NBC crows that “Biden signs executive order to make U.S. government carbon neutral by 2050/ The president aims to leverage the federal government’s massive buying power to jump-start the market for clean energy, electric vehicles and more efficient buildings.” Which seems a backdoor admission that the market is in sorry need of a lot of juice. As well as a mistaken assumption that the U.S. government, with its $2.7 trillion deficits, has so much extra money it might as well slosh tonnes of it around in this direction.
It’s a bit funny that something so drastic can be done by an Imperial President rather than through legislation. Under Trump, or Nixon, bypassing Congress raised eyebrows. But here “In an executive order he Biden [sic] Wednesday, Biden set new goals for the government to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 65 percent by the end of this decade and to zero out federal emissions by 2050. The order puts the U.S. in line with global targets to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century, which scientists say is needed to reduce the effects of climate change.”
Scientists say. But what do they say? Do they say to reduce those effects by a fixed amount? And if so what amount? Compared to what? Or is it just another story by someone with a degree in grievance studies whose last encounter with science went badly in high school?
Naturally the politicians claim to be solving all humanity’s problems yet again, as always. (Even while announcing something as banal as “changes to Cabinet committees.”) And skeptical journalists rush to avoid questioning such claims, instead transcribing political talking points. Thus NBC parrots that “‘The executive order will reduce emissions across federal operations, invest in American clean energy industries and manufacturing, and create clean, healthy, and resilient communities,’ the White House said.”
Well yes. The White House says a lot of things. But are they true? In this case apparently so true they need not be examined. Instead “The order is the Biden administration’s latest effort to speed the economy’s broader transition from fossil fuels and grow the marketplace for cleaner technologies…. In his remarks in Missouri, Biden highlighted how modern public transit, including electric buses, has been helping Kansas City meet its emissions goals and will play a role for communities tackling climate change in the future.”
Maybe Biden missed the memo on “How the rise of electric cars endangers the ‘last frontier’ of the Philippines/ A mine that supplies nickel for the batteries that power electric vehicles is on the verge of a major expansion into a pristine rainforest.” It isn’t easy being green. But the journalist certainly missed the memo that “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
To be fair, the New York Times did worry that Biden’s climate plans generally might favour white people with money despite their good intentions. And its coverage of this particular initiative also conceded that “The move comes as Mr. Biden is struggling to turn many of his climate goals into reality. He has promised to cut America’s emissions from fossil fuels roughly in half by the end of this decade. But Congress has not yet approved a $1.7 trillion spending bill that would help achieve that target. The Supreme Court also appears poised to limit the federal government’s ability to use certain regulatory actions to tackle climate change.” But fear not. Their climate expert, armed with a BA in English Language and Literature “with a concentration in Latin American literature”, and an MA in Journalism, assures us that “The procurement goals could go a long way in transforming the clean energy markets, experts said.” Experts said.
In this case, we do actually hear from one of them. “‘It’s a similar strategy to what China is doing so successfully, leveraging the purchasing power of their government to create demand that markets can meet,’ said Joshua Freed, senior vice president for climate and energy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic research group.” Long live communism is centrist? Gotta admire that basic dictatorship with its ability to turn on a dime and go green, right guys? And then this story mentions that a Republican senator said “This is not build back better. It’s another backbreaking move to build bigger bureaucracy.”
Also “In converting its power to wind, solar and other sources that don’t produce planet-warming emissions, the government intends to follow the path set by companies like Google, Apple and Wal-Mart, which established tariffs or developed power-purchase agreements with local utilities to achieve their goals of 100 percent renewable energy, a senior administration official said. The requirement to purchase only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035 is even more difficult.” And since we are often harsh critics of the press, and everyone else we think is talking nonsense, we want to underline that this Times piece also did quote Steven Koonin that total federal government vehicle purchases are “small potatoes”.
Real journalists would ask who is left holding the bag if this plan turns out to be yet another PR triumph turned ghastly boondoggle. And since one of us is a journalist, here’s a hint: it’s not the people hyping it as a sure-fire money-making game changer.