Biden Is Failing Us, but Can We Speak Out?

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Issue 14, Volume 113

By Helen Mancini 

After the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), many Democrats eagerly nicknamed President Joe Biden the “climate president” in hopes of boosting support and combating the extreme Republican criticism. The purpose of the bill was to help the U.S. reach lower emission targets by economically incentivizing green energy and electric vehicles. Though this seems like progress, it is not nearly enough.

The IRA has had some unintended consequences. Oil and gas companies supported by the IRA’s subsidies are enhancing their refineries to make biofuels, capture and store carbon dioxide, and produce low-emission hydrogen. The oil industry sees these unsustainable alternatives as a way to continue operations despite the worsening climate crisis. However, the IRA inadvertently allows oil companies to put up the facade of climate action—known as “greenwashing”—and seem to achieve net-zero targets while continuing to drill and pollute. In particular, carbon capture—the process of taking carbon out of the air and storing it—allows companies to keep their oil usage high while offsetting their carbon dioxide emissions. None of these money-driven solutions can happen at the speed necessary to curb the worst effects of the climate crisis, and they all maintain the energy sector’s reliance on fossil fuels and the destruction of ecosystems.

The IRA is not the only issue. The Biden administration recently approved Willow, ConocoPhillips’s $7 billion oil and gas drilling project in Alaska, despite native Alaskans’ and activists’ criticism. ConocoPhillips spent $8.7 million in 2022 lobbying the federal government. Though the project has local political support and is framed as beneficial for the region’s economy and infrastructure, support is not unanimous. Nuiqsut tribal officials have been speaking out about the environmental and health effects of the pipeline. This project, as well as the administration’s most recent auction of 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling, completely contradict Biden’s campaign promise of “no more drilling,” and people are getting angry.

After Willow’s approval went viral on TikTok, young people across America realized that having a Democrat in office does not ensure climate action. A Change.org petition urging Biden to reject the Willow project has garnered over five million signatures in March and into April. It is clear that people have become aware that Biden is not doing enough, but now a new question arises: is it the right time to criticize him?

With election season coming up, many Americans think that Biden is the only hope of beating Donald Trump if Trump gets the nomination. However, the situation remains tense as Biden leads Trump in the RealClearPolitics polling average by only 0.8 percent as of March 2023. Biden plans on winning as a moderate, and much of his platform has been built on the idea that he can unify the politically divided nation. But, by toeing this centrist line in order to grab independent and conservative votes, Biden is ignoring the progressives and young people who elected him. Fifty percent of people ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2020 presidential election. This was an astonishing 11-point increase from 2016 and one of the highest rates of youth electoral participation since the voting age was lowered to 18. Climate change is the foremost issue facing Gen Z, as they will live with the consequences of climate catastrophe long after the decision-makers of today. With Biden going back on campaign promises and failing to meet the United Nations’s targets for emissions cuts, it is critical that he be held accountable. Yet, with strong Republican opposition already, many fear that criticism from Democrats will deter young people from turning out at the polls in 2024 as they did in 2020. This would be devastating because Trump would ensure no progress on climate change for another four years.

Despite this fear, now is the time to push Biden. He still has a year and a half left in office, in which he can make a lot of progress on current climate goals. The Biden administration must push harder to eliminate taxpayer subsidies to fossil fuels companies, pass more regulations on emissions, and cooperate with the international community on achieving net zero by 2040.

These goals cannot be swept under the rug just because of the upcoming election season. Now more than ever, environmentalists and youth voters have the power to push for necessary climate commitments out of Biden and for him to earn his second term. This means attending climate protests, calling Biden out on social media, and even supporting a more progressive candidate for the Democratic nomination. Gen Z understands the severity of the political moment, especially as other problems like gun violence, abortion access, and trans rights face the ballot.

The climate crisis is the most important issue on the global agenda. Instead of making concessions, we need to demand action from our leaders without fear. This moment calls for more activism than ever before. It is time to shift the mindset that all criticism is just anti-Biden. We must push his administration to do better, so we can build up even more engagement for 2024 and create climate progress together.