Over the past four years, while Trump disregarded and disemboweled climate science in the US, the scientific world has moved on without us.
As a pragmatist, despite profound relief after Joe Biden’s win, I don’t imagine four short years of rational leadership will undo all the environmental damage inflicted by the Trump administration. But here’s my wish list for Biden’s first 100 days.
Goal one: Rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement on Day 1 of his presidency. Apparently, this only requires a letter to the UN to take effect and would recast the U.S. to, once again, take a leading role in reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Unfortunately, there’s no making up for lost time. At 417.16 ppm in May of this year, up from an annual peak of 407.70 in May of 2016, the CO2 genie is out of the bottle.
Goal two: Work some bipartisanship magic and move a COVID-19 relief package through the House and Senate with green energy funding for states and local governments. This legislation should stimulate green infrastructure research and development and fund job training, especially in regions hardest hit economically by COVID-19 like Alaska, where 37,600 individuals lost their jobs as the hospitality and fossil fuel industries took a hit. This funding could employ local contractors in weatherizing state and municipal buildings, installing solar panels, wind turbines, and heat pumps, and setting up recharge stations in and between Alaska’s cities for electric vehicles.
Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic plan includes a 2-trillion-dollar budget over the next four years to address fossil fuel emissions and ramp up a conversion to clean energy while addressing America’s aging infrastructure. In the process he plans to create millions of new jobs in the automobile, transportation, power, and housing sectors. If he succeeds, the plan will move our nation closer to Biden’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050. How would he pay for this, you ask? By repealing Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 for the country’s wealthiest ten-percent, projected to drain 1.9-trillion-dollars from the treasury over a ten-year period.
While he’s at it, Biden could extend the soon-to-expire Investment Tax Credit for the new installation of residential and commercial solar energy systems.
Goal three: Use emergency authority to rewrite drilling and land management plans which redirect BLM staff away from leasing and permitting new oil and gas leases on federal lands, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This isn’t an all-out ban, but would avoid lengthy and contentious congressional and legal battles. He could, apparently, sign an outright ban on offshore drilling in federal waters, which accounts for about 16% of total oil production.
Goal four: Use his executive powers (newly expanded under the Trump administration) to put the teeth back into the NEPA process by bringing back independent (rather than industry-based) environmental analysis, requiring assessmentand consideration of cumulative effects (like climate change and water resources), and an easier process for meaningful public input. Better yet, protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, sensitive areas in the National Petroleum Reserve, like Teshekpuk Lake (critical to vast flocks of migrating waterfowl,) and cultural resources like Bear’s Ears National Monument, through legislation that safeguards them from oil and gas exploration and extraction in perpetuity.
Goal five: Reverse Trump’s recent order to lift the roadless rule in Alaska’s Tongas National Forest, opening up 9.4 million acres to road building and logging. Instead of building a maze of new roads to cut old-growth stands of red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce and hemlock, work with Native Alaskans and the USFS in a compromise to identify low-impact regions within roaded areas where selective cutting would not result in mudslides and damage to salmon streams and could be done without an offset of millions of taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of road construction.
Goal six: Weigh in on new national Arctic strategies with the Arctic Council with a focus on sustainable economic development and strengthen international collaboration.
Over the past four years, while Trump disregarded and disemboweled climate science in the US, the scientific world has moved on without us. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the far north. As temperatures in the Arctic and subarctic continue to increase at twice the global rate, whole ecosystems are shifting, impacting wildlife, indigenous peoples, and opening up new economic opportunities hand-in-glove with potential hazards. The United States should be at the table, or on the ice, alongside our international colleagues.
Let me close by saying, when I feel discouraged by the assault we’ve suffered over the past four years, like a hundred razor-sharp cuts to our environment and our democracy, I remind myself of the nation-wide March for Science, the global Student Strike for Climate, and the vast swell of support (FINALLY) for addressing climate change as a key issue in the 2020 Democratic race, and I find courage. We’re in for a fight, but we’re woke, and we’re ready.