President Biden laced his 2020 presidential campaign with rhetoric and promises about addressing climate change, drawing some to wonder if he could be America’s first “climate president.” More than two years in, the reality of his term is a letdown for those who hung their hopes on this label. With the official announcement that he’ll run for office again in 2024, it’s time to examine why “lesser evil” Biden and his flimsy platform represent nothing more than a green dream.
As an example, Biden’s administration has now signed off on more gas and oil drilling permits than Trump had at the same point in his term — surpassing Trump by a few hundred at the two-year mark. Two of Biden’s recent moves for the fossil fuel industry — the approval of the Willow project in Alaska and the auctioning of drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico — confirm that the president will never fulfill his climate promises.
The recently approved Willow project, proposed by ConocoPhillips, plans for three drilling sites in Alaska’s Western Arctic, also known as the National Petroleum Reserve (so much for Biden’s declaration of “no more drilling on federal lands, period”). ConocoPhillips aims to extract an estimated 180,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production, which, when burned, would emit hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide over the project’s 30-year lifetime.
Indigenous groups and environmental organizations in Alaska have long opposed the Willow project, citing a familiar but disturbing list of environmental and social issues that it would create. Additionally, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, the predicted emissions from this project will erase any progress from Biden’s other emission-reduction measures.
In the face of valid and obvious issues like these, our climate president moved ahead with this historic extraction project.
Weeks after approving Willow, the Biden administration opened up millions of acres in the Gulf of Mexico to be auctioned off to oil and gas companies. The likes of Chevron and ExxonMobil walked away with 1.6 million acres of U.S.-owned waters for their use. The same week, report findings came out showing that drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is already creating emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas, that are higher than recent estimates.
The Willow project and Gulf of Mexico permits came less than two months after a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, released a toxic cloud of vinyl chloride that killed livestock and wildlife, and forced residents to evacuate. Biden himself helped bring about this chemical disaster by blocking railroad workers from striking for safer staffing and working conditions late last year.
While the fossil fuel industry continues to thrive in U.S. territory, Biden passionately pursues the development and maintenance of the U.S. military, an imperialist death machine that emits as much greenhouse gas as a medium-sized country. The Pentagon doesn’t report emissions from its activities, but we know that it emits millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide year after year, thanks to its air strikes, military bases, transporting of various deadly weapons, and tens of thousands of Humvees, which get four to eight miles per gallon. This year, Biden’s latest budget proposal for the Department of Defense requests $842 billion with a focus on the “growing multi-domain threat” of China, as well as on Russia and its invasion of Ukraine. The proposal makes passing mention of increasing fuel efficiency but otherwise approaches climate change not as a life-ruining disaster, but as a security threat that the military must prepare for. This reflects Biden and the Pentagon’s contradictory attitude toward climate change: we must prepare for the climate crisis, which is partly caused by the U.S. military, by giving billions to the U.S. military.
Biden’s dishonest stance on climate is emphasized by his silence on crucial, ongoing climate struggles. The movement against Cop City in Atlanta escalated in January, when a Georgia state trooper shot a land defender 57 times in the forest. When Biden gave his State of the Union speech a few weeks later, he made predictably defensive, almost motherly comments about the police, naturally avoiding the topic of Tortuguita’s murder and the police training facility that would annihilate one of Atlanta’s most important ecological sites.
Biden also stays silent the legal battles between Chevron and environmental lawyer Steven Donziger, which have involved dozens of Chevron’s lawyers invading and attempting to ruin Donziger’s life and career — all because he won a lawsuit against Chevron for contaminating the Ecuadoran Amazon with millions of gallons of crude oil and polluted water. Last year, over a hundred environmental and human rights organizations called on Biden to pardon Donziger from an unfair conviction that had him on house arrest indefinitely, which Biden ignored.
So, why is the first so-called climate president breaking his own campaign promises? In assessing his failures, we have to keep in mind that Biden couldn’t manage the climate crisis even if he wanted to. He is a member of the Democratic Party, which has always served, and always will serve, the capitalist system. And in his current position as the most powerful person in this system, Biden is more beholden to maintaining U.S. power on a global scale (an increasingly difficult task) than practically anyone else. This is evident in his approach to other issues as well: in addition to greenlighting the fossil fuel projects that the capitalist economy thrives on in the U.S. and elsewhere, he has advocated for an increase in “border security” on the U.S.-Mexico border, and is now sending 1,500 military troops there in preparation for an increased number of migrants attempting to enter the U.S.
Since the Democratic Party paints itself as in favor of social justice, Biden may throw us a bone or make an empty gesture from time to time — such as this Earth Day’s executive order focused on environmental justice, or his administration’s ineffective proposed changes to Title IX.
Disingenuous moves like this do not change the fact that capitalism is a system of eternal growth, exploitation, and theft. There is no solution to the existential threat of climate change when this system still stands.
Betrayals like the Willow project and the East Palestine train disaster, and the capitalist nature of our government and current political parties, tell us that there is no such thing as a climate president. Biden answers to capitalists and the market, which demand fossil fuel for burning and ever-increasing profit margins. Ultimately, voting him in as the “lesser evil” compared to Trump has meant a continuation of the same unfair policies and careless approach to the climate crisis, with more complicity from the public. Only the working class, united with land protectors and climate advocates unwaveringly against the ruling class, can avert the worst of the crisis.