How Joe Biden could really burn Donald Trump

How Joe Biden could really burn Donald Trump
Image via Spike Johnson/Shutterstock.

If you weren’t sure of it yet, climate change is quite clearly here. Heat waves scorching the United States. and other countries this summer — and subsequent wildfires that have killed dozens and choked millions — have shown us that extreme heat and its effects aren’t some abstract concepts that will only affect other people at some indeterminate point in the future.

It’s happening to us.

Matters will only get worse as we continue to burn massive amounts of toxic fossil fuels day after day, and since President Joe Biden has stated fighting climate change is one of his top priorities, it’s time for him to go further — and formally declare it the national emergency that it obviously is.

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It’s the right thing to do. But it could also provide Biden a surprisingly strong weapon in Election 2024 by hurting Donald Trump.

Polls show nearly 60 percent of Democratic voters who want the Biden administration to act on climate change think the administration could be doing “a lot more” to tackle the problem. Furthermore — and considering a majority of independents feel climate change is a major threat that needs to be addressed — Biden could take some share of that voting bloc away from Trump by acting more aggressively.

“Every day we're seeing the horror of this crisis and why we need a real climate emergency declaration from Biden,” Karuna Jagger, California political director at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, told Raw Story. “Across the country people are feeling the heartbreak of the Maui wildfires, the deadly heat waves and our overheating oceans. Voters aren’t buying it that Biden has done enough because he hasn’t.”

With emergency powers, Biden could utilize laws such as the National Emergencies Act and the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to take dramatic actions: prevent U.S. financial institutions from investing in foreign fossil fuel projects, divert funding from existing budgets to installing more renewable energy around the country, increase the production of solar panels, wind turbines and grid-scale batteries.

“Biden has said the climate crisis is the existential threat to humanity, and it’s time he acts like it. That means more than talk and more than investment in renewables,” Jagger says. “It means urgent action by the world’s largest oil and gas producers to phase out the fossil fuel culprit.”

It’s not enough for Biden to simply declare a climate emergency and rely on its associated symbolism as the sole pre-election climate action he’ll take. But considering the Republican-controlled U.S. House surely won’t let him pass any significant climate legislation before the 2024 election, it could do some good and get a quiet majority of climate voters energized in ways they often are not. It could possibly increase Biden’s chances of being reelected, particularly in a handful of swing states where the margin of victory may come down to a percentage point or less.

Sure, an action as dramatic as declaring a national climate emergency would likely end up before the courts. But as a political maneuver, it’ll demonstrate that Biden is doing everything he can. (And a state court in Montana this month showed that the judicial system is capable of taking dramatic climate-related actions itself.)

Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, says there are some other ways he’d like to see Biden show he’s serious about continuing the fight against climate change at a large scale. What he can’t accomplish through executive action could be significant second-term policy goals he could campaign on.

“What we need to do is develop a national investment fund far larger than ARPA-E. We need to have a fund much larger than the Inflation Reduction Act and the Chips and Science Act combined, and we need to prioritize gender, racial and social economic justice,” Kammen says.

ARPA-E is a government agency that was founded during President Obama’s first term to study and fund the research and development of advanced energy technologies. Kammen notes that he could sell these goals to voters as job creators. He says there are more jobs benefits coming from clean energy than fossil fuels, so there could be a strong economic message — one that dovetails with Biden’s cornerstone “Bidenomics” rhetoric.

If Biden can prove to voters who care about climate change that he’s going to keep fighting this fight, on a large scale, it could energize younger voters who care about this issue and help him generally get the base and independents more excited about his candidacy. Given the lukewarm — at best — enthusiasm for giving an octogenarian commander-in-chief four more years, Biden needs to show that he’s capable of being bold and decisive in the face of crisis.

Trump can’t win these voters with his current stances on the climate issue, so there’s a real opportunity for Biden to shore them up and increase their enthusiasm.

And while climate won’t likely be one of the top issues going into the 2024 election, which will surely be dominated by conversations about economics, abortion, democracy and other issues voters are notably concerned about, every percentage point in support Biden can gain could make the difference.

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