Does Biden have what it takes to be strong on climate once in office?


Qiaoying Chen/Extinction Rebellion Youth San Francisco Bay Area.

Activists protesting outside of Blackrock in San Francisco on December 12th, 2019.

Activists protesting outside of Blackrock in San Francisco on December 12th, 2019. (Qiaoying Chen/Extinction Rebellion Youth San Francisco Bay Area.)

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the first major-party nominee to include robust climate policy in his presidential platform, but environmental activists say it’s not enough.
While the Vice President’s reputation as someone willing to compromise to get bills passed is a factor in his popularity and appeal to moderates from both parties, climate activists view this trait as a threat to his ability to pass strong climate legislation. Dawn Morales-Imperiale, a sophomore at South San Francisco High School and an organizer with the San Francisco chapter of Extinction Rebellion, a global climate action group, said they view Biden as having “always been the compromise guy.”
Morales-Imperiale continued, “[The Democratic party] tries to please everyone, which obviously isn’t going to work.” Morales-Imperiale isn’t the only activist who worries about Biden’s ability to deliver on his promises. “I just don’t think he has what it takes to take a very strong stance on climate,” said Caroline Choi, a freshman at Harvard and part of the Extinction Rebellion National Team from the East Bay.
Activists also question Biden’s motives for including environmental policies in his platform. Originally, In April 2019, Biden’s political platform included nothing more than a sentence acknowledging the existence of climate change. However, when Senator Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race in April of 2020, Biden suddenly incorporated climate action into his platform. Choi views this sudden inclusion of climate policy as little more than an attempt by the Biden campaign to drum up support from ex-Sanders supporters: “he’s trying to pander to moderates and trying to get ex Bernie Sanders supporters to vote for him,” said Choi.
Additionally, Biden’s confusing messaging on the Green New Deal, an aggressive climate plan that includes huge investment in green energy and a federal jobs guarantee, popularized and championed by the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Sunrise Movement, has sparked contempt from many in the climate movement. According to, “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” However, during the first presidential debate, when pressured by President Donald Trump, Biden said, “The Green New Deal is not my plan.”
Biden’s stance on fracking is also a point of confusion for many. Hydraulic fracking is a method of extracting shale oil that is inaccessible through traditional drilling. High-pressure fluid is pumped into a drill hole, fracturing rock and releasing oil and gas. Fracking is ecologically harmful and has been linked to contaminated groundwater, earthquakes, toxic fumes, gas explosions, and a host of other side effects. Recognizing the dangers of fracking, in a 2019 Democratic debate, Biden said that his administration “would make sure [fracking] is eliminated.”
Most environmental activists, public safety experts, and ecologists agree that fracking is a practice that needs to go. However, Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s vice president, drew anger from environmental activists when she said that “Joe Biden will not ban fracking” in the 2020 vice presidential debate. A poll conducted by progressive think tank Data for Progress found that public support for a fracking ban fell from 65% to 49% after the debate.
After Harris’ comments about fracking, influential climate activists, like Xiye Bastida, posted on Instagram, “let’s get this straight, fracking is bad.” Biden may only have changed his messaging on fracking in an attempt to appeal to more voters in Pennsylvania, a state reliant on fracking for jobs and with the potential to determine the outcome of the election with its 20 electoral votes.
Another point of criticism of Biden’s climate platform is its timeframe. says Biden’s plan aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a target that many activists say is too late to stop the irreversible damage caused by global warming.
While many climate activists believe that Biden’s environmental platform is not strong enough to address the climate emergency, they are hopeful that once in office, activists will be able to push him further on passing climate legislation.