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Like millions of Americans, Delaware’s Vice President Joe Biden and his family love the coast. They spend their summers visiting their family beach house in a typical Delaware shore town with a boardwalk, small shops, bars, and restaurants. Its expansive beaches attract countless families, the adjacent state park is a destination where people can kayak and bird-watch for free. President Trump prefers Palm Beach and his private club and golf course, though he’s no fan of the water. Like so many other things, Vice President Biden understands why working-class Americans love going to the beach – it remains the number one outdoor recreational activity of the nation, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has inhibited this cherished American pastime.
Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris was born and raised on the opposite coast, in the bay city of Oakland, California, home to the West Coast’s largest estuary. It’s where Jack London used to chase oyster pirates and families today enjoy the numerous waterfront parks. As a California lawmaker, Harris has worked with her state’s ports—including LA/Long Beach–the largest port complex in the Western Hemisphere—to help them upgrade their facilities to decrease pollution and increase energy efficiency. Harris has also brought together California’s other ocean stakeholders—the Navy, surfers, fishermen, coastal developers, conservationists, and a network of world-class marine science labs to work on a range of issues. California now sets the global example of how to prosper and live in harmony with the ocean and coastline, and that can serve as a model for sustainable ocean commerce going forward.
But the nation’s coastal way of life is in jeopardy due to climate change. In August, Biden’s Delaware coast took a serious hit from Tropical Storm Isaias, which damaged and destroyed homes, flooded huge areas, downed trees, and led to week-long blackouts. Later that month Hurricane Laura tore through the Gulf, then Marco and Sally. Now Hurricane Delta challenges this same coastline that has been repeatedly hammered this year – unable to recover from one devastating storm before the next one hits. With climate change accelerating, coastal states face increased vulnerabilities from both sea-level rise and greater storm intensity that’s been rising 8 percent per decade for the past 40 years, according to NOAA. This puts tens of millions of Americans at greater risk and also threatens the U.S. coastal economy, which generates 40% of the nation’s jobs and 46% of its GDP.
We believe that a Biden-Harris administration would bode well for ocean policy should they be elected next month, even though there is little about the ocean in their campaign’s policy proposals. Biden likes to say that when Trump hears the word climate he thinks “hoax,” but when he hears it he thinks, “jobs.” This is the right attitude at the right moment. There is no conflict between economic growth and a clean energy economy.
In fact, quite the opposite: if we don’t take a more proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change, our economy will suffer dramatically. Both Biden and Harris understand this link and it is reflected in their policy priorities. They favor the development of clean offshore wind and other more experimental renewable ocean energy technology. Long before President Trump made a politically expedient u-turn on offshore drilling this past month, both Senator Harris and Vice President Biden strongly opposed it. And they oppose expanding it everywhere – not just in the states where they lag in the polls, like President Trump.
Biden and Harris understand the link between climate adaptation and resilience and climate justice. Biden was the first U.S. Senator to introduce a climate change bill in 1986, but it was this year’s Climate Equity Act, introduced by Senator Harris and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that helped convince Biden to dedicate 40 percent of his proposed $2 trillion climate investment to frontline communities at risk, including low-income communities of color across the island of Puerto Rico, the lower-Mississippi and Texas refinery coast known as “cancer alley,” as well as Native Alaskan coastal villages being undermined by melting ice.
Encouraged by the recent moves in Congress to take climate change more seriously, our organizations—the Center for the Blue Economy and Blue Frontier—have been leading an effort to develop an Ocean Climate Action Plan—supported by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, climate activist Jane Fonda, ocean explorer Sylvia Earle, and environmental justice leader Robert Bullard among others—to help prioritize ocean and coastal communities’ needs in any future climate bills.
We focus on offshore renewable energy, coastal adaptation and financing for sea-level rise, greening ports and the shipping industry, and sustainable seafood production. We are confident that a future Biden-Harris Administration will incorporate many of our policy recommendations into their climate plans because our growing coalition represents a broad cross-section of the nation’s ocean stakeholders who are making the connections between the economy, social equity, and the marine environment.
The sound investments that we advocate are not only sensible but make for smart politics. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats consider climate change a major threat. The bottom line is you can’t disconnect climate politics from the politics of the ocean — not when 127 million Americans live in coastal counties.
We don’t yet know the outcome of this election, but we do know that the Biden-Harris ticket is best positioned to protect and grow our coastal economies. Hopefully, we can then rebuild better, smarter, and fairer from sea to shining sea.
David Helvarg is an author and executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation and policy group. Jason Scorse is director of the Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
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