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Climate change is an essential component of Joe Biden's presidential campaign platform, and at the debate he showcased his plan, sort of, revealing that he didn't actually know too much about it.
His plan is to convert federal motor vehicles to electric vehicles, and add 500,000 charging stations "on all the highways we're going to be building in the future."
There are 164,000 miles of national highway in the US—that's three charging stations for every mile of highway. At a national average cost of $728, that's a cost of about $370 million. And it's not clear that the country has the energy grid to withstand it. California has already mandated that there would be a moratorium on the sale of gas powered cars by 2035, but the state's electrical grid is under strain already—exacerbated by the taking offline of a nuclear power plant.
Biden said from the debate stage that he plans to "build a[n] economy that, in fact, is going to provide for the ability us to take 4 million buildings and make sure that they in fact are weatherized in a way that in fact they'll emit significantly less gas and oil because the heat will not be going out."
There are reportedly 361,000 buildings that the federal government owns or leases across the country. As Biden spoke primarily about the federal fleet of cars that would be going electric, we can assume that he also intends to retrofit these 361,000 buildings, as well as another 3.6 million buildings of unknown condition or location. But what is the cost of retrofitting buildings, and what do those retrofits gain?
The retrofit of a building employs a very similar design, engineering, and build process as building a new structure. Many municipal building codes require that if renovations are done in excess of a certain amount of money, the building be brought up to code in other ways as well, with regard to hazardous building materials or seismic considerations.
Historical buildings bring with them a host of other concerns, especially those that have been designated historical landmarks. Energy audits would be performed to determine if the existing systems are of poor enough efficiency to require retrofit, and offices or residents in those buildings would have to be moved while the renovations were completed, an arduous, often years' long process. For the Biden team, the offsets in energy savings in the future more than make up for the cost and environmental impact of a retrofit, but there's no reason to believe that this is true.
"There's so many things that we can do now to create thousands and thousands of jobs, we can get to net zero in terms of energy production by 2035, not only not costing people jobs, creating jobs, creating millions of good paying jobs, not 15 bucks an hour, but prevailing wage, by having a new infrastructure that in fact is green."
These are all jobs that would be funded by the federal government. There is not a market for massive, wide-scale building retrofits, because essentially it is an incredibly expensive outlay of funds for an existing building, and current property owners would not see the savings, as those savings would accumulate far down the line in the life of the building, after the retrofit costs were paid off.
The only entities that could reasonably justify the expense of a massive retrofit would be the government, who plans on owning these buildings, most likely, for the next century. Most landlords aren't working with that kind of horizon, and if there were requirements to engage in retrofits, the cost alone would drive many owners to sell. Who would buy a property knowing that they had to retrofit per some kind of federal mandate before they could use it?
If tax breaks for property owners are what are intended to compel and motivate the undertaking of retrofits, municipalities would suddenly be looking at building owners not paying taxes in order to facilitate retrofits that would not see a financial boon or substantially increase the value of the property. The costs of the retrofit would not be made up for by energy savings for decades.
He said he would rejoin the Paris Accords, because without us in it, the deal is falling apart. Biden cited the rain forest in Brazil, and forests worldwide, stating that "I would be gathering up and making sure we had the countries of the world coming up with 20 billion dollars, and say here's 20 billion dollars, stop tearing down the forest, and if you don't then you're going to have significant economic consequences."
It's hard not to remember Anton Chekov's 1897 play Uncle Vanya, when Astroff laments the Russian peasants, who use the trees of the glorious forests for fuel.
"I don't object, of course, to cutting wood from necessity, but why destroy the forests?" Astroff asks. "The woods of Russia are trembling under the blows of the axe. Millions of trees have perished. The homes of the wild animals and birds have been desolated; the rivers are shrinking, and many beautiful landscapes are gone forever. And why?" To Astroff's mind, there's a much better fuel source, one that the Russian peasants should be using—peat.
"The forests are disappearing," Astroff cries, "the rivers are running dry, the game is exterminated, the climate is spoiled, and the earth becomes poorer and uglier every day." Of his own contribution, he says "But when I pass peasant-forests that I have preserved from the axe… I feel as if I had had some small share in improving the climate, and that if mankind is happy a thousand years from now I will have been a little bit responsible for their happiness."
This is what Biden is after with his Biden plan for climate change. It is a dream that those who live now can do so for glory of their legacy in the future, that Americans can eschew their own prosperity in their lifetimes for the hope of providing some small happiness to their descendants. Biden sells his climate change plan on austerity for Americans now, on sacrifice of one's own resources now, in order that something may come out of it down the line.
But this attitude, in essence, sells