Here is a transcript of Joe Biden’s Climate Change Speech at the Natural History Museum in Wilmington, Delaware on September 14th 2020. This speech was delivered against the backdrop of the record setting storms and wildfires.
As a nation, we face one of the most difficult moments in our history, in my view. Four historic crises all at the same time. The worst pandemic in a hundred years, it’s already killed nearly 200,000 people and counting. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has cost tens of millions of American jobs and counting. Emboldened white supremacy unseen since the ’60s and a reckoning on race that’s long overdue. And undeniable acceleration of the punishing reality of climate change on our planet, and our people, on the lives and livelihoods, which I like to talk about now.
Jill and I continue, as I suspect all of you do, is pray for everyone in California, Oregon, and Washington, and across the West as these devastating wildfires rage one. Just as we hold them in our hearts those who have faced the hurricanes, tropical storms, off our coast of Florida, North Carolina, or like parts of New Orleans that in fact have just finished an emergency evacuation order for Hurricane Sally.
Floods and droughts across the Midwest. The fury of climate change everywhere. All this year and right now. We stand with our families who have lost everything. The firefighters, the first responders, risking and everything to save others. And the millions of Americans caught between relocating during a pandemic or staying put as ashes and smoke pollute the air they breathe. Just think about that. People aren’t just worried about raging fires, they’re worried about the air they breathe, about the damage to the lungs. Parents are already worried about COVID-19 for their children when they’re indoors and now they’re worried about asthma attacks if their kids are outside.
Over the past two years, the total damage from wildfires has reached nearly $50 billion in California alone. 50 billion. This year alone, nearly 5 million acres have burned across 10 States, more acreage than the entire state of Connecticut. And it’s only September. California’s wildfire season typically runs through October. Fires are blazing so brightly, smoke reaching so far, NASA satellites can see them 1 million miles away in space.
The cost of this year’s damage will again be astronomically high, but think of it from the view on the ground. In the smoldering ashes, loved ones lost, along with the photos, the keepsakes, all the memories, spouses and kids praying each night for their firefighter husband, father, wife, and mother. Will they come home? Entire communities destroyed. We have to act as a nation. It shouldn’t be so bad that millions of Americans live in the shadow of an orange sky and they’re left asking, “Is doomsday here?” And I know this feeling of dread and anxiety extends well beyond the fires. We’ve seen record hurricane season costing billions of dollars as well. Last month, Hurricane Laura intensified at a near record rate just before it’s landfall along Louisiana and Gulf Coast. It’s a troubling marker, not for just the increased frequency of the hurricanes, but more powerful and destructive storms.
They’re causing record damage after record damage to people’s homes, lives, and livelihoods. Before it intensified and hit the Gulf Coast, Laura ravaged Puerto Rico, where three years ago Hurricane Maria, our fellow Americans there are still recovering from its damage and devastation. Think about that reality. Our fellow Americans are still putting things back together from the last big storm as they face the next one. We’ve also seen historic flooding in the Midwest, often compounding the damage delivered by last year’s floods that cost billions of dollars in damage. Many of you traveled through the Midwest with me on that bus tour and you saw it.
This past spring in Midland, Michigan experienced a flood so devastating with deadly flash flooding over running dams and roadways that is displaced 10,000 residents. It was considered once in a 500 year weather event. But those once in many generation events are now happening every year. The past 10 years were the hottest decade ever recorded. The Arctic is literally melting. Parts are actually on fire. What we’re seeing in America and our communities is connected to all of this. With every bout with nature’s fury caused by our own inaction on climate change, more Americans see and feel the devastation. Whether in the big cities, small towns, on coastlines, or in farm lands, it’s happening everywhere and it’s happening now, and it affects us all.
Nearly 200 cities, not Republican or Democratic cities, 200 cities are experiencing the longest stretches of deadly heat waves in 50 years. Requires them to help their poor and elderly residents adapt to the extreme heat to simply stay alive, especially in a home without air conditioning, which many don’t have. Our family farmers in the Midwest are facing historic drought. Those follow record floods and hurricanes, sped by wind storms, all this year. The speed of those windstorms has been incredible when you saw it on television or saw it in person. It’s ravaged millions of acres of corn, soybeans, and other crops. Their very livelihoods, which sustain their families, and our economy for generations is now in jeopardy.
How do they pay their bills this year? What will be left to pass onto their kids? And none of this is happening in a vacuum. Recent studies showed air pollution is linked with increased risk of death from COVID-19. Our economy can’t recover if it can’t build back with more resiliency, more ability to withstand extreme weather, extreme weather that will only come with greater frequency and intensity. The unrelenting impact of climate change affects every single solitary one of us, but too often the brunt falls disproportionately on communities of color, exacerbating the need for environmental justice, sorry, there was a bug, speaking of the environment.
These are interlocking crises of our time. Requires action, not denial. Requires leadership, not scapegoating. It requires the President to meet the threshold duty of the office to care, to care for everyone, to defend us from every attack scene, seen and unseen, always and without exception, because here’s the deal: hurricanes don’t swerve to avoid Red States or Blue States. Wildfires don’t skip towns that voted a certain way. The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. That’s because it’s not a partisan phenomenon, it’s science and our response should be the same. Grounded in science. Acting together, all of us, but like with our federal response to COVID-19, a lack of a national strategy on climate, on climate change overall, leaves us with a patchwork of solutions. Matter of fact, it’s been made worse by the changes this administration has made.
I’m speaking from Delaware. We’re the lowest line state in the nation relative to sea level, where just last week, Delaware state attorney general sued 31 big fossil fuel companies alleging that they knowingly wrecked havoc and damage on climate, our climate. Damage that is plain for everyone to see but the President. And as he flies to California today, we know he has no interest in meeting this moment. We know he won’t listen to the experts or treat this disaster with the urgency it demands, as any President should do during the national emergency. He’s already said he wanted to withhold aid to California to punish the people of California because they didn’t vote for him. This is another crisis. Another crisis he won’t take responsibility for. The West is literally on fire. And he blames the people whose homes and communities are burning. He says, “You got to clean your floors. You got to clean your forest.”
This is the same President who threw paper towels on the people of Puerto Rico instead of truly helping them recover and rebuild. We know his disdain for our own military leaders and our veterans. Just last year, the Defense Department reported that climate change is a direct threat to more than two thirds of the military’s operationally critical installations. That’s what the military warned him. And this could well could be a conservative estimate. Donald Trump’s climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes, but if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump warns that integration is threatening our suburbs. It’s ridiculous, but you know what is actually threatening our suburbs? Wildfires are burning the suburbs in the West. Floods are wiping out suburban neighborhoods in the Midwest. Hurricanes are imperiling suburban life along our coast. We have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires? How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms? If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more America blaze? If we give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?
We need a President who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here. And unless we take urgent action, it will soon be more catastrophic. A President who recognizes, understands, and cares that Americans are dying, which makes President Trump’s climate denialism, his disdain for science and facts, all the more unconscionable. Once again, he fails the most basic duty to a nation. He fails to protect us from the pandemic, from an economic free fall, from racial unrest, from the ravages of climate change. It’s clear that we’re not safe in Donald Trump’s America. This is Donald Trump’s America. He’s in charge. What he doesn’t get is that even in a crisis, there’s nothing beyond the capacity of the American people when we stand up and act together. And while so many of you are hurting right now, I want you to know that if you give me the honor of serving as your President, we can, and we will meet this moment with urgency and purpose. We can, and we will solve the climate crisis, and we’ll build back better than we were before.
When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, he thinks hoax. When I think about it, I think jobs. Good paying union jobs to put Americans to work, building a stronger, more climate resilient nation. A nation modernized. We have modernized water and transportation systems. An energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme weather and changing climate. When Donald Trump thinks about renewable energy, he sees windmills somehow as causing cancer. I see American manufacturing, American workers racing to lead the global market. I see farmers making agriculture the first in the world to achieve net zero emissions. And in the process, gaining new sources of income. Donald Trump’s thinks about LED light bulbs, he says he doesn’t like them because the lights are no good. They always make him look orange.
I see small businesses and master electricians designing and installing award-winning energy conservation measures, rebuilding buildings across the country. It’s going to reduce electrical consumption and save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in energy costs. While he turns against our allies, I’ll bring us back into the Paris Agreement. I’ll put us back in the business of leading the world on climate change, and I’ll challenge every other country to up the ante on climate commitments.
Where he reverses the Obama Biden fuel efficiency standards, he picks big oil. He picks big oil companies over American workers, even when the automobile industry agreed. I don’t want to bring the standards back, I’ll set new ambitious ones that our workers are ready to meet. I’ll also see American workers building and installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations along our newly engaged infrastructure programs and highways, all across the country.
I see American consumers switching to electric vehicles through rebates and initiatives. Not only that, the United States owns and maintains and enormous fleet of vehicles. And we’re going to harness the purchasing power of our Federal Government to make sure we’re buying electric vehicles that are made and sourced by union workers right here in the United States of America. And together, this will mean more than a million new jobs in the American auto industry.
And we’ll do another big thing, we’ll put us on a path to achieving a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 that no future President can come along and turn back. Transforming the electrical sector power to produce power without carbon pollution will be the greatest spur to job creation and economic competitiveness in the 21st century, not to mention the positive benefits to our health and our environment. We need to get to work right away. We’ll need scientists at the National Labs and Land-grant universities, historic black colleges and universities, to improve and innovate technologies needed to generate, store, and transmit this clean electric.
We need engineers to design and workers to manufacture these new products. We’ll need iron workers and welders to install them. We’ll need to become the world’s largest exporter of these technologies, creating even more jobs sourced in America. We know how to do this. The Obama-Biden administration rescue the auto industry and help them retool. We made solar energy cost competitive with traditional energy and weatherized more than a million homes, which is just the beginning if we get reelected. And We’ll do it again, bigger and faster and better than before.
We’ll also build 1.5 million new energy efficient homes and public housing units that will benefit our communities in three times over by eliminating the affordable housing crisis, by increasing energy efficiency, and by reducing the racial wealth gap linked to home ownership. There are thousands of oil and natural gas wells that oil companies and gas companies have abandoned, many of what you’re leaking toxins. We can 250,000 jobs now by just plugging those wells right away. Good union jobs for energy workers.
This will help sustain communities and protect them from the environmental damage as well, whilst creating new markets for our family farmers and ranchers. We’ll launch a new, modern Civilian Climate Corp to heal our public lands and make us much less vulnerable to wildfires and floods. I believe that every American has a fundamental right to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I know that we haven’t fulfilled that right yet. That’s true of the millions families struggling with the smoke created devastation of the wildfires right now, but it’s also been true for a generation or more in places like Cancer Alley in Louisiana, or right here in Delaware, along the Route 9 Carter, right here in Delaware, fulfilling this basic obligation to all Americans, especially in low income, white, black, Brown, and Native American communities who too often don’t have the clean air and the clean water.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s necessary. I’m committing to get it done. These aren’t pie in the sky dreams. These are concrete, actionable problems that create American jobs, mitigate climate change, and put our nation on the road to net zero emissions by no later than 2050. Some say we can’t afford to fix this, but here’s the thing, look around at the crushing consequences of the extreme weather events I’ve been describing. We’ve already been paying for it. So we have a choice. We can invest in our infrastructure to make it stronger, more resilient, improving the health of Americans and creating millions of good paying jobs while at the same time, tackling the root causes of climate change, or we can continue down the path Donald Trump has us on. A path of indifference, costing tens of billions of dollars to rebuild when the human cost, the lives and the livelihoods and the homes and the communities destroyed, are immeasurable.
We have a choice. We can commit to doing this together because we know that climate change is the existential challenge that’s going to determine our future as a country for our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren, or we can do it Donald Trump’s way. Ignore the facts, deny reality, which amounts to a full surrender and a failure to lead. It’s backward looking politics that’s going to harm the environment, make communities less healthy, and hold back economic progress while other countries race ahead. And it’s a mindset that doesn’t have any faith in the capacity of the American people to compete, to innovate, and to win.
Like the pandemic, dealing with climate change is a global crisis. And that requires American leadership. It requires a President for all Americans. So as the fires rage out West on this day, our prayers remain with everyone under the ash. I know it’s hard to see the sun rise, believing today will be a better day than yesterday. Americans face this historic inflection point. A time of real peril, but also a time of extraordinary possibilities. I’m confident. I know we can do this. We will do this. This is the United States of America. We’ve seen the light through the dark smoke. We never give up. Always without exception, every time, we succeed when we try.
May God bless our firefighters and keep them safe, and our first responders. May God protect our troops. Thank you very much. I’m anxious to hear what the President had to say. Thank you.