Over the weekend news broke that the Environmental Protection Agency under the Biden administration will, for the first time, attempt to directly limit the allowable emissions from the nation’s coal and gas fired power plants. To do so, they would be mandated by 2040 to either cut emissions outright or use carbon capture technology to keep “nearly all” carbon burn off from being released into the atmosphere. If fully implemented on all 3,400 power plants in the U.S., potential carbon reductions from this proposal are significant, amounting to nearly 25% of total planet-warming pollution from the U.S. (the rest comes mostly from auto exhausts and methane leaks and emissions).
But will it even happen? Will it be enough? And will it be quick enough to make a difference?
The answer to the first question is probably not. Congress alone, with its many reactionary members funded by the fossil fuel industry, will either stop most of the proposal in its’ tracks or at least water it down to nearly nothing. A group of Republican Attorney Generals has already said that “we’ll be ready once again to lead the charge in the fight against federal overreach,” which is a clear message that they will immediately sue to stop any new regulation of fossil fuels. Future administrations could simply stop enforcing it. And of course, even without Republican obstructionism, the Biden administration has already backtracked on previous pledges to reduce emissions and to stop oil production. So there is no guarantee this proposal will ever go fully into effect.
Beyond that, rather than trying to capture carbon, it would be far better to simply stop using it in the first place. But that would require a complete changeover to a sustainable energy system, a sustainable transportation system, and a more sustainable way of life. But we’ve known since at least the late 1970s that we’ve needed to do those things, and we’ve heard other Democratic Presidents – think Bill Clinton, think Barak Obama – say the same things Biden is saying today. And little has changed. That’s because the Democratic Party, despite their nice words, is another capitalist political party that is limited by its complete devotion to maintaining the for-profit system.
To head off the worst, most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis, we’ll need to stop all fossil fuel use now, not by 2030, 2035, 2040, or later. And to do that, we’ll have to take the means of production out of the hands of those who profit from climate destruction – the oil companies, the auto companies, the military, and all their other capitalist allies who profit along with them. They have driven us to the edge of destruction, and even though they’ve known the damage they’ve been doing since at least the late 1970s, they’ve continued to increase production. They’ve continued to do so because it’s made them rich and powerful, and within the current system they have no incentive to change.
We will have to stop them. We can’t rely on Biden. It’s up to us.