Biden’s dangerous climate hypocrisy

by Basav Sen

This summer has toppled heat records, with July going down as the hottest month in world history.

The South and Southwest of the United States have been reeling under extreme temperatures for weeks, and the East Coast and Midwest have been impacted as well. Elsewhere, China, India, Iran, Spain and Mexico, have also suffered extreme heatwaves this year.

Scientists are clear that these extreme heat waves wouldn’t have happened without climate change driven by fossil fuels. In response, President Joe Biden announced measures to protect communities from extreme temperatures. He’s called for increased worker protections from heat hazards, improved weather forecasting and water storage infrastructure to help communities withstand prolonged droughts.

Each of these measures is commendable. But unfortunately, even as the Biden administration announces some relief for the symptoms of extreme heat, it continues to greenlight the fossil fuel projects that are driving it.

Breaking a campaign promise, Biden has approved more oil and gas permits on public lands than the Trump administration did in an equivalent time period. Biden’s administration has approved “carbon bombs” like the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska, and several liquefied natural gas export terminals in Alaska and on the Gulf Coast.

These actions are inconsistent with the administration’s rhetoric on climate — and with the global scientific consensus that we need to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure to have any chance of avoiding climate catastrophe.

The administration and its defenders note that they passed “the most ambitious climate and clean energy legislation in U.S. history,” the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). But while the IRA’s significant investments in renewable energy are critical, they’re insufficient.

The U.N. Environment Program and a growing number of academic studies make clear that transitioning our energy system away from fossil fuels requires not merely building renewable energy, but actively phasing out fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s fossil fuel buildout undermines the goals of the renewable energy expansion enabled by the IRA. So does a little-known section of the bill itself, which mandates more oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters as a condition for any renewable energy leases.

Recognition of Biden’s climate hypocrisy is going mainstream. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has chided the United States for its approval of the Willow project and its fossil fuel expansion writ large.

Gueterres is hosting a Climate Ambition Summit in New York in September, where “first movers and doers” will address the world about their progress towards meeting the U.N.’s climate agenda.

By any measure, the United States is not a “first mover and doer” on climate — at least not yet. Instead, we’re the world’s largest producer of both oil and gas. And as a major oil and gas exporter, we produce significantly more than what’s needed to satisfy domestic demand.

That’s why movements to end fossil fuels are organizing a March to End Fossil Fuels in New York City on Sept. 17, using the Climate Ambition Summit to shine a bright spotlight on Biden’s broken climate promises — and pressure him instead to use his executive powers to end the era of fossil fuels.

We’ve made some big strides on climate in recent years. The bad news is that our leaders are still working against it. But there’s good news, too — movements are fighting for solutions. And you can participate by joining the march in New York or connecting with others in your own community.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.