Next Tuesday is Election day. And for the first time ever, environmental issues --and specifically climate change --are center stage in the public debate during the decisive final phase of a presidential contest.
President Trump has been leading rallies across Pennsylvania – a swing state that was the birthplace of the U.S. oil industry – slamming former Vice President Joe Biden for allegedly wanting to abolish the oil industry.
Trump’s claims are based on an exchange he had with Biden over fossil fuels and global warming near the end of the final presidential debate last week.
It went like this:
Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC: “I have one final question.”
Trump interrupts: “Would he close down the oil industry?”
Biden: “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”
Trump: “Oh! That’s a big statement.”
Biden: “It is a big statement.”
Welker: “Why would you do that?”
Biden: “Because the oil industry pollutes. Significantly. It has to be replaced by renewable energy, over time. And I’d stop giving, to the oil industry, federal subsidies.”
Trump: “Basically, what he’s saying is that he’s going to destroy the oil industry. Will you remember that Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania, Oklahoma…?”
Welker: “Mr. Vice President, let me give you 10 seconds to respond.”
Biden: “Look, we have to move toward net-zero emissions. The first place to do that by the year 2035 is in energy production. By 2050, totally.”
In terms of political language and positioning, Biden’s statement seemed new and bold – even radical or tree-huggerish -- because Biden is a lifelong centrist and pragmatist. During his first debate with Trump, Biden gave a verbal stiff arm to a liberal-backed climate plan, the Green New Deal, which also calls for net-zero emissions by 2050.
But, really, the idea of moving away from petroleum should not be a shock to anyone. It is just a reflection of what most climate scientists --and many Democrats --have been saying for years is necessary to prevent a catastrophe. In fact, as a Senator, back in 1986, Biden sponsored some of the first climate legislation: The Global Climate Protection Act. Thirty-four years later, global warming is a reality that even major corporations are increasingly gearing up to confront.
For example, the BP oil company in August announced that it would reinvent itself by slashing its oil and gas production by 40 percent, while increasing its investments in cleaner energy sources eightfold.
According to The Wall Street Journal, although sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles are down, sales of electric cars are soaring. The stock price of the market leader, Tesla, has quadrupled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tesla sold 51 percent more electric cars in the third quarter this year than it did a year earlier.
General Motors is now so desperate to catch up with Tesla that it recently launched a testosterone-fueled marketing blitz for what it calls its all-electric Hummer supertruck.
Check out this ad: (Music: Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” plays…)
Voice on ad: “Introducing the world’s first all-electric super truck. The revolutionary GMC Hummer EV. With no limits, no emission, and no equals.”
How did the ad do? The first 1,000 electric Hummers sold out within an hour.
So maybe it is not Joe Biden throwing the oil industry under the bus. Maybe it’s General Motors, and British Petroleum, Wall Street and even American Hummer drivers.
The key question is whether American voters will follow this same road and vote Trump to the curb next Tuesday.
Photo of Trump and Biden at final debate by CNN