America, China, and the Climate Dinosaur

Image by Patrick Hendry.

Climate warnings

With the exception of fossil fuel beneficiaries, most of the leaders of the world are taking climate change, if not seriously, at least under advisement. They observe the effects of higher temperatures, increasing destructive forest fires, rising sea water levels, thunderstorms, and more difficulties in raising food and catching fish.

The UN Panel on Climate Change informed the world leaders in 2018 that things are going from bad to worse. Some weather and climate extremes mirror temperatures in the range of 1.5Celsius above the pre-industrial age temperature (1850-1900).

In its State of the Global Climate 2020 report, the World Meteorological Organization was more dismal in its conclusions, though the study itself is a model of science: building on the investigations of previous scientific studies, examining the evidence carefully, and asking other scientists to evaluate the reliability of the findings. The State of the Global Climate 2020 reflects good science.

The Meteorological Organization reached these conclusions: The year 2020 was very warm, one of the three warmest ever. The average temperature of the planet was about 1.2° C above the pre-industrial era. The six years following 2015 have been the warmest on record. The decade 2011-2020 has also been the warmest decade we know.

In addition, the Meteorological Organization says that the perpetuation of the current dependence on fossil fuels makes certain that the world will exceed the temperature  thresholds of 1.5° C or 2° C above the temperature of pre-industrial societies. This likely fact “would increase the risks of pervasive climate change impacts beyond what is already seen.”

We already see climate change causing “health, food and water security,” including threats and risks to livelihoods, economies, biodiversity and ecosystems.

Risking nature is risking life. These risks, the report of the Meteorological Organization says, come in the form of droughts, violent and sometimes uncontrolled wildfires in forests, peatlands, land degradation, sand and dust storms, and desertification.

The burning of fossil fuels causes air pollution. And the warming of the planet triggers floods, and diminishing drinking water. In the seas and oceans, meanwhile, climate change is melting the ice, causing sea-level rise, “ocean acidification, reduced levels of ocean oxygen, mangrove decay and coral bleaching.”

In other words, science (speaking through the Meteorological Organization) is telling us that climate change is systematically dismantling the foundations of life on Earth. We are talking about ecumenical ecocide that, unless stopped, will include us, the perpetrators of climate change.

The plight of the poor

Poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America barely pay attention to UN reports or any other news. Their populations keep increasing and suffering from all the accompanying harmful poverty and hunger. Next to war, the only reasonable way out of their immediate misery, thousands of people of the tropics are becoming climate refugees. So, for example, most Latin Americans are struggling to get close to the US borders. EU countries have shut their borders to migrants.

The United States and China

The situation is different for the world’s largest and strongest countries: the United States and China. Not that climate change is not affecting them. They, too, suffer from vast fires, hurricanes, flooding, property loss and destruction, higher temperatures and severe pollution.

China came into destructive capitalist practices in the last fifty years, borrowing global warming agriculture and industry primarily from America. China, however, still has about two hundred million peasants who produce most of its food, but largely without affecting climate change.

The United States, meanwhile, has been inventing and employing industrial capitalism since its inception. And despite the anomaly of Trump denying climate change, most presidents and their administrations have acted promoting global warming capitalism. They danced to the tunes of climate change agriculture and industry for at least a century and a half.

Like China’s peasants, America’s organic farmers are also largely neutral to global warming, though the amounts of certified organic food they raise are small, supplying boutique markets and supermarkets for high profits.

Despite these economic similarities, the US and China are different. The US pretends to be the sole superpower, a claim unsettling several countries, including China. Both the US and China antagonize each other and compete fiercely for world leadership.

These hegemonic ambitions make the US and China very reluctant to alter or abandon global warming capitalism that gave them the power they now have: vast industries, weapons of mass destruction, huge influence in the world – primarily because of their vast militaries, which in the case of America, they are spanning the globe.

Nevertheless, US and Chinese industries and the industries and agricultures of the rest of the countries of the world have been feeding this global monster of climate change. This weather and climate dinosaur is far superior and dangerous to any and all states combined.

Limitations of climate science

The UN climate reports are telling us enough, though with difficulty they cover the tip of the melting iceberg: barely mentioning the cataclysm affecting non-human beings: the extinction of countless species primarily because of malicious “developments”: spraying carcinogenic and neurotoxic pesticides over vast regions of the planet, including most crops of most farms all over the world, leaving little space or uncontaminated healthy food for insects, birds, and small and large wild animals. Or making forests, including the vast Amazon, into soybean feed for the billions of cattle, hogs, and chicken on the dinner plates of the rich, North and South, as well as toilet paper for the euro and dollar people of Europe and America.

The other secret of climate change that has escaped climate science is that climate change at the present scale of reliance on fossil fuels will reduce world wealth significantly, rich people and countries will become less rich. Higher temperatures will make food crops and industrialized agriculture less productive while spreading diseases are sowing chaos and coastal cities are being obliterated by rising sea levels and violent storms and hurricanes.

Swiss Re, a giant Swiss insurance company insuring other insurance companies, is reporting that climate change will wipe out at least 11 percent to 14 percent “off global economic output by 2050.” Such loss amounts to about $ 23 trillion annual loss in global economic production and wealth.

None of the deleterious global warming consequences are secret to the US and China. Both have middle and upper classes with tastes and lifestyles inimical to a healthy natural world, and, therefore, having an unwelcome and lasting climate footprint.

In its Emissions Gap Report 2020, the UN Development Program examined the lifestyle of the affluent and said about two-thirds of world gas emissions into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels come from “household activities.” That is, what individuals do and “consume” makes a difference. In fact, the lifestyle of those relatively few rich people making up the exclusive club of 1 percent in their societies is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions “more than twice the combined share of the poorest 50 percent.”

Joe Biden and Xi Jinping

All these dismal statistics are probably floating in the mind of Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. April is bringing them together. April is symbolic for the celebration of the Earth Day, and Joe Biden is a new president.

These leaders will be telling the world they, the US and China, and every other state, must do more to domesticate climate warming, not allowing fossil fuel greed to push global temperature beyond 1.5C from the temperature prevailing in the pre-industrial age.

John Kerry, climate envoy of Biden, went to China and reported that America and China “will address climate change with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.” This means cutting carbon emissions, the more, the better.

Xi Jinping, president of China, does also want to cut greenhouse gas emissions, though he suggested Western industrialized countries should promise “deeper” cuts in their carbon emissions. He warned that climate change should not become a bargaining chip in geopolitics or in trade barriers, much less in trade wars.

Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Biden remains silent on how he “plans to make up for the lost four [climate] years [of the Trump administration].

True, America lost four years. But those lost years cannot be made up. American industry and big agriculture benefited from Trump’s license to pollute. But Biden can show his seriousness on climate by breaking up polluting large farms, companies, and billionaires. The Anti-Trust laws, beyond the purview of the Republicans, can help us, the entire country, restore decency, justice, and ecology – eliminate most pollution.

Biden’s opportunity for a climate deal

Biden, however, chose Gina McCarthy, Obama EPA administrator, to be his senior climate advisor. Almost nothing she did for Obama survived the wrath of the Republican Trump administration. Yet she now has a chance to learn from past mistakes and put into the $ 2.3 trillion Biden infrastructure legislation bold initiatives for phasing out fossil fuels by 2030 and for zero-carbon emission technologies for the transformation of agriculture, transportation, electricity generation, and the military.

This new direction is close to the New Green Deal for the creation of high-paying green jobs, the restoration of the degraded natural world, and for uplifting the livelihoods of millions of neglected Americans. Some scholars see a calamity without the New Green Deal.

With these potential US initiatives, it would be easy to open the doors for a constructive dialogue with China and other major climate polluters so that we lessen the unforgivable and cataclysmic price the world will pay from the continuation of business as usual: the continuation and uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized farming, industry, petroleum-fueled transportation and the ecocide of the militaries.

The silver lining of climate change

Climate change is giving the US and China an opportunity to act like responsible and ethical adults. Saving the world is saving the US and China.

China has had an ancient civilization with an ecological bend: Chinese lived for millennia without much harm to the natural world. America has had a tradition of technological achievements. Share this Chinese ecological civilization and mixed it with American knowhow and we will all be the better for It – in the long term.

If Joe Biden and Xi Jinping join forces to save the planet, there’s a good chance they may succeed.

China is responsible for 28 percent of world total carbon emissions. The US is emitting 15 percent. Together, the US and China, are throwing into the atmosphere  43 percent of all world greenhouse gases. Thus acting together would be decisive. They could put a break to global temperature. In which case, they will win more than the Nobel prize. They will win immortality for wisdom, courage, foresight, and ethics.

The US and China could promote ecological civilization without fossil fuels. Green and renewable energy and technology from the Sun and wind will become the new norm of business and life on this beautiful Earth. Second, the US and China could become world leaders and friends for generations.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

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