Biden: Younger generations will be 'damned' without climate change action

The president also credited younger voters for helping clear the way for the passage the Inflation Reduction Act.

Joe Biden
President Biden at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego on Monday. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

President Biden said in an interview on Monday that growing concerns about climate change among younger voters helped clear the way for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. But he also warned that if more action isn’t taken to keep global temperatures in check, that demographic “is damned.”

“If we don’t keep the temperature from going above 1.5 degrees Celsius raised, then we’re in real trouble,” Biden said in an interview on “The Daily Show.” “That whole generation is damned. I mean, that’s not hyperbole, really, truly in trouble.”

Biden’s interlocutor was actor Kal Penn, who served in the Obama White House and who was guest-hosting the program; Penn asked the president who or what had cleared the way for the largest bill ever passed to address climate change.

“Young people. Young people. That generation between 18 and 35 now. They’re the ones who created the space. They had enough of it,” Biden responded.

He went on to to describe the consequences of rising temperatures as a fact that people could no longer deny.

“I have traveled in helicopter over more forest area burned to the ground than the entire state of Maryland. That’s how much has burned to the ground. Floods, droughts, all the things. And so people can’t deny it anymore. They can’t deny the fact,” Biden said. As president, Biden has extensively toured areas damaged by record-breaking wildfire seasons in the West, which climate scientists say have been made worse by climate change.

A February poll by Statista found that 70% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 said they worry either a great deal or a fair amount about climate change, compared to 63% of those age 35 to 54 and 56% of those age 55 and older.

Madeline Baynard, an activist from the climate group Extinction Rebellion
An activist from the climate group Extinction Rebellion demonstrates in Washington to demand an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

But on the same day that Biden was asked about climate change, his administration announced that it was giving final approval to a new and controversial oil drilling project in northern Alaska to honor leases signed by ConocoPhillips prior to Biden’s term in office. Approval for the Willow oil project drew sharp rebukes from climate activists, who contend that new oil drilling will all but ensure that the world will exceed 1.5 degrees of temperature rise.

“I am just appalled by the media coverage of @Potus’s decision to approve the Willow oil drills in Alaska. WHY is it framing ‘Biden vs. the activists,’ when even the @IEA says that meeting the target of the #ParisAgreement requires no new fossil energy development?” Genevieve Guenther, a climate activist and faculty member at the New School, wrote in a Twitter thread on Monday, adding, “This is not just about @Potus letting down ‘activists’ and ‘young people,’ this is about the US not honoring its international commitments and undermining @ClimateEnvoy’s [John Kerry] credibility among nations.”

Penn asked Biden about the decision to continue some oil drilling, as well as what he would tell young people who may believe he is not taking swift enough actions to address climate change.

“Well, first of all, we’re going faster than anyone’s ever gone. We’re going to need fossil fuels for at least the next 10 years. It’s not like tomorrow we can turn it all off,” Biden said, adding, “We can do solar, we can do wind cheaper than we can do fossil fuels. So it’s a matter of transitioning. But it’s not like you can cut everything off immediately.”

The Inflation Reduction Act is supercharging the nation’s transition to renewable energy, but it remains to be seen whether the U.S. will be able to meet Biden’s goal of weaning the country from fossil fuels by 2035, or of achieving 80% renewable energy generation by 2030.