Last Wednesday at noon, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as the 46th president and the 49th vice president, respectively, sparking hope for millions of Americans who voted for them. However, they are faced with no easy task. The new administration inherits a deeply divided country with one of its worst economies since the Great Depression, on top of a pandemic that has taken the lives of over 400,000 individuals and a climate crisis already wreaking havoc across the country. The Biden-Harris administration has been given a historic opportunity to take advantage of their Democratic trifecta and use it to address the country’s biggest problems with large, sweeping solutions. Biden and Democrats must go bold with climate change policies or risk recreating the conditions that allowed for former President Donald Trump to rise to power. 

The last time the Democrats controlled the Senate, House of Representatives and the White House was under former President Barack Obama’s first two years in office from 2009 to 2011. Even though Obama was left with a deeply struggling economy from the 2007-2008 financial crisis, his actions as president laid the groundwork for Trump to gain popularity, specifically in the Rust Belt and to eventually win the 2016 election. Trump was able to win roughly 8.4 million voters that voted for Obama in 2012, resulting in more than 200 counties being flipped. 

This begs the question of why this happened. Is it because Obama shied away from the big ideas he ran on while campaigning? Was it a reflection of the overconfident campaign that former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ran? Were the economic hardships caused by the disastrous trade deals in the Midwest too much for the Democrats to overcome? 

Placing the blame on one single factor is naive and will only start needless debate. However, moving on without retrospection will only lead to repeated mistakes. Lessons need to be learned from the last Democratic presidential administration so that another demagogue is not able to make it back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

In addition to reversing Trump’s executive orders and trying to make inroads while attempting to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, Biden has already signed 30 executive orders in total, with two focusing on climate or the environment. 

The first of these reentered the United States into the Paris climate agreement, a long-time promise from Biden but a very basic step after Trump withdrew the country in 2017. The other executive order canceled construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have run from Canada down to Texas, marking a huge victory for the thousands of Indigenous and environmental activists who fought the pipeline every step of the way. 

That same order directed federal agencies to review and reverse more than 100 regulations that the Trump administration rolled back over four years. Yes, these are good and necessary first steps, but there is still a long way to go to lessen the effects of climate change and the first 100 days of Biden’s presidency will tell us a lot about how big and bold he is willing to go. 

Rejoining the Paris Agreement and overturning Trump’s deregulations only brings the country back to where it was just four years prior. Biden must enact new policies to bring us into the future and make up for lost time under Trump. 

Biden has announced that he plans to roll out more of his climate and environmental goals in the coming weeks. As of this week, he planned on signing a plethora of executive orders on Jan. 27. These included a “series of regulatory actions to combat climate change domestically and elevates climate change as a national security priority,” suggesting that — so far — climate change seems to be near the top of the current administration’s priorities. 

On his campaign website, he goes more in-depth about his goals. Biden’s major goal is for the U.S. to have 100% renewable, clean energy by 2050. The steps he lays out to get there include investing in infrastructure to make it resilient to the effects of climate change, rallying foreign allies to commit to and follow through with climate goals and the “largest-ever” investment into clean energy research and development. On top of that, Biden has continuously emphasized that his administration will listen to “the science.” 

Biden has a real chance to make sweeping and bold policy decisions that will drastically improve millions of lives and give Americans and people around the world a fighting chance against climate change. But will he do it? 

For Biden to become a successful president, he must eliminate the conditions that facilitated the rise of Trump. This means substantially bettering the living conditions of everyday people and, in the process, creating a safer and healthier environment for everyone. The era of small ideas must come to an end — back to normal is not an option.

Alex Nobel can be reached at anobel@umich.edu.

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