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Biden Defeats Trump, Promises Sea Change on Climate and Coronavirus

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Biden Defeats Trump, Promises Sea Change on Climate and Coronavirus
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris salute the crowd after being declared the winners of the presidential election on Nov. 7, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. ANDREW HARNIK / POOL / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden defeated sitting President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election Saturday and is now set to become the 46th president of the United States.


The election results, reported by several outlets including The Associated Press, pave the way for a dramatic shift in U.S. policy on the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. While Trump repeatedly denied the reality of climate change and downplayed the severity of COVID-19, both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized tackling the two crises with a science-based approach during their victory speeches Saturday.

"Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time," Biden said during his speech in Wilmington, Delaware Saturday. "The battle to control the virus, the battle to build prosperity, the battle to secure your family's health care, the battle to achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country, and the battle to save our planet by getting the climate under control."

COVID-19

In his speech, Biden promised to hit the ground running on controlling the pandemic, which has killed more than 237,000 U.S. residents and infected nearly 10 million, according to The Associated Press. He said he would name a group of public health experts Monday to be ready to guide his administration's coronavirus response once he takes office Jan. 20.

On Monday, Biden named the 13-member Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. It will be co-chaired by former Bush Sr. and Clinton Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler, former Obama Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Yale public health expert Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.

Other notable members include surgeon and writer Dr. Atul Gawande and former Trump administration whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright. Bright was reassigned from his position at the Health and Human Services Department after he objected to Trump's pushing of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVId-19.

"The inclusion of Bright, who said that he was met with skepticism by Trump administration officials when he raised concerns in the early throes of the pandemic about critical supplies shortages, is a clear signal of the contrasted direction that Biden intends to take his administration when it comes to dealing with the pandemic," CNN's Sarah Mucha pointed out.

Biden is also expected to reverse Trump's departure from the World Health Organization upon taking office, The Washington Post reported.

Climate Change

Even before a winner was declared in the election, Biden reaffirmed his commitment to rejoining the Paris climate agreement on the first day of his presidency. His win means the Trump-initiated U.S. departure, which went into effect Tuesday, will be short lived.

Biden's climate plan includes a $2 trillion dollar investment in greening infrastructure and achieving a zero-carbon energy sector by 2035, The Washington Post reported further. However, this will be difficult to pass if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, something which will be decided by two run-off elections in Georgia in January. If the Senate stays in Republican hands, Biden will have to rely more on executive actions to fulfill his climate agenda. He has promised to reverse the Trump administration rollback of 100 Obama-era environmental and public health regulations. He can limit oil and gas drilling on public lands, restore federal vehicle emissions standards and stop fossil fuel pipelines such as the controversial Keystone XL from being built, among other measures.

"Joe Biden ran on climate. How great is this?" Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency head and current Natural Resources Defense Council leader Gina McCarthy told The Washington Post. "It'll be time for the White House to finally get back to leading the charge against the central environmental crisis of our time."

There is evidence that Biden really does have a climate mandate from voters: 74 percent of Biden voters said that the climate crisis was a very important factor in their choice, according to Morning Consult.

Climate was also a key issue for the young voters who turned out for Biden by a large margin and may have played a deciding role in battleground states, as InsideClimate News reported.

"I fundamentally believe this is the first climate election, as far as climate playing a huge role during the election even with everything else going on," Climate Power 2020 Executive Director Lori Lodes told E&E News. "There's not going to be another election in U.S. history, another presidential election, where climate does not play as big or bigger of a role. This is only the beginning."

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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