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What Biden’s Climate Plan Shows About the Democratic Field – The New York Times

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Coral Davenport


Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. visited a solar energy installation company in Plymouth, N.H., on Tuesday. CreditBrian Snyder/Reuters

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced his environmental plan this week, and it shows how far the Democratic field is moving on climate change.

Under the proposal, the United States would aim to be carbon neutral by 2050, in part by putting a price tag on planet-warming pollution. The plan also calls for public investments of $1.7 trillion in clean energy and other environmental initiatives over 10 years.

Just last month, Mr. Biden’s rivals were accusing him of being weak on climate change.

“This definitely goes further than the Obama administration in terms of aspiration,” said Robert N. Stavins, an environmental economist at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. “This clearly demonstrates that Biden and his people recognize the polling that Democrats in the primary electorate are skewed to the left, and the polling demonstrates that they care about climate change.”

Polls show that fighting climate change, after years of languishing behind other issues, is now a top priority for Democratic voters, and candidates are talking about global warming far more than in recent elections.

The former vice president’s proposals came just hours before another senior Democrat, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, released her own climate plan. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, whose presidential campaign is centered on fighting climate change, has called for the United States to be carbon neutral by 2045.

Mr. Biden’s environmental targets are generally in line with the goals of the Green New Deal, the expansive plan put forward by two other Democrats, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. Republicans have described the measure as extreme and unrealistic.

On Tuesday, when Mr. Biden made his announcement, environmental activists largely lauded the plan. Some pointed to the influence of the Green New Deal.

“The pressure worked,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, which has championed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal.

“We forced them to backtrack and today, he put out a comprehensive climate plan that cites the Green New Deal and names climate change as the greatest challenge facing America and the world.”

CreditCreditIllustrations by Antoine Maillard

Andy Newman

Last fall, my editor on the New York City desk here at The Times took a new job running the travel section and invited me to write a story for her sometime.

Thanks, I said, but the only travel story I want to do is one about the moral questions around long-distance leisure travel in the age of climate change.

“You’re on,” replied the editor, Amy Virshup, to my surprise. Now, I had to write it. And I knew there was no way to do it without addressing my own complicity.

First, though, I had to figure out how guilty I was: a way to quantify the global damage caused by one person’s travel.

I was bumbling around, lost in numbers, when another colleague, Brad Plumer on the climate desk, told me about a 2016 article by two climatologists that suggested a direct, linear relationship between carbon emissions and the melting of Arctic’s summer ice cover.

Their finding: Every metric ton of carbon or its equivalent melted 3 square meters, or 32 square feet.

“This number is sufficiently intuitive to allow one to grasp the contribution of personal CO2 emissions to the loss of Arctic sea ice,” the researchers wrote dryly.

Indeed. I plugged in numbers from a carbon-footprint calculator and … no, that couldn’t be right. But I kept doing the math and kept getting the same answer: My family’s one-week winter-break trip to Florida would melt 90 square feet.

By this point, we had already decided to go to Greece for summer vacation, a far more destructive journey. I felt compelled to mention this, too, at the end of the story. I could not think of anything to say about it other than that we plan to buy carbon offsets and hope for the best.

The response on social media was swift and unsparing. Some readers found that to be a disappointing and cowardly place to end up. One argued that, by focusing on individual travel, I was letting big companies and state actors off the hook for their huge emissions.

I preferred to think of myself as being painfully honest. You can read the story here.


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