Pete Buttigieg wants to retire the phrase “save the planet.”
Speaking in Glasgow at the United Nations climate change summit, Mr. Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said that the conversation surrounding climate change should be refocused on whether the planet can sustain life. “What we’re trying to save is lives,” he said.
Mr. Buttigieg was joined by Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, who often speaks about how to effectively communicate the science of climate change.
“The planet will be orbiting the sun long after we are gone,” she said. “The planet does not need us. We’re the ones who need the planet.”
The discussion, which took place on the sidelines of global climate change negotiations, was part of high-level talks on Tuesday about ways to cut emissions from the transportation sector. Climate pollution from roads, rails, ships and airplanes account for about 24 percent of total global emissions and are rapidly rising.
Mr. Buttigieg said in an interview that he views a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that the U.S. House and Senate recently passed through the lens of climate change. The transportation department will oversee hundreds of billions of dollars worth of improvements to roads, rails and bridges — work that could lead to a rise in emissions if green technologies are not sufficiently incorporated.
“We are paying a lot of attention to the climate implications of the choices we are making,” Mr. Buttigieg said, noting that in addition to road expansions the bill also provides funding for public transportation, bike lanes and new electric vehicle charging stations.
But the U.S. did not join countries in an international pledge to rapidly phase out gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, Mr. Buttigieg said Tuesday, adding that the Biden administration is “focused on what we are doing at home.”
The pledge by six automakers and about 30 countries to phase out sales of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide — and by 2035 in “leading markets” — would move at a faster pace than the Biden administration has called for.
Mr. Biden has signed an executive order aimed at ensuring that 50 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States are electric by 2030, a move made with the support of major automakers.
“Different countries obviously are taking different approaches,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “We have to do what’s right for the United States and also support international action. That’s the balance, I think, that we’re striking.”
Britain, Canada and India are among those that joined the pledge, along with California and Washington State.