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.”