What You Need to Know About Biden’s Climate “Emergency”

COMMENTARY Environment

What You Need to Know About Biden’s Climate “Emergency”

Jul 22, 2022 6 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Katie Tubb

Research Fellow, Center for Energy, Climate, and Environment

Katie Tubb is a research fellow for energy and environmental issues at The Heritage Foundation.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on climate change and clean energy at Brayton Point Power Station on July 20, 2022 in Somerset, Massachusetts. Scott Eisen / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

In a speech Wednesday in Massachusetts, President Joe Biden announced that he would use yet more executive action in a bid to push his radical climate agenda.

The president’s self-proclaimed reason for unilateral action should be appalling to all Americans: “Congress isn’t acting as it should.”

Ends justified by means, regardless of the rule of law, is not a sustainable way to run a country.

In a speech Wednesday in Massachusetts, President Joe Biden announced that he would use yet more executive action in a bid to push his radical climate agenda, despite recent checks on unilateral presidential action by Congress and the Supreme Court.

The administration is aiming to overhaul the energy sector and the American economy to achieve the costly and unrealistic objectives of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reaching economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.

Biden stopped short of invoking national emergency powers to achieve his climate agenda as rumored, while promising more regulatory and executive actions to come. Instead, the president announced $385 million for weatherization projects and air-conditioning units and diverting $2.3 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for infrastructure.

He also announced more heat-exposure regulations by the Department of Labor, in addition to touting programs in the infrastructure bill that passed last fall.

Whether to appease activists who want more or to lay the groundwork for future action, Biden also used the occasion to make the case why he’s entitled to act unilaterally without Congress.

Taking a look at some of those claims briefly. Biden said:

The U.N.’s leading international climate scientists called the latest climate report nothing less than, quote, ‘code red for humanity.’

Headlines for “code red” situations came from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ press release about an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change draft report last August. But for all its faults, this isn’t what the IPCC found. Rather, it reported that the most extreme projections for warming—the so-called code red—was downgraded to “low likelihood.”

That’s as much good news for humans as it is for improving scientific integrity.

As an aside, Biden continued: “It’s not a group of … elected officials [saying that]. These are the scientists.” Where else have Americans heard that before? Americans found out all too well with the total mishandling of discussions about COVID-19 as politicians, the media, and scientists made similar appeals to authority to deflect responsibility.

  • “We lose it all” if we don’t suppress temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Not only is this irresponsible catastrophism that is not supported by the science Biden was quick to cite for authority, it also ignores some of the benefits of warming and displays a lack of faith in the ability of people to innovate and adapt.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates warming already of 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1850. During that time, extreme poverty plummeted 80%, global crop yields of grains increased more than 200%, and humanity has become more resilient to natural disasters, to name a few trends in the remarkable progress for human well-being and adaptation that give reason for optimism.  

  • Last year, “extreme weather events [cost] $145 billion” in property damage because of climate change. Damages from weather disasters have been decreasing since at least 1990 as a percent of gross domestic product, which is the proper way to account for losses.

More importantly, the death toll from climate-related disasters decreased 96% over the past century. To put this in perspective, Our World in Data (a project of Oxford University) recorded that 15,071 people died in natural disasters in 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 93,331 deaths in the U.S. from drug overdoses that same year.

  • Hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, flooding, and wildfires are becoming more destructive because of climate change. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported no discernible global trends for hurricanes, winter storms, floods, tornadoes, or thunderstorms, while it did report trends in heat waves, heavy precipitation, and some kinds of drought.

Policymakers should be very leery of using global warming as a scapegoat, only to misdiagnose problems and consequently ignore real solutions. The failure of the Oroville Dam in California and mismanaged federal forests fueling catastrophic fires are just two examples.  

Finally, while not explicitly stated, Biden clearly intimated that the air we breath is choked with pollution. In fact, Americans have a lot to be proud of. Air pollution has decreased 73% since 1980.

The Real Emergency

But here’s the real problem. No matter what one thinks about the nature and pace of global warming, the president’s self-proclaimed reason for unilateral action should be appalling to all Americans: “Congress isn’t acting as it should.”

Americans’ elected representatives set policy, not a king in the White House (regardless of party) or bureaucrats keen on legislating via regulation.

With the latest failure in Congress of Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, a massive spending bill that included tax favors and spending on climate-related federal programs, the possibility of more radical climate policies passing Congress appear even more remote.

Congress has rejected these and other climate policies on numerous occasions over the past two decades because of the far-reaching costs and dubious environmental impact of those proposals.

Yet Congress’ role in establishing policy was reinforced by the Supreme Court’s June 30 decision in West Virginia v. EPA, severely limiting the ability of regulatory agencies to develop major policies, such as economy-wide climate regulations without clear direction from Congress.

Many on the left are pillorying Congress; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; the Supreme Court; or high energy prices for derailing Biden’s climate agenda, claiming that the urgency of global warming means the rules no longer apply.

However, the left’s anger at those developments exposes a disturbing impatience with representative government and a preference for control to be concentrated in the hands of an unelected, select few.

That Americans’ constitutional system of government and elected representatives are disdainfully, shrilly considered as obstacles to this (or any) president’s agenda is something that should concern every American, regardless of political party. Ends justified by means, regardless of the rule of law, is not a sustainable way to run a country.

In reality, Biden’s problem is that he and his administration have never bothered to make the case for, and earn the consensus of Americans or their elected representatives for, the extreme, unrealistic, and deeply flawed climate commitments the president unilaterally made to the U.N.’s Paris Agreement.

So, who was the president really speaking to on Wednesday?

According to The New York Times: “Just 1 percent of voters in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll named climate change as the most important issue facing the country, far behind worries about inflation and the economy. Even among voters under 30, the group thought to be most energized by the issue, that figure was 3 percent.”

Other than climate activists and a small handful of radical congressmen, it’s not at all clear.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal