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President-elect Joe Biden and Vice president-elect Kamala Harris have outlined their four top priorities. Dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is rightly first on their list. Without a national plan to reduce the spread of the virus, thousands of Americans will continue to die each week and our economy will continue to stagger under the weight of government restrictions and reduced demand as Americans avoid many activities out of fear of catching COVID-19.
Next, according to the team’s transition website, are addressing this economic crisis and racial equity.
Rounding out the list is climate change, which the two call “an existential threat.”
Making climate change a top priority — and even acknowledging its existence — will be a welcome change from the Trump administration.
“From coastal towns to rural farms to urban centers, climate change poses an existential threat — not just to our environment, but to our health, our communities, our national security, and our economic well-being,” the Biden-Harris transition website says. “It also damages our communities with storms that wreak havoc on our towns and cities and our homes and schools. It puts our national security at risk by leading to regional instability that will require U.S military-supported relief activities and could make areas more vulnerable to terrorist activities.”
As important as this change is, the framing of climate change as a multifaceted concern that impacts many aspects of our lives — including our health and national security — is also crucial. Nearly a week after the election, the Federal Reserve, for the first time, formally called climate change a threat to the country’s financial system. The country’s central bank said financial firms should offer more information about how their investments could be affected by fires, floods and rising temperatures and sea levels.
Scientists — many of them within the U.S. government — have long warned about these and other consequences of our changing climate. But, the last four years have been a lost opportunity as the Trump administration downplayed the risks of climate change and, worse, enacted policies that worsened the emissions of heat-trapping gases and sought to increase U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.
Symbolically, the U.S. lost its leadership role and influence when the Trump administration announced the country’s departure from the Paris climate agreement, which set voluntary standards for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming.
The U.S. formally left the agreement last week. Hopefully, the departure will be short lived as Biden has said the U.S. will again sign on to the accord soon after he assumes the presidency.
Biden has also pledged to reduce net U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. It is an ambitious goal, but one that can be achieved through large investments in renewable energy. The power industry, for example, has reduced its emissions by 30 percent much more quickly than expected, mostly because of a transition away from burning coal to natural gas.
Although some regulations are needed, innovation and investment in alternative energy will be large drivers of a change toward a greener economy.
The president-elect’s climate policy includes a $1.7 trillion investment in clean energy and green jobs, which, in addition to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, will increase employment and stimulate the economy.
Already, jobs in the green energy sector outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel industry by three to one.
Adapting to climate change also requires changes in farming and forestry, major industries in Maine. On Thursday, the Bangor Daily News is hosting a conversation with University of Maine climate scientists, a potato farmer and forest entomologist about how climate change is impacting Maine’s farms and forests. The online event is the last of four discussions the BDN has held about various aspects of climate change this year.
Register online to join us at 4 p.m. on Thursday.