During last night’s final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the former vice president suggested that to combat climate change we must ultimately move away from fossil fuels.
The right-wing media latched onto his plan to “transition” to a clean energy economy as proof that Biden will eliminate oil and gas jobs and kill the economy. In reality, this narrative is a dangerous adulteration of Biden’s plan and a complete rejection of what the scientists say is necessary to preserve a livable planet — a transition that is already well on its way.
And it needs to be, because the longer we wait to transition, the more costly it becomes.
Right-wing media are up in arms about Biden’s oil transition comments. But this statement isn’t the earth-shattering admission they portray it as.
Almost immediately after Biden made his comments on energy transition, many right-wing commentators voiced their disingenuous criticisms on Twitter.
Biden’s comments were also discussed at length the next morning on Fox & Friends. Guest Sean Parnell called Biden’s remarks “unbelievable,” while Corey Lewandowski called it “draconian” that “we're going to transition to this Green New Deal.” The GOP might also try to exploit these comments in the final days before the election. But these attacks may not have the sway that right-wing media think they do.
Climate scientists have repeatedly stressed that to preserve a habitable planet, we need to decarbonize our economy. According to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, global emissions must fall by close to half by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050, if we have any chance of staving off the worst effects of global warming. The world is not close to meeting these targets, hence the urgency to solve the issue.
There is a huge economic incentive to fight climate change as well. Despite Trump’s lies that Biden’s climate plan will cost $100 trillion, and trillions more to rejoin Paris, decarbonization will be far less costly than climate inaction. Climate disasters and extreme weather events cost the United States an estimated $91 billion in 2018, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that a 1.5 degree C rise in the global average temperature “would cost the world’s economies $54 trillion.” And it gets precipitously worse the longer we wait to transition to a clean energy economy.
Biden’s climate plan specifically calls for eliminating carbon emissions by 2050. It also calls for rapid investment in the new clean energy economy and vows to those working in the fossil fuel industry that they will not be left behind. Further, it does not “call for a ban on fossil fuels and includes measures for continuing their use by capturing their carbon emissions.” His debate comments merely articulated what is already in the climate plan he released in July: We will have to transition away from the oil industry in order to fight climate change.
Biden’s climate plan is hugely popular -- a recent poll found that two-thirds of voters support it. Action on climate change is popular as well, with poll after poll showing that voters really want government action on climate change. In addition, we are already in a transition period from fossil fuels to a cleaner energy economy -- and voters support this as well. Vox’s David Roberts notes that the oil industry's growth hopes are “pinned on plastics,” and that it probably “won’t end well”; additionally, the pandemic has exposed numerous structural problems within the industry. Renewable energy is insanely cheap and competing with fossil fuels in most places, and we may have already hit peak demand for oil and natural gas.
Unfortunately, for most of establishment media, the oil transition is still a dicey subject to talk about. But with the reality being that climate action is popular and that fossil fuel workers themselves talk about the need for a transition, right-wing media’s embrace of Biden’s comments may not have the intended effect that they expect.
Once again, Biden does not support an outright ban on fracking
It’s not a presidential climate discussion without right-wing media fanatically claiming that Biden intends to outright ban fracking, or that he flip-flopped on the issue.
Fox News has spent months obsessing over Biden’s supposed plans for fracking. And the coverage is chock full of lies and other misinformation. Biden will not ban fracking if elected; he would only block new permits on public lands (which is a small issue, as the vast majority of fracking is done on private lands). In addition, his climate plan doesn’t even mention fracking, and a president doesn’t have the authority to issue a ban on fracking. Numerous outlets have already verified Biden’s claim that he will not ban fracking, but of course that won’t stop the right from distorting it.
As Biden’s climate plan seeks to have net zero emissions by 2050, it’s obvious that fracking will have to be phased out over time. This probably explains why his plan does not call for an outright ban on fracking. But to continue to say he supports an outright fracking ban is just disingenuous. The Trump campaign may seek to hit Biden’s fracking comments in places like Pennsylvania. But whether that will work is a different story:
Right-wing media’s focus on oil and gas jobs is extremely dishonest
Fox News and other right-wing media figures are gaslighting their audience about oil and gas jobs. Shortly after the debate concluded, Sean Hannity and a number of his guests, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, claimed that Biden’s statement on transitioning away from fossil fuels would destroy the economy, in part by eliminating jobs from the oil and energy sector.
Other right-wing media figures and politicians also pushed this narrative:
But even before the coronavirus severely hobbled the oil and gas sector, the industry was in decline. As Vox’s David Roberts explains:
For years, the industry has been shedding value, taking on debt, losing favor among financial institutions and investors, and turning more and more to lobbying governments to survive.
It is, in short, a turkey. CNBC financial analyst Jim Cramer put it best, back in late January, before Covid-19 had even become a crisis in the US: “I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done. They’re just done.”
“We’re in the death knell phase,” he said. “The world has turned on [fossil fuels].”
In the U.S., over 200 oil and gas companies have gone bankrupt since 2015 and the industry’s stock sector is the worst-performing on the Standard & Poor ratings. In August, Exxon was dropped from the Dow Jones Index, where it had been ranked for 92 years. At the time, a Politico energy reporter quipped, “So when do we stop calling it Big Oil?”
The Trump administration has repeatedly extended handouts to the industry while systematically rolling back regulations in an attempt to shore up the industry. But it is only throwing good money after bad.
The industry is not rebounding and continues to hemorrhage jobs. Over 100,000 jobs were lost in the oil and gas industry this year. In Texas alone, the oil industry shed 26,300 jobs in the month of April. And yesterday, Exxon, which in the spring said it had no plans to layoff its workforce, announced that layoffs are now inevitable. Moreover, despite the dominant narrative that the oil and gas industry is a huge job creator, it actually employs far fewer people than right-wing media suggest.
As political analyst Jacob Rubashkin pointed out, the oil and gas extraction industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Management, employs approximately 150,000 employees, which is 10 times less than Walmart.
At recent campaign appearances, Trump has attempted to rally voters by saying that a Biden fracking ban would cost somewhere between 600,000 and 900,000 Pennsylvania workers their jobs.
Notably, the state has more than 90,000 jobs in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other clean technologies. And in fact, clean energy is the fastest-growing industry in America, and clean energy jobs pay well above the national average, have good benefits, and they can’t be outsourced to other countries. Moreover, economists say that investing in bold climate and clean energy policies would likely create over 10 million more high-quality jobs over 10 years.
Right-wing media are deliberately ignoring the writing on the wall. Denying the need to decarbonize is reckless, and doing so without a transition plan will hurt workers.