Over 55 scientists have signed an open letter rebuking Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden’s claim that the climate plan rival contender Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders supports, the Green New Deal, isn’t supported by anyone in the scientific field.
Sanders has proposed spending $16.3 trillion through 2030 to radically reshape the U.S. economy, including $2.37 trillion to renewable energy and storage, over $2 trillion in grants for low- and middle-income families as well as small businesses to buy electric vehicles, and $964 billion in grants for those groups to electrify gas and propane heating systems. His plan also calls for $526 billion on a smart electric grid and hundreds of billions on replacing diesel trucks and buses and new mass transit and high-speed rail lines.
Biden’s plan, while still more sweeping than any prior federal effort to address climate change, calls for $1.7 trillion in new spending and only arrived after immense pressure from environmentalists to detail a concrete approach. Biden has also called for ending fossil fuel subsidies across the G20, a stark departure from his tenure in the Obama administration, when domestic crude oil production skyrocketed by 77 percent. It’s far from nothing, but that hasn’t blunted criticism that it’s not as ambitious as it claims to be on the tin.
But the vice president is insisting that doing more isn’t realistic. Last week, Biden attacked Sanders’ plan, telling reporters in New Hampshire that “there’s not a single solitary scientist that thinks it can work,” adding that he doesn’t think zero emissions by 2030 wasn’t possible (note that Sanders’ plan actually calls for 71 percent cut in domestic emissions by that date). 57 scientists from universities and research institutes responded to Biden’s comments in an open letter in support of Sanders released Tuesday.
“The top scientific body on climate change, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), tells us we must act immediately to bring the world together to stop the catastrophic impacts of climate change,” the scientists wrote. “The Green New Deal you are proposing is not only possible, but it must be done if we want to save the planet for ourselves, our children, grandchildren, and future generations.”
“Not only does your Green New Deal follow the IPCC’s timeline for action, but the solutions you are proposing to solve our climate crisis are realistic, necessary, and backed by science,” they added. “We must protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we call home.”
Several of the signatories told Earther that Sanders’ plan recognizes that the U.S. is running out of time to cut emissions and adapt to a changing climate, which will require a massive amount of resources. They also emphasized that continuing to operate in a business-as-usual fashion (which could put the Earth on path to a 3 degrees Celsius rise in global average temperatures or more by the year 2100, far more than the Paris Agreement targets) would have dire consequences.
Daniel M. Kammen, a University of California, Berkeley energy professor and director of its Renewable and Appropriate Energy Lab, told Earther via email that the “climate crisis is truly an emergency, and we need leadership that both understands that, and has a plan that will mobilize the resources necessary to make an immediate about-face in U.S. energy and environmental policy, both domestically and overseas. The Sanders Green New Deal does that.”
Citing falling prices of renewable electricity and UC Berkeley research that shows clean energy generates more jobs than dirty sources like coal and natural gas, Kammen wrote that a “massive investment in clean energy for the U.S. is a jobs and business stimulation package for U.S. exports.” It also “recognizes the environmental racism and discrimination built into our current energy system,” Kammen added. “This is why I also greatly like and respect [billionaire environmentalist candidate Tom Steyer’s] energy and climate justice plan.”
Peter Kalmus, a climate researcher and data scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, concurred in an email to Earther.
“Climate scientists have been sounding the alarm for decades and we’ve been completely ignored, thanks to lies and lobbying from the fossil fuel industry and flagrant denial from those in high office,” Kalmus wrote. “Bernie Sanders hears us. He understands that this is truly a planetary emergency and that there’s no time left for incremental measures. Bernie is the climate candidate. His movement and the climate movement are nearly one and the same.”
“It has felt awful sounding this alarm, knowing what it means for my kids and for every other being on this planet, and being completely ignored,” Kalmus added.
William Fleming, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology and senior fellow with Data for Progress, told Earther via email that “Any appropriate response to the climate crisis will go far beyond familiar tropes of building high-speed rail and, at some distant point in the future, decarbonizing the grid. It will require fundamentally reimagining how and where we live—how we tackle issues of housing justice, transportation justice, climate and environmental justice, and building a massive, continental-scale clean energy grid in a nation of fraught land use and development politics through a cohesive set of programs and policies.”
“The Green New Deal put forward by Senator Sanders is the only plan in the field that even attempts to take on these challenges at any real scale,” Fleming added.
This isn’t the only hit Biden has taken on the environmental front lately. On Tuesday, Biden responded to a voter who said the U.S. needs to stop building new oil pipelines with “Go vote for someone else” and testily adding, “Do you believe that Bernie can do something by 2030?” The man responded, “I’m actually supporting Tom Steyer.”