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Big Green Gazette, Volume XXIW, Issue I

Curated for you by the Sustainable Dartmouth Interns Sunday, January 17, 2021

Climate Action in the Biden Era

President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to reenter the U.S. into the Paris Agreement during “day one,” his first day in office, but the U.S. has a long road in front of it to repair international trust when it comes to climate action. Much of that will rest in the country’s domestic efforts to curb its own emissions.

Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, when it came out, was regarded as the most ambitious climate policy proposed by a presidential candidate. It is centered around his promise to set the country on path to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 (a benchmark that, while ambitious, some scientists believe is not enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change). Additionally, he plans to host a climate summit with the world’s top economies within his first hundred days in office. Other notable aspects include Bidens’ commitments to stop leasing any new oil and gas rights on federal land and water, to rectify pollution in communities of color and low-income communities, and to reverse Trump-era rollbacks. An appraisal of Biden’s climate plan from Columbia’s Earth Institute deems it capable of reducing total global warming by 0.1 degrees Celsius.

We asked Dartmouth professors for their thoughts on the Biden climate plan. Here’s what they had to say:

Dr. Erich Osterberg:

“What is most remarkable about Biden's climate plan is that he is incorporating climate change solutions into nearly every aspect of his administration: energy policy, infrastructure, national security, foreign policy, immigration, agriculture, social justice, transportation, and jobs. This is exactly the approach that is needed, similar to how every administration approaches economic policy. All administrations consider the economic impact of every policy they enact because economic health is so critical to society. This is the first administration that is taking a similar all-hands-on-deck approach to environmental health and climate change. He's also created a new 'Climate Zsar' position in the national security council and a new White House 'National Climate Advisor', and he's appointed outstanding people like John Kerry and Gina McCarthy to these positions. Digging into some of the details of his proposals, I'm struck again by their breadth. The headline of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is appropriately ambitious. The plan to get there includes some expected policies like increased renewable energy investment and fuel economy standards, and some critical proposals that are not often discussed like next-generation nuclear energy solutions, capturing CO2 at power plant smokestacks and burying the carbon so it stays out of the atmosphere, new biofuels, and climate adaptation and resilience. Personally, I'm thrilled to see this level of thought and policy commitment rooted in science. This is a to-do list for the next 30 years, and Biden seems to be the first president committed to starting the process in earnest. My one critique is that I would like to see more attention paid to the BIPOC and low-income communities that are most affected by climate change. We need to make sure that these vulnerable communities also benefit from the more sustainable, cleaner and greener economy, and that environmental progress is made in a just and equitable way.”

Dr. Erich Osterberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College. Erich studies how earth’s glaciers and weather patterns responded to natural climate cycles in the past, and how they are responding to human-caused climate change today. His specialty is collecting ice cores from remote glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska to understand changes in glacier melting, storminess, snowfall, and air pollution. He also studies how climate change is connected to recent increases in extreme storms, flooding, Lyme disease, and sea-level rise in New England. In addition to his research and teaching at Dartmouth, Erich is the vice chair of the Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup, a bi-state group of state, municipal, business and academic leaders working to help local communities become more resilient to climate change.

Erich received his PhD from the University of Maine (2007), his MSc in Geology from the University of Otago in New Zealand as a Fulbright Scholar (2001), and his BA in Geology from Middlebury College (1999). He lives in Etna, NH with his wife, Laura, and their two sons. You can learn more about his work here.

Dr. D.G. Webster:

“This is a political document that is clearly designed to appeal to a wide range of interests, but is particularly focused on people who are concerned about jobs and the economy. It is also a starting point for negotiations between the new administration and Congress, which holds the purse strings and will determine whether the $2 trillion is additional spending (as opposed to spending already allocated or reallocated) or whether the funds get spent at all. The recent Senate wins in Georgia will make this easier but as we've seen many times in recent decades, a majority is no guarantee of fast action and it may easily be reversed in the midterms. So, at the moment, I'm much more concerned with the willingness and ability of the people who brought Biden to power to continue to pressure him and Congress to act together not just on climate change, or environmental justice, but on the foundations of our democracy. If we don't fix that, we're just going to keep swinging back and forth between slow progress and reactionary entrenchment on any number of issues.”

D.G. Webster is an associate professor in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth. Her main research interest is in understanding the complex dynamics of large-scale social-ecological systems (SESs). She is author of two books, multiple peer reviewed articles, and a number of successful interdisciplinary research proposals. Her first book, Adaptive Governance: The Dynamics of Atlantic Tuna Management (2009) posited and tested her vulnerability response framework. It won the International Studies Association’s Harold and Margaret Sprout Award in 2010. Her second book, Beyond the Tragedy in Global Fisheries (2015), explains the evolution of global fisheries governance through a responsive governance lens, showing how fisheries all over the world cycle through periods of effective and ineffective governance in what she calls the management treadmill. She is currently working on her third single-author book, Healthy Governance: Reconciling the Environment and Social Justice and a multi-author graduate-level text titled The Governance Treadmill. Both books will extend her research on responsive governance to non-fisheries contexts. Dr. Webster teaches courses related to global environmental governance, green business, marine policy, and environmental economics. She earned her PhD from the University of Southern California’s Political Economy and Public Policy program in 2005. You can learn more about her work here.

For more information and opinions on Biden’s climate plan, check these out:

To Watch

If you missed Latria Graham’s Changemaker event this past Wednesday, don’t worry! You can find the full video here and the audio here.

To Listen

KUT >> The Secret Ingredient: Hosted by Raj Patel (James Beard Award Winning academic), Tom Philpott (Mother Jones journalist), and Rebecca McInroy (KUT Studios), The Secret Ingredient hosts a wide variety of guests about the production, marketing, distribution, and impact of our food systems. Be sure to check out this episode with Rita Valencia and Charlotte Sáenz on Indigenous-led food sovereignty movements and our inherent interconnectivity with the rest of the natural world.

How to Save a Planet: Climate scientist and policy advocate Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson co-hosts this hopeful, grounded podcast centered around solutions to our climate crisis. Some of our favorite episodes are this one on the youth-led Green Wave and this one called “Making Republicans Environmentalists Again.”

To Follow

  • @seedingsovereignty for Indigenous activism and ways to support

  • @ambertamm, a Brooklyn-based farmer and healer working to connect her community with the earth through nourishing food

  • @biggreenthrifts, Dartmouth’s online thrift store to buy and sell new and gently used clothing

  • @nuestrasraicesverdes, a podcast and environmental justice curriculum and content creator

To Read

Spare Rib 21W: Spare Rib is an intersectional feminist zine at Dartmouth committed to exploring “the struggles and achievements of people marginalized by the traditionally centered narrative at Dartmouth and beyond.” Their recent issue on respiration focuses on the metaphorical and physical understandings of breath that have been so central to this past year, from BLM protests to California wildfires to COVID-19.

To Do

Mark your calendar for our Environmental Changemakers series!

That's it for now. Be well & take care,

Jess Chen, Jasmine Butler, and Rachel Kent Sustainable Dartmouth Interns

Do you have a suggestion for something to include in our next issue? Want to write something to be published on here next time? Or maybe you have some feedback you want to give us? We want to hear from you. Please fill out this Google form and we'll be in touch!


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