Remember the climate crisis? In October 2020, just before winning the presidency, Joe Biden discussed climate change with former Obama advisor Dan Pfeiffer. Biden told Pfeiffer, “It is the number one issue facing humanity.” Biden went on to say, “Climate change is the existential threat to humanity. It is going to bake this planet. This is not hyperbole. It is real. And we have a moral obligation.”
Since his election, Biden has regularly proposed increased spending to address climate change. He even appointed Former Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. But his leadership on the issue can be questioned. Listening to him today one wonders whether he still sees climate change as “the number one issue facing humanity.”
Why isn’t Biden talking more about this issue? The problem: It has been eclipsed by other issues. Topping the list are the war in Ukraine and inflation. We all worry about these two issues. Unfortunately, many other issues are of greater concern. These issues are tied to individuals’ party identification.
Republicans will point to crime in the cities, border security, a host of “culture issues,” including Critical Race Theory, LGBQT rights, elections, and, of course, Biden himself. Democrats point to Trump and his continued assault on democracy, healthcare, affordable housing, student debt, income inequality, and social justice.
Where’s climate change? A friend of mine put it this way, “An immediate crisis always trumps a long-range one.”
Climate change is not a long-range problem. It is also unfair, especially to Democrats, to suggest it is not a party priority. President Biden proposes spending $45 billion on climate change in his fiscal year 2023 budget. Republicans, at least the minority no longer denying climate change, acknowledge the issue, but are silent on it. I cannot remember a Republican speaking out on the issue in the last year, can you?
Because Democrats control the House and Senate, chances are good that most or all the $45 billion requested for climate change will be funded this year. But is that amount commensurate with the gravity of the problem? And what happens next year? If, as widely predicted, Republicans win control of the House of Representatives and Senate, or even just one chamber of Congress, budget priorities will shift. It may not matter what President Biden proposes on climate change. That is a reason to worry.
President Biden and other Democrats know they have both a 2022 and 2024 problem. That is one reason they are not talking about climate change. The voters they need to appeal to are worried about other things. And with inflation raging, members of both parties are increasingly reluctant to engage in more massive federal spending. Things such as military and humanitarian support for Ukraine are likely to add up to more than $80 billion this year if Biden’s current request for another $33 billion is followed by additional requests as the war continues.
That also brings us to the 2022 elections and, logically, 2024. Biden and his party are not ready to concede the 2022 elections. That means addressing the priorities of the party’s progressive wing. To win in November, Democrats must deliver on things like affordable housing, expanded healthcare, and student loans. All those priorities, regardless of their merit, decrease the chances of adequate funding for climate change.
Obviously, progressives consider climate change a priority, but it is one of several. If Biden were to make addressing climate change his top priority, as he promised to do in 2020, he would lose the support of many progressives, or at least their enthusiasm. That could guarantee losing at the polls.
So, assuming President Biden was sincere in 2020 about climate change being the “number one issue facing humanity,” what should he be doing? For one, start talking about climate change. Just as his support for Ukraine has built public support for aid or Zelenskyy, Biden needs to put climate change back on the front page.
Biden also needs to redouble efforts to present scientific evidence of climate change and the need to address it to the public. One promising idea is to hold a high-profile White House conference on the subject, including foreign heads of state. Another idea is to dedicate a month to fighting climate change and encourage States and cities to hold events to raise awareness of the crisis.
Finally, we all need to demand that candidates for office address the issue.
Until this happens, not enough will be done about climate change, by President Biden or anyone else.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.