Whose Climate Plan Is It?


The Pulse and Politics of the Environment, Peace, and Justice

Bob Musil, President, Rachel Carson Council

“In nature nothing exists alone.”

“The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history… It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science.”

“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.”

— Rachel Carson


Josh Nelson

Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden first caused an uproar among environmentalists by hinting he wanted to find a “middle ground” on global climate change. Then, reversing course, he released a climate change plan that was greeted with a sigh of relief and much praise, especially in the mainstream media. That is until Josh Nelson of CREDO Mobile discovered and wrote on Twitter that pieces of the plan had been lifted directly without attribution from other sources.

Joe Biden and wife Jill Biden, 1988

Forced to drop out of the 1988 Presidential race because of revelations about plagiarism early in his career, Biden quickly had proper sources inserted into his document. What was little noticed in the brief brouhaha was whose and what kinds of climate plans Biden had drawn from. Biden’s plan, like those of other Presidential candidates, shows to whom he listens and who is left out.

Since the main, viable candidates for President are all concerned about climate change, examining the details, sources, biases, and omissions of any climate plan is critical. In Biden’s case, his plan, for instance, directly used the language of the innocuous sounding Carbon Capture Coalition. As Josh Nelson noted in breaking the story, the Carbon Capture Coalition includes fossil-fuel industry players like Shell, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy. The language Biden used in his plan was identical to theirs. “Its goal is to make carbon capture, use, and storage (CCUS) a widely available, cost-effective, and rapidly scalable solution to reduce carbon emissions to meet mid-century climate goals.” The plan, in a word, helps the coal industry continue.

Biden also drew directly from the BlueGreen Alliance, a more complicated and nuanced group, composed of labor unions and some key environmental groups like the Sierra Club, NRDC and the League of Conservation Voters. The BlueGreen program results from carefully negotiated compromises on energy designed to add labor clout to the environmental movement. But that means protecting jobs at existing nuclear power plants and 600,000 workers in “low-carbon” electricity production that includes fracked natural gas and its pipelines.

Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, North American Director of 350.org

Biden’s plan drew criticism from progressive environmental and climate change groups that could as well be aimed at other candidate’s plans. Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, North American Director of 350.org put it directly. “It’s concerning that Biden’s plan embraces demonstrably false solutions including nuclear power, harmful biofuels, and boondoggle carbon capture and natural gas infrastructure that will continue to lock us into fossil fuel dependence with investments that harm the communities that already live in areas where the impacts are being felt.”

O’Laughlin’ s emphasis on “communities” is key. In looking at climate plans, we need to ask whose interests are served, who profits or benefits, and who has, or has not, been consulted, and whose vote presumably matters in 2020. It is no surprise that Biden backs big infrastructure, carbon capture, and energy industries that have heavy union representation. His whole campaign seems premised on winning the Rust Belt states and white working class men away from Donald Trump and lacks any serious sense of environmental justice.

The Green New Deal, when looked at closely, calls for the inclusion and voice of poor and underrepresented people of color – those who live in and around those hog factory farms, fracking wells, natural gas pipelines, compressor stations, wood pellet production facilities and clear-cutting. It can and should be argued that the concerns of these widespread African American, Latino, Indigenous and immigrant populations and whether they feel included and energized to vote, matters as much as a white working class guy at a nuclear power plant or natural gas pipeline.

A standard of inclusion and equity needs to be used whenever we judge the climate plans of any candidate. Whom does it help and who does it hurt? Is it concerned about climate change or climate justice?

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