How do you get four years back in the effort to address climate change? The answer is: you don’t. As most people have come to realize, climate change is a cumulative problem; it gets worse, and harder to correct, the longer it’s unaddressed. The Trump administration, however, took wanton pleasure in trying to prove this ironclad principle. Yes, we’ve had decades of inadequate response to climate change, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Jason Grumet told Axios, but “the last four have been dramatic because there was actually an intention to not respond as opposed to just an inability to respond.” So even as we look ahead to what a Biden administration might do on climate, we must again acknowledge Donald Trump and the Republicans’ recklessness for what it is: not the expression of a defensible policy position or philosophical belief, but the subordination of human lives (indeed, planetary life) to profit, plain and simple.
As a first step, Joe Biden will return the United States to the Paris Agreement. This will have both diplomatic and practical benefits: it will assure the rest of the world that it again has a reliable, stable partner in confronting a global crisis, and it will augur well for more urgent collective action. But it’s also only the easiest step. The administration will have to take special care to engage with China, which is seeking to position itself as an international climate leader even as it continues to burn more coal than all other countries combined. More difficult still will be enacting policies needed to make meaningful progress in bringing America’s carbon emissions under control. Biden’s biggest obstacles on this front are Congressional Republicans and the fossil-fuel interests that bankroll them. Getting anything significant done through legislation seems unlikely, given the probable makeup of the Senate and the partisan hostility Biden is sure to be met with.