Climate change and the coronavirus took center stage Wednesday as former Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore held a virtual town hall to celebrate 50 years of Earth Days.
BOSTON (CN) — Joined by an erstwhile power player of the Democratic Party and environmental action, former Vice President Joe Biden targeted climate change Wednesday as the key to economic recovery from the coronavirus.
Former Vice President Al Gore joined Biden this afternoon in a Wednesday livestream that ran 34 minutes — about a third of what had been scheduled to mark the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
The 2007 co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize proclaimed green energy as “the biggest job-creating opportunity in the history of the country, in the history of the world.” Gore said the fastest-growing job in the U.S. over the last five years has been that of solar panel installer, followed by wind turbine technician.
Biden reiterated his proposals to fight climate change with a $1.7 trillion fund, including $1 trillion for green infrastructure and more than $400 billion for energy research and development — “more than the cost of sending a man to the moon,” he noted.
Committed to cutting the carbon footprint of U.S. buildings in half by 2035, Biden promised to create 10 million new jobs, many of them union jobs.
He emphasized that labor groups now see the importance of the green revolution and realize that “they should own it.”
Noting that the Amazon rainforest absorbs more carbon from the environment each day than the U.S. puts into it, Biden said he would give Brazil $20 billion if the nation commits to ending slash-and-burn practices that last year reached the highest rate in over a decade.
Biden also promised to rejoin the Paris climate accord, saying President Donald Trump has made the country “America alone” while pushing the policy “America first.”
In his first 100 days if elected, Biden said he would call the world’s major polluters to Washington, D.C., to improve their environmental practices.
Gore emphasized that technology has dramatically changed the cost curve of alternative energy. “Five years ago, solar and wind were cheaper than fossil fuels in 1% of the world,” he said. “Today they’re cheaper in two-thirds of the world, and in five years they’ll be cheaper in 100%.” He noted that India plans to make it illegal within 10 years to sell cars with internal combustion engines.
Both men said climate change had worsened the impact of the novel coronavirus outcomes. “Air pollution is linked up to a 15% greater mortality from Covid,” Biden asserted, while Gore said areas that were top coal burners during the 1918 flu pandemic also saw the highest death rate.
Biden also agreed Wednesday with what Gore termed the “environmental injustice” that minorities are at greater risk of coronavirus.
Black and Hispanic people are more likely to live in areas with air pollution and are at greater risk due to their jobs and housing situations, Biden said. Gore noted that the death rate for black children who suffer from asthma is 10 times higher than it is for their white counterparts. He said residents of counties in which racial minorities make up more than 50% of the population — a majority-minority county, in the common parlance — have three times more Covid infections and six times as many deaths as residents of other counties.
Drawing parallels between the virus and climate change, Gore said both demonstrate “the danger of ignoring the scientists’ warnings until it’s almost too late.” Where the two crises differ, Gore continued, is that the pandemic has required shutting down the economy whereas fixing the climate will bring a “sustainability revolution” replete with new jobs.
Gore called the upcoming election “the most consequential choice in a presidential election that we’ve ever had in our entire history.” He called Trump “the face of climate denial.” Biden said Trump had “eviscerated the EPA” and had asserted that windmills cause cancer. “That was news to me,” Biden joked.
Describing himself as an early proponent of climate action, Biden touted the $90 billion secured for green energy as part of the 2009 Recovery Act. He also said that he remembered living near an oil refinery in the third grade, and that there was a thin film of oil on his car window when his mother took him to school.
Biden generously praised Gore, saying, “You have turned Earth Day into a movement that is taking hard, concrete, specific action not just here but worldwide.”