Lauren R. Stevens: How much could Biden do to save environment?

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WILLIAMSTOWN — From an environmental point of view — and so many others — the alternative to Joe Biden winning the 2020 election is unthinkable. Still the question remains, would a Biden victory save the environment? And that really means provide immediate, meaningful action against climate change.

Biden has environmental proposals, beginning with the immediate return of the United States into the Paris Climate Agreement, which Trump has jettisoned. Biden understands that means more than talking. He has day one and year one goals.

Furthermore he knows that his election in part depends upon his appeal to young voters, many of whom supported Bernie Sanders. Perhaps the most comprehensive way to appeal to them, according to surveys, is through climate action. So Biden supports environmental action personally and is prodded to do so.

Understanding the importance of gaining the support of Sanders' followers, Biden has convened six joint policy task forces with Sanders to set the party's platform. John Kerry from Biden's side heads the environmental task force jointly with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from Sanders' side.

The Sunrise Movement's co-founder, Varshini Prakash, representing the youth activists, is also on board, as is Gina McCarthy, Obama's Environmental Protection Administrator. Environmental justice groups are well represented.

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Task force members have good credentials and the group has stature. What it will recommend to the party will undoubtedly be bolder, closer to the Green New Deal than Biden's present policies. Still the task force only recommends and what the party adopts is still several steps from action.

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Action must be both strong and speedy. It would help if the Democrats won control of the Senate and well as the House. The issue could be complicated at the get-go. If Biden wins, if Trump leaves peaceably, if the election isn't challenged in court, if the country isn't threatened by bands of armed marauders.

Even if a political transition is smooth, what other crises will be upon us? A return or new edition of COVID? A deeply depressed economy? Further testimony to this country's racial divide? Some international flare-up?

In a fraught situation, Biden's tendency might be to take it easy, as in Ira Gershwin's words, "I'm bidin' my time/ `Cause that's the kind of guy I'm." He could want to soothe rather than antagonize; to unite rather than polarize. It would be hard to blame him. Civil unrest could make it difficult for a President Biden to propose, let alone enact his and the party's environmental goals.

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Beyond even post-election crises, we need consider the expectations that would be placed on Biden, after four Trump years. Proposals would be competing for funding. Environmentalists, along with those representing every other interest, would be in line (socially distancing, of course) for possible disappointment.

And yet, and yet, a Biden victory is the only hope. He will make a difference; how much will be determined by many factors. It is possible that the momentum that brings about his victory will be of such force as to overcome obstacles, like an ocean groundswell that sucks out all the discouragement and lifts against the sky a new and powerful wave.

At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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