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Biden Delivers Remarks On Western Wildfires, Climate Crisis. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 13:30   ET




JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Welcome to the Natural History Museum.

You know, 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 100 years that's already killed nearly 200,000 people and counting.

The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression that's 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.

An undeniable acceleration of the punishing reality of climate change on our planet and our people, on the lives and livelihoods, which I'd 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 on.

Just as we hold them in our hearts, those who have faced the hurricanes, tropical storms off our coast of Florida and North Carolina.

Or like parts of New Orleans that, in fact, have just been issued 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 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 not just worried about raging fires, worried about the air they breathe, the damage to their lungs. Parents are already worried about COVID-19 for their children when

they're indoors and now 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 five million acres have burned across 10 states. More acres 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 racing so far, NASA satellites can see them one 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 left asking is doomsday here?

And I know, I know this feeling of dread and anxiety extends well beyond the fires. We have seen record hurricane season. Costing billions of dollars, as well.

Last month, Hurricane Laura intensified at a near record rate just before the landfall along Louisiana and gulf coast.

It's a troubling marker, not just for the increased storms but more powerful and destructive storms. They are cause record damage after record damage to people's homes, lives and livelihoods.


And 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.

Historic flooding in the Midwest compounding the damage 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 overrunning dams and roadways, that it displaced 10,000 residents. It was considered a 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 they're in a big city, small towns, on coastlines or on farmlands. It is happening everywhere and 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 the homes without air conditioning, which many don't have.

Our family farmers in the Midwest are facing historic drought. Those, following record floods and hurricanes, sped by windstorms. All this year the speed of those windstorms has been incredible when you saw it on television or saw it in person.

It is ravaging millions of acres of corn, soybeans and other crops. The very livelihoods, which sustain their families.

Ad our economy is now in jeopardy. How do they pay their bills this year? What will be left to pass on to their kids?

And it's not happening in a vacuum. Recent study 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 the 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 on communities of color exacerbating the need for environmental justice.

Sorry. That was a bug.

Speaking of the environment. The interlocking crises of our time requires action not denial. Requires leadership, not scapegoating. And a president to care, to care for everyone. To defend us from every attack, 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 and made worse by the changes this administration has made.

I'm speaking from Delaware. We're the lowest-lying state in the nation relative to sea level, where just last week, Delaware's attorney states general sued 31, 31 big fossil fuel companies alleging that they knowingly wreaked havoc and damage on climate, our climate, damage that's 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 a 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, quote, "You got to clean your floors, you got to clean your forests."

This is a same president who threw paper towels on the people of Puerto Rico instead of helping them recover and rebuild.

We know his disdain for our military leaders and 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 be -- this 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 be more common, more devastating and deadly.

And meanwhile, Donald Trump warned that integration is threatening the suburbs. It's ridiculous.

But you know what is actually threatening our suburbs? Wildfires in the west. Floods are wiping out suburban neighborhoods in the west, hurricanes along the coast.

If 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 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 of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why

would anyone be surprised when more of America is under water?

We need a president that respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here. And unless we take urgent action, it'll soon be more catastrophic.

The 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, failing to protect us from the pandemic, from an economic freefall, 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.

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 will meet this moment with urgency and purpose. We can and we will solve the climate crisis and build back better than we were before.

You know, when Donald Trump thinks about climate change, he thinks hoax. When I think about it, I think jobs. Good paying union jobs that put Americans to work building a stronger, more climate-resilient nation.

A nation 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 is 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.

When Donald Trump 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 measures, rebuilding buildings in the country. This is going to reduce 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 into business of leading the world on climate change. And I'll challenge every other country to up the ante on climate commitments.

He reverses the Obama/Biden energy standards. He'll not only -- I'll not only bring the standards back, I'll set new ambitious one that our workers are ready to meet.

I'll see American workers building and installing 500,000 electrical vehicle charging stations along the newly engaged infrastructure programs and highways across the country.

I see American consumers switching to electric vehicles through initiatives and rebates. The United States owns one of the -- and maintains 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.

You know, we'll do another big thing. We'll put us on a path to achieving a carbon pollution-free electric sector by 2035 that no future president can come along and turn back.

Transforming the electricity sector power for power without pollution, the greatest spur to 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 innovative technologies.

We need engineers to design and workers to manufacture these new products. We'll need ironworkers and welders to install them.

We'll need to become the world's largest exporter of these technologies, create more jobs, sourced in America.

We know how to do this. The Obama/Biden administration rescued the auto industry and helped them retool. We made solar energy costs competitive and weatherized more than a million homes.

That is just the beginning if we're re-elected.

We'll do it bigger and faster and better than before and build 1.5 million energy efficient homes and public housing units to benefit the communities by eliminating the affordable housing crisis, 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 which are leaking toxins.

We can create 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.

We'll also create new markets for family farmers and ranchers. We'll launch a new, modern Civilian Climate Corps to heal our public lands and make us much less vulnerable to wildfires and floods.


I believe every American has a fundamental right to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I know we haven't fulfilled that right yet.

That's true of the millions of families struggling with the smoke- filled devastation of the wildfires right now. And it's been true for a generation or more in places like cancer alley in Louisiana or right here in Delaware, along the Route 9 corridor. Here in Delaware.

Fulfilling the basic obligations, especially in low income, white, brown, black, Native American communities who don't see clean air and water.

And they're committing to it. These aren't pie-in-the-sky dreams. They create jobs and mitigate climate change and put us on the road to net- zero emissions by no later than 2050.

You know, some say we can't afford to fix this. 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 infrastructure. Make it a stronger, more resilient and creating millions of good-paying jobs while, at the same time, tackling the root causes of climate change or the path Donald Trump has us on, costing tens of billions to rebuild.

And the human costs of the lives and livelihoods and communities destroyed are immeasurable.

We have a choice. We commit to doing this together because you know that climate change is the existential challenge that's going to determine our future as a country, for our children, our grandchildren and great grandchildren, or we can ignore the facts, deny reality, which amounts to fully surrendering to the failure to lead.

It's backward-looking policy that's going to harm the environment, make communities less healthy, hold back economic progress while other countries race ahead.

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 sunrise. Believing today will be a better day than yesterday.

Americans face this historic inflection point at a time of real peril and 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. Every time, we succeed when we try.

May God bless our firefighters and keep them safe and our first responders and may God protect our troops.

Thank you very much.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right, I want to bring in chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and Adam Sobel, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia as well.

As we heard former Vice President Joe Biden addressing this issue of climate change, which we're seeing play out before our eyes with these severe weather events that we have seen increasingly here in recent years.

Gloria, to you first, what did you think about this speech?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought it was a very powerful speech on many levels. Because what he did was he took the argument on how the president has handled COVID and the argument about how the president is denying climate science and joined them together and said he's anti-science.


And he also turned the president's campaign on its head by saying, you know, the president says your cities are going to burn. He said, look, your suburbs are going to burn and they're going to burn from wildfires.

So, with a candidate like Joe Biden, what's so interesting to me, he started out this campaign saying he was going to be a transitional candidate. What he's talking about here in terms of climate science is transformational.

And what he's proposing to do is very large, and join more liberal ways in the Democratic Party and the more-moderate wing of the Republican Party so they can see what he is proposing and convince them to vote for him and stay with him.

KEILAR: He said it won't be easy but it's necessary.

Professor Sobel, what did you think about the proposals that you heard from the former vice president?

ADAM SOBEL, PROFESSOR OF EARTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I very much support them. I was very encouraged by his speech.

I think it's great that vice president has taken on board, not only climate science but the climate advocates from the youth movement, Sunrise and others who have been connecting the climate problem to broader social justice agenda.

I think it's the right way to go and he did that in his speech.

KEILAR: And this -- he seemed to be emphasizing over and over, grounded in science. Because, Professor, you can't really -- you can't over state how, I guess, different the choice would be between Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

I mean, President Trump's plan, when it comes to climate are -- they're really nonexistent. They're based in fantasy. And what does it say about science?

And there's this line he has to walk when it comes to jobs because we're seeing the solution aversion many people have to admitting there's a problem because they are so concerned about the cost this would have on the economy.

What did you think about him trying to make that pivot when it came to jobs?

SOBEL: I think he's right to see climate as not an anti-jobs issue but a pro-jobs one. We heard this line for a long time that it costs too much to address human-induced global warming. But it costs too much not to. We see that now.

The most realistic process shows that the damages outweigh the cost, considered realistically.

Even just air pollution. New research shows air pollution, the health benefits of cleaning up carbon emissions, the air pollution is only a third of coal burning. That alone makes it worth transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

So, I think he's right. The president's trying to prop up the fossil fuel industry. We see that every which say. He said he has no agenda. It's worse than no agenda. It's a backward-looking agenda.

And you're right, the choice couldn't be more stark.

KEILAR: Gloria, the rhetoric here, this is pretty poignant. He called President Trump, not just a climate denier, he called him a climate arsonist.

BORGER: Right. What he's saying is, by sitting back and doing nothing, and by saying, you've got to clean your floors in your forest, he's denying what happened in front of him.

And again, it this -- he sort of encapsulated it in the notion he spoke about in a failure to lead.

And what he is saying is, he has had a failure to lead on the pandemic. And you see that because of his refusal to listen to science. And he's refusing to lead in climate change because of his refusal to listen to science.

Joe Biden said, I'm curious what the president is going to say today. When the says, you know, Biden wants fracking. This is one of the

lines that Joe Biden has had to walk here. He is not opposed to fracking.

He has said that directly. It makes a lot of people upset who are liberal, more liberal in the party. But he has walked a fine line here.

And this is really what's important. I think he's making this into a jobs program. The Civilian Climate Corps reminds you of Roosevelt. And he is saying this is going to be a job creator for union jobs and that's what I want to turn it into.

He's trying to turn the president's argument on its head. And we'll have to see how the president responds this afternoon.

KEILAR: Gloria, Adam, thank you so much. We'll be watching to see what the president says.


And Joe Biden will join CNN for a special town hall. It will be live from Scranton, Pennsylvania with Anderson Cooper moderating. That will be Thursday at 8:00 p.m. only on CNN.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.