Climate Change Will Collapse the US Economy—These Five Policies Could Stop That From Happening

Biden's climate change plan is specifically focused on building a US economy around preventing further climate change (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky).

Biden's climate change plan is specifically focused on building a US economy around preventing further climate change (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky).

By Meghan McCarthy

September 10, 2020

Economists and financial analysts believe that climate change will likely decimate the US economy. And the only way to stop that from happening is by creating a sustainable economy that fights climate change.

As apocalyptic images of orange and red skies from the West Coast flood social media, the warning signs can no longer be ignored: Climate change caused by human activity is here. But it’s not just the horror of fires and hurricanes that is causing concern. The US economy could very likely collapse if climate change continues unabated.

The New York Times reports that the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) found that “a world wracked by frequent and devastating shocks from climate change cannot sustain the fundamental conditions supporting our financial system.” The CFTC is the federal agency that regulates complex financial products, like futures and derivatives, related to stock and commodity markets.

In other words, the country faces not only destruction from extreme weather events, but also calamity in the financial markets that underpin the US economy. Recent examples of this costly destruction aren’t hard to find, and include the derecho in Iowa, Hurricane Laura in the Gulf, and the ongoing wildfires along nearly the entire West Coast.

Despite these facts, the agency that put the report together doesn’t expect the Trump administration to do anything to stop the climate from warming. President Trump has rolled back over 100 regulations that aimed to reduce pollution—for instance, cars can now emit more carbon dioxide and oil and gas refineries can now release more methane gas into the air. And Trump’s own reelection bullet points don’t even mention the climate.

Still, Trump called himself as “the great environmentalist” on the campaign trail this week, ironically by reversing his own decision to allow offshore drilling in nearly all US waters. He also tried to paint Biden as a president who would give a “free pass” to China, Russia, and India to pollute without restriction, a claim he makes without evidence.

In reality, Biden’s climate plan is detailed and ambitious, and it repeatedly mentions pushing back on China for being the world’s largest source of carbon emissions. In fact, China is still participating in the Paris Agreement, the international deal to reduce pollution that Trump pulled the United States out of in 2019.

Beyond rejoining the Paris Agreement, here are five other major parts of the Biden climate plan that could help prevent continued natural—and economic—disasters in the United States:

Make the power sector emissions free by 2035.

President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce emissions from the power sector called for a 32% reduction by 2030. Biden’s plan goes much further, looking to reduce all emissions from power sources by 2035. That would mean significantly more power generated from solar, wind, and nuclear sources, and far less from coal and natural gas. The remaining coal and natural gas facilities would have to successfully use carbon-capture technology. 

Upgrade US buildings to be energy efficient over the next four years.

Biden wants to get 4 million commercial buildings energy efficient by installing and maintaining LED lighting, electric appliances, and advanced heating and cooling systems, all made in America. That work would not only create jobs, but his goal is to return 25% of the money saved from upgrades to state and local governments.

Require that 40% of clean energy and infrastructure benefits go to disadvantaged communities.

Climate change affects economically disadvantaged communities more, as decades of racist housing policies pushed people into hotter neighborhoods or areas more prone to flooding. That has inspired the environmental justice movement, but as one activist told the New York Times, it is usually “an afterthought or it’s not clearly quantified.” Biden’s plan puts environmental justice front and center, and provides hard numbers as goals.

Set fuel economy standards so that 100% of new sales of cars, SUVs, and pick-ups are zero-emission.

Trump gutted an Obama-Biden policy that required automotive companies to increase fuel efficiency by around 5% per year, down to about 1.5% per year. Biden’s new plan goes even further than the 5% goal, and includes a new “cash for clunkers” program to incentivize Americans to turn in old, gas-guzzling vehicles and replace them with electric ones. Biden also wants to add 500,000 new public charging outlets by the end of 2030.

Invest $400 billion over 10 years to research clean energy.

Biden wants to set up a new agency to figure out things like improving lithium battery storage at lower costs, developing refrigerants for air conditioning that don’t pollute, and building smaller and safer nuclear power plants. According to his plan, this investment would be twice what was spent on the Apollo moon program in today’s dollars.


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