Joe Biden’s inauguration last month brought two things with it: The end of conspicuous climate denial from the White House, and the continuation of unambitious decarbonisation policies presented as “green lifelines”.
But whilst Biden has rejoined the Paris Agreement and will supposedly invest $2tn into clean energy, his “middle ground” approach is deadly – and not so far removed from his predecessor, Donald Trump. Here’s why.
Biden’s climate plan sees him picking up from where he left off as vice president. This period saw a doubling of US crude oil production and the reversal of a 40-year oil export plan, as well as a commitment against a ban on fracking – the greenhouse gas-intensive extraction process, responsible for more than half of the US’s oil production.
These decisions appear to directly contradict his current plans to attain “climate and environmental justice”.
The green framework that has been adopted by Biden sees the US continue to prioritise profit over people, allowing room for new natural gas ventures on private land (which accounts for 90 per cent of fracking drilling leases), despite an IPCC report indicating that meeting the targets set out by the Paris agreement means that global natural gas usage must decline by 74 per cent by 2050, and much earlier for the US, which accounts for 15 per cent of global carbon emissions.
Many around the world have breathed an understandable sigh of relief at the end of the Trump era, but I can’t stop wondering about when it became normal for us to merely settle with what we have – rather than to ensure that we attain what we know is scientifically, economically and politically necessary.
Although it remains true that Biden’s proposed climate policy (which isn’t guaranteed to pass through Congress) is more progressive than Trump’s deliberate stripping back of green legislation, his plans don’t address what is warranted by the climate crisis, but rather, what he thinks is politically possible.
We’re at the intersection of both a climate and inequality crisis, with the interdependence of the two meaning that the severity of both crises will only get worse.
The last year has seen record high levels of unemployment in both the USA and the UK as a result of both nations' mishandlings of the Covid-19 pandemic, and this has hit young people particularly hard – physically, financially and emotionally.
Yet the leaders of both our nations have failed to push through a Green New Deal (GND), which climate activists on both sides of the Atlantic have been pushing towards for years.
The GND aims not only to create jobs, but also to decarbonise the economy through a 10-year, government-led mobilisation – and simultaneously bridge the inequality divide, through investment in the areas that need it most.
It would pave the way towards a green and just future, whilst creating an equitable present – and making up for our colonial past through global reparations.
Young people are often branded as "apathetic" towards politics, but this apathy is nothing but a reflection of politicians' attitudes towards us. From climate strikes to round the clock anti-pipeline blockades, we’ve been leading the fight for global climate justice for years; yet our calls for action are never reciprocated by political leaders.
Instead, we’re met with pale imitations of the policies we’re demanding, packaged using the rhetoric of “environmental justice” in shoddy attempts of greenwashing. We may be young, but we’re not naive or foolish enough to believe the lie that this is acceptable.
Growing up under a decade of devastating Tory austerity on this side of the pond has made clear how disdainful the government is towards young people. Whether it’s the closure of Sure Start centres, botched algorithm grading or unambitious climate policy, it smacks of contempt.
The Tories’ green legacy consists of the scrapping of the zero carbon homes standards and carbon expenditure, meaning that we’re not on track to meet the targets set out by the Paris Agreement. In fact, their biggest environmental achievement to date was changing their logo to a tree.
The climate crisis won’t be evaded by world leaders pretending to address it through unambitious “decarbonisation” schemes: its impacts can already be felt. From fires in Florida to the spread of the Sahara desert; droughts in Dhaka and floods in the Philippines..
We have a new US president, and the British spring budget is little over a month away. We are now at the interface of possibility for change. Climate inaction is a political choice – but the choice that we should be making is the implementation of the Green New Deal.
It’s time for politicians to restore the dictionary definition of democracy of “people power” by legislating the policy needed to truly attain climate justice.
Scarlett Westbrook, 16, is the youngest person internationally to have an A-level in Government and Politics. She is spokesperson for the UK Student Climate Network and head of political engagement at Teach the Future.
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