Presidential debate: Both candidates fall short on dealing with climate crisis


At the televised brawl of Sept. 29, mistakenly billed as a “serious” debate on the “issues” by the Republican and Democratic candidates, Trump refused to say whether he gives any credence to “the science of climate change.” Instead, The New York Times pointed out, the president “responded with a litany of platitudes and misinformation.” He lied, for example, that the United States has the “lowest carbon” output in the world. He likewise ignored the role of climate change in producing California’s giant wildfires of recent years. The fires would not have happened, he asserted, “if you had forest management.”

The immensity of the crisis was made clear in the news media on the very day of the debate. A Fox News headline read: “California wildfire triples in size as Glass Fire rages through Napa, Sonoma counties.” Wildfires, flooding, and massive power outages have all been traced back to the ongoing fossil fuel production and destructive farming and livestock practices on land and in the sea. Yet Trump persists in denying the seriousness of what appears to be the most catastrophic threat to humanity in history.

Through a more or less open alliance with the coal and oil industries, Trump has rolled back the paltry regulations pushed through by past administrations. He opened Alaskan wild lands for oil drilling and withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords. His administration, in a sense, represents a backlash by the fossil-fuel companies to any rollbacks of their profits, however minor they might be.

The Trump administration has rolled back or dismantled close to 70 environmental regulations. Of course, the effects of some of the regulations that Trump slashed are not much different than what resulted from those put in place by earlier Democratic administrations. One example is that Obama wanted commercial fleets to run on 54 miles per gallon engines by 2025; Trump turned that down to 40 miles.

Liberal supporters of climate action have pinned their hopes on Joe Biden to enact aggressive policies within the vague outlines of his “Biden Plan.” In the Sept. 29 debate, Biden mentioned several proposals in his plan, including having the federal government invest in renewal energy, weatherizing four million buildings, and putting pressure on the Brazilian government to stop deforestation in the Amazon region.

Biden’s plan gives lip service to the “Green New Deal” espoused by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and other “progressives” in the Democratic Party, but it falls short of the GND in concrete proposals. Like the Green New Deal, Biden’s plan would achieve “a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050,” with milestone targets in place by 2025. But many scientists indicate that it is necessary to put far more ambitious measures into effect.

Many starry-eyed hopefuls are apparently willing to turn the other cheek for a man who, when asked two weeks ago if he supported expanding fracked gas production, said, “Yes, I do. I do.”

Despite his generally milquetoast attitude towards climate catastrophe, the NPR affiliate KQED paints a picture of Biden using executive orders to “mobilize the government on a massive scale, like ordering the Secretary of Defense to redirect military spending toward the rapid development of clean energy.” However, Biden has given no indication whatsoever that he is interested in cutting or “redirecting” military spending. He and the Democrats have been particularly bellicose with regards to China and North Korea. On Sept. 10, he indicated that he might increase military spending and said that the U.S. must maintain a military presence in the Middle East.

The U.S. military is, of course, the largest single polluter in the world, although Biden’s plan does not mention that fact at all. Instead, the document speaks of ensuring that military infrastructure is “resilient” in the face of the climate catastrophes it is causing. These are among the reasons that members of the ruling class are crossing party lines in droves to support Biden. On the one hand, he creates the illusion of positive change being carried out by the capitalist regime. On the other hand, he has assured the big owners in every sector that everything will remain basically the same. Pronunciations of “100% carbon neutrality” and “redirecting” military spending aside, the fact that oil and gas magnates are coming out in support of Biden gives a glimpse into what his presidency will really look like.

The U.S. ruling class is not interested in shattering the false figure of Biden as an ecological savior. Neither do they desire a real conversation about what is needed to address the worsening “natural” disasters. Key steps to avoid utter catastrophe due to the climate crisis are nationalizing energy production and placing it under the control of the working class in order to redirect it toward 100% sustainable production, while centrally planning the distribution of power. It also means carrying out reparations for Indigenous people and other victims of environmental racism and dismantling the U.S. military.

Such measures are only possible under the direction of a workers’ state, and the bosses know it. Therefore, their top presidential candidates downplayed the biggest question during the biggest forum of the month.

Illustration: General Strike Graphics 

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