Biden can put his name on the Paris agreement, but the Senate will not ratify a treaty accepting its terms or pass legislation to implement them. Biden can demand nine-tenths of the Green New Deal while claiming not to have gone quite whole hog, but he is not going to get it. Presidents can’t pass laws or amend the Constitution or appropriate money. One of the things they can do is campaign to build consensus where no consensus exists. Franklin Roosevelt did it. Ronald Reagan did it. Biden should at least give it a try.
If he does, he might be surprised at what is in fact possible: About a quarter of U.S. electricity still is generated by coal-fired plants, and replacing that coal with natural gas would represent a meaningful improvement in greenhouse-gas emissions. A third of worldwide electricity is coal-generated. In 2019, U.S. firms exported about 4.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and there is a great deal more where that came from. This is a more practical alternative than, say, windmills, as attractive as that twelfth-century technology may be — and it is considerably more effective than moral posturing. Of course, Biden can’t expect the oil-and-gas industry to cooperate with his program while he is waging war on it, preventing the development of infrastructure necessary to its flourishing.
But if he understood climate-change as an energy issue rather than an occasion to shovel a great mound of money into the coffers of politically connected industries and firms, he might see his way toward finding some common ground with Republicans.