The White House could not have hoped for a better headline:
“World Leaders Pledge to Cut Emissions, Thank Biden for Leading,” the Washington Post said.
And surely the team is pleased by the second paragraph of this New York Times news story:
“Barely three months into Mr. Biden’s presidency, the contrast with his science-denying predecessor, Donald J. Trump, could not have been more striking.”
It’s pretty clear that the press is rooting not just for action to reduce global warming but for Biden’s extremely ambitious goal. He declared yesterday that the U.S. needs to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of this decade—and slash that to zero by 2050.
The Los Angeles Times at least had a more realistic headline: “Biden’s Climate Change Goal is Welcome but Hard to Meet.”
MSNBC soon played a clip of Greta Thunberg and then interviewed a climate activist, Jamie Margolin of Zero Hour, who said Biden needed to go further and cut emissions to nothing by 2030.
Climate change is a massive and complicated problem, based on an overwhelming scientific consensus. And there’s no question that Biden, in reversing Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, is taking the country in a direction passionately embraced by his party’s liberal wing.
But a major question is whether America will make far more sacrifices than many other nations. The leaders of China and India, for instance, claim they are doing plenty on the climate front but didn’t commit to new goals. And how would we know if the Xi regime was failing to meet even its more modest reductions, supposedly by 2060? What’s more, how would the world enforce those goals even if it was confirmed that China was shirking its duty?
Biden, who went further in his goal-setting than Barack Obama, acknowledged that the U.S. “represents less than 15 percent of the world’s emissions. No nation can solve this crisis on our own.” He said “all of us, and particularly those of us who represent the world’s largest economies, we have to step up.”
Biden’s domestic goal was leaked to the morning papers, and special climate envoy John Kerry was made available to tell the Post that “without China at the table, there is simply no way to resolve the climate crisis.”
At the same time, other countries may have lost faith in America since our policy has zig-zagged depending on who’s in the White House.
But even here at home, hitting Biden’s 2030 target would mean huge reductions in oil and gas consumption, among other things, and that would cost plenty of jobs in fossil fuel industries. That’s why Biden talked up new jobs in “clean technology,” though it’s not clear that would compensate for the industrial losses or that many workers who lose their jobs would be able to make the transition.
As for the politics, the Times did forecast a “bitter partisan fight.” The Post noted that passage of Biden’s environmental legislation “remains far from certain given Democrats’ razor-thin majorities in both legislative chambers. Some Republicans already have criticized Biden’s climate efforts as hasty and costly, and they argue that too rapid a transition away from fossil fuels could kill thousands of jobs in communities around the country that still rely on those industries.”
These are among the hard questions the media need to ask. For Biden to tell the world that combating climate change is a “moral imperative” is significant. But without tough decisions here and around the globe, it could be remembered as just another speech.