In an exclusive interview with The Weather Channel President Biden discussed climate change, which he refers to as “the existential threat” currently facing humanity.
The interview comes after a four-day swing in the American West as Biden cements himself as the “climate president” on the campaign trail to the 2024 election.
Climate investment is a huge focus of Biden’s remarks, as he talks about his focus on environmental justice, the benefits the Inflation Reduction Act has spurred for both the economy and climate resiliency, as well as historic private sector investment, and job creation.
However, despite underscoring the urgency the climate crisis demands, Biden still stopped short of saying he’d declare a climate emergency, which would unleash a cache of specific federal resources, saying he’s already done so “in practice.”
Climate is at the forefront in the American West.
Against the dynamic backdrop of record-breaking heat breaching 110°F for days in Phoenix leaving thousands without power, western drought driving emissions in the thick of water woes, and the Biden administration designating Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukven, Indigenous lands in Arizona near the Grand Canyon, a national monument amid climate and mining concerns, President Joe Biden gave his first face-to-face interview since mid-July on Wednesday, August 9.
Of course, the topic had to be climate change.
Sitting down within the Grand Canyon across from The Weather Channel’s veteran meteorologist, Stephanie Abrams, Biden called climate change “the existential threat,” facing humanity.
As excessive heat spans across the nation, especially in the American South, climate-fueled floods deluge Vermont, and wildfires of “unusual” scope currently blaze through Hawai’i, Biden underscored the need for climate resiliency for both the disasters striking the country now and the disasters that will plague us as the Earth warms.
He also touted the ways in which the administration is working to mitigate the crisis and the toll it takes on us, from investing in renewables to providing aid where it's most needed. Still, the President stopped short of detailing any plans he has to declare a climate emergency, which would unleash a cache of resources to fight global warming.
Here are five key takeaways from the interview:
1. Climate mitigation does not have to come at the expense of economic growth
“My mom used to say out of everything bad something good will come if you look hard enough for it,” President Biden told Abrams when speaking about economic growth that could come from mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis.
This isn’t the first time he’s used this quote, evoking it in his remarks on the East Kentucky flooding last year, which was labeled as “one of the most destructive periods in state history,” and his Arizona speech on conservation and climate action just yesterday.
“Well, there’s a lot of good that’s going to come from the sacrifices of dealing with taking on the climate crisis,” he said in the speech. “Folks, these are investments in our planet, our people, in America itself: protecting our outdoor treasures, making our nation more resilient.”
In the interview with the Weather Channel Biden built on that idea, pointing to the fact that 550,000 electric charging stations are being built across the country and automobile companies will be “going totally electric by 2050,” in an effort to curb gas emissions, while bringing renewable and electric vehicle manufacturing jobs across the country, especially in the South.
For example, the top two states for electric vehicle jobs right now are Tenessee in Georgia, with 37,000 new jobs thanks to $32 billion in EV projects in the states.
“I brought labor together,” Biden said. Labor has been always opposed to environmental changes because they think it's going to cost them jobs.” Instead, he said, “It’s their future.”
2. The Inflation Reduction Act is helping
The economic growth is especially underscored by, according to Biden, the private sector “finally coming off the sidelines, when it comes to climate change.”
“They've invested $250 billion in alternative energy,” he said, pointing to the way the money is being used for everything from solar facilities to electrolyzers for hydropower.
And he’s right — As Forbes puts it, the United States is in the early stage of a clean energy boom, and a lot of it is due to investment mobilized by the Inflation Reduction Act, which according to data from American Clean Power, the private investment alone is adding 163 gigawatts of clean generation capacity, nearly doubling total nationwide clean power generation to more than 396 GW, or over 13% of primary energy consumption.
“There’s an enormous opportunity,” Biden said. “We’re growing the economy. But it’s not enough for us to do it — we have to change the whole world’s attitude.”
Still, while the IRA is working in part, there’s more to go.
Much of the power generation spurred by the IRA is residential, however, it’s not enough – As Abrams pointed out, only 5% of Americans use solar power, despite the plummeting cost of the tech, which is now cheaper than fossil fuels.
When asked how to convince Americans” that the hard thing to do is the right thing to do for the environment,” Biden said that you give them tax credits, which is exactly what the IRA is doing.
According to a report by The Rhodium Group, the IRA’s subsidies have cut the cost of solar by nearly 40% — one of many factors leading to by 2035, greenhouse gas emissions in the country decreasing by 32-51%.
That may be less than the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement, but as Rhodium puts it, it’s a “meaningful departure from previous years’ expectations,” considering that prior to the IRA, the nation was on track to cut emissions by only 26 to 41%.
In addition to being better for the planet and better for American wallets, Biden also referenced how solar panels make homes “more solid,” and resilient, saying “It [the IRA] is starting to catch on.”
3. Halting climate change means stopping drilling
As the 2024 presential election begins to ramp up, Abrams asks Biden a chief concern of Generation Z, who, as Abrams puts it is “going to play a big role in the next presidential election.” The concern is the 7000 oil and gas permits approved by the administration since Biden took office, one of which was the controversial Willow Project in the Alaskan Arctic and another put up for auction, more recently, the size of Italy in the Gulf of Mexico.
“You promised no new drilling on federal land or offshore. Can you tell Gen-Z that you haven't broken your promise?” she asked.
Instead of defending the moves, Biden said that he wants to “stop drilling in East Coast and the West Coast and in the Gulf,” but was overruled by the courts. Later in the interview he also pointed to other successful measures such as the sweeping methane rules proposed last year that would, by 2030, reduce the super emitter, methane, from covered sources by 87% below 2005 levels.
Still, previously, the administration was able to halt some projects, and despite the complex political landscape surrounding drilling specifically, saying that he wants to stop them, sets a precedent ahead of his campaign.
4. Environmental justice communities are being prioritized, but more needs to be done
“First, first, first,” Biden repeated like a mantra as he explained the federal government will be providing the most aid to low-income areas most disproportionately by climate change and pollution going forward.
“I understand what these communities are going through,” Biden said referencing the town in which he grew up: Claymont, Delaware, where according to the President, the first day of frost was simultaneous with oil slicks on windows, one factor leading to the state having the highest cancer rates in America at the time.
“Look what’s going on in Lousiana,” he said, which could be a reference to the sea level rising on the Gulf Coast, taking a toll on the state’s hurricane protection, with floods more likely to hit vulnerable lower-income communities, usually of color.
In the interview, he reinforced the fact that environmental justice is a top concern of the administration referencing the Justice40 initiative that allows 40% of all the funding to go to disadvantaged communities. “We’re focusing on those areas to get the help first ... and 40% is going to go to them,” he said.
Still, as policy analysis show, because race is not included as a factor in the tool used for the initiative, it does little to reduce relative disparities amongst racial groups and could exacerbate the racial pollution gap, showing that in the vein of pollution justice, the administration has more to do.
In addition to more work to be done domestically, the interview also touched on international climate issues, and while Biden referenced positives the U.S. and other G7 countries are doing to help mitigate and adapt in the global south, from working to install renewables in South America and Africa to replacing lead pipes, he avoided answering to what capacity the U.S. would open its doors to climate migrants.
5. Biden is still stopping short of declaring a climate emergency
While President Biden called climate change a “code red for humanity” and “the existential threat” of our lifetimes, he defended still not declaring a national climate emergency, saying that he has already done so in practice.
“We’re conserved more land, we’ve rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, we’ve passed a $368 billion climate control facility, we’re moving,” he said listing off the ways in which he’s “declared an emergency.”
However, if an emergency was declared, as a report from the Center for Biological explains, it would allow Biden to take 5 key climate actions: halting crude oil exports, suspending offshore oil and gas drilling, restricting international trade in fossil fuels, ordering the construction of renewable energy systems in climate-vulnerable communities, and leveraging Defense Production Act (DPA) funds to manufacture clean energy tech.
While Biden has already enacted the DPA to do just that, advocates say that declaring the emergency would open the doors for more action in the face of the climate crisis.