect­ing the sci­en­tific push for cli­mate pro­tec­tion to the social move­ment that it arguably must become. Giv­ing fur­ther cre­dence and hope to this agenda, Har­ris is also co-​​author of the land­mark Cli­mate Equity Act.

There are, of course, huge chal­lenges fac­ing the admin­is­tra­tion. Scal­ing up clean energy and social jus­tice requires invest­ments that may be a bat­tle if Repub­li­cans con­trol the Sen­ate. This may not be the case, but even if Democ­rats win both runoff elec­tions in Geor­gia, there is still a need to win over at least some of the more than 70 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who voted for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in 2020.

Even with­out those two Sen­ate seats, there is a great deal Biden can do to launch this chap­ter. Exec­u­tive orders, fed­eral pro­cure­ment, uti­liza­tion of a social cost of car­bon in fed­eral project eval­u­a­tions and pro­vi­sion of the ben­e­fits of clean energy to com­mu­ni­ties that have suf­fered, and still suf­fer, from sys­temic racism are all widely dis­cussed first steps.

Inter­est­ingly, Biden’s clean, social justice-​​driven energy plat­form may actu­ally be an ideal tool to con­vert enough votes in the Sen­ate. His pro­posed clean energy econ­omy can and will pro­duce mil­lions of new and secure jobs. A green econ­omy could offer paths to sig­nif­i­cant employ­ment in energy effi­ciency, expanded solar and wind power — off­shore wind being a brand new indus­try primed for the United States to build — hydro­gen and geot­her­mal energy. Many of these jobs could be in states that typ­i­cally vote Repub­li­can, where much of the nation’s fos­sil fuel infra­struc­ture is also located.

Expand­ing the green econ­omy can empower dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties and also lead to infra­struc­ture rein­vest­ments across the coun­try. The oil and gas sec­tor, for exam­ple, is well posi­tioned to play a major role in geot­her­mal energy, off­shore wind, hydro­gen pro­duc­tion and car­bon cap­ture and stor­age. Invest­ments in elec­tric vehi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ing, charg­ing infra­struc­ture and rebuild­ing mass tran­sit all have sig­nif­i­cant social jus­tice ben­e­fits, as does the weath­er­iza­tion of low-​​income homes. These oppor­tu­ni­ties are promis­ing, even in the face of mas­sive fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies that must be removed.

With zero car­bon emis­sions and clean energy tar­gets in place for the Euro­pean Union — and with China, Korea and Japan hav­ing all announced zero-​​carbon agen­das — the inter­na­tional stage is bright for progress.

Most impor­tant in Cal­i­for­nia, across our coun­try and inter­na­tion­ally, how­ever, is the relief that the United States is now back in the fight.

Daniel Kam­men is a pro­fes­sor and chair of the Energy and Resources Group, a pro­fes­sor of nuclear engi­neer­ing and a pro­fes­sor in the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­icy. He served in for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s admin­is­tra­tion as Sci­ence Envoy in the State Department.

Browse News

Main Menu

Energy & Resources Group
310 Barrows Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3050
Phone: (510) 642-1640
Fax: (510) 642-1085


  • Open the Main Menu
  • People at RAEL

  • Open the Main Menu