Facing Climate Collapse at the Eleventh Hour

Mills along the lower Columbia. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The 30 senators and 109 representatives who doubt climate change are a disaster waiting to happen. Whether that disaster takes the form of 120-degree summer weather across the Midwest or commuters up to their necks in water in the flooded N.Y.C. subway or houses swept into gullies in the next Tennessee inundation, whichever it is, humanity doesn’t have time for these congressional dimwits. These 139 politicos don’t believe their own senses, scientific proof and the catastrophic evidence all around that the world is warming and that human fossil-fuel burning caused it. Those that do have brains know very well they have been bribed to squawk their disbelief. In other words, if not idiots, they are corrupt. They don’t care if the world broils, so long as they pocket their donations.

“These same 139 climate-denying members have received more than $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coal, oil and gas industries,” according to the Center for American Progress last March. Climate deniers “still include the majority of the congressional Republican caucus.” One wonders what exactly the senate’s most conservative Dem, Joe “I Just Don’t Give a Shit” Manchin thinks, though that is largely irrelevant. What counts is what he does. And if it comes to a choice between his wallet and the long-term survival of the human race, as it did with the Build Back Better bill, guess which Manchin picked? It sure wasn’t future generations.

Coal baron Manchin singlehandedly pulled the teeth out of Biden’s climate program, embedded in his now neutered reconciliation bill. Too bad the Dems didn’t strip Manchin of his committee assignments and chairmanship and, as suggested recently in CounterPunch, stop the massive flow of federal funds to West Virginia. That’s what Lyndon Baines Johnson would have done. But then, to do all that today the Dems and Biden would have actually WANTED to succeed, which, in truth, they’re allergic to.

One wonders if the perks of being a congressperson are really worth destroying the habitability of the planet, if the privilege of grinning at your inflated, gaudy, pretentious self in the mirror each morning is worth melting Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, dissolving Siberian permafrost, a sixth global extinctions of other species, continent-sized wildfires, acidic oceans hot enough to kill all coral reefs, 120-degree summer heat across much of the Middle East, India and even Canada and the American Northwest, once-in-a-millennium floods on an annual basis, many more hurricanes than usual, mudslides, millions of people displaced, desperate to migrate but with nowhere to go? Is it worth the pride and pomp of getting to stand up in congress to preen with imbecilic bombast – and betray humanity? Apparently for these morally stunted 139 people, the answer is yes.

Unfortunately, officials actually tasked with climate policy are tepid, at best. On October 31, the Washington Post quoted the U.K.’s climate adviser criticizing Australia’s net zero emissions goal for lacking a program to achieve this. “The plan unveiled by the Australian government last week didn’t set any tougher emissions targets for 2030 – a major component in what scientists have said will be needed from world leaders at the…COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.” Australia emits tons of carbon and exports lots of fossil fuels.

The Post added that “49 countries plus the European Union have pledged a net-zero target. This covers over half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions…However, the United Nations has warned these promises are ‘vague.’” Let’s just hope they’re not so flimsily nebulous that the climate catastrophe crashes right through them like a runaway engine on the tracks. The crisis calls for lucid plans enforced with a steel will, and clear, unbending goals. Ideally, every country at the Glasgow climate summit would adopt a binding clean energy standard, so that by a certain not too distant date each nation would no longer burn fossil fuels. This is how humanity saves itself from its economic system, aka fossil capitalism. But so far fossil capitalism has won its fight to roast earth. That has much to do with its ballyhoo denying climate change over the years, in other words with oil oligarchs’ blatant, deliberate lies.

But all is not gloom. On October 28, the U.S. took an exciting step toward dispelling climate denial fakery. “House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D -New York) announced her plan to subpoena documents from oil and gas companies to discern their role in spreading climate denial and disinformation,” reported Sharon Zhang for Truthout. Maloney’s knockout subpoena will target all the behemoths – Shell, BP, Chevron, Exxon, the trade association and more. So very soon, we plebs may get to see how they rigged the game to sizzle the human race.

Given reports in recent years that fossil fuel ceos knew for decades about the harm their product caused and hid it, this subpoena will likely dig up a motherlode of carefully concocted fibs. Even no less an eminence than arch cold-war reactionary and father of the H-bomb, physicist Edward Teller warned the oil industry in 1959 that pumping carbon into the atmosphere could “melt the ice caps and submerge New York.” So expect Maloney’s subpoena to peel back a very thick layer of climate denial prevarication. Whether it will compel any of the disgraceful 139 congresspeople to change their tune remains to be seen. But it sure won’t silence the climate-denying shrieks and howls of reactionary propaganda outlets like Breitbart and Fox News.

Meanwhile at the Glasgow climate summit, Biden opened by claiming the U.S. would keep its promise to slash greenhouse emissions by more than half by the end of the decade. Does he know something we don’t? ‘Cause by the end of the decade a Trump clone will likely have been in power. Unless the Dems can thwart the Cro-Magnon GOP base, Biden’s promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. There’s a climate game in Washington. Dems astonish everyone and luck into the white house, issue executive orders controlling emissions, then lose power and the GOP revokes all the eos, before issuing its own, increasing carbon pollution. Then back to the Dems. Net result: worse than nothing.

Biden made these unlikely claims as his bill that would set aside $555 billion for climate spending languishes in congress – along with the rest of his social safety net agenda, threatening to upend his presidency. Meanwhile, sabotaging climate mitigation, he ramps up oil production. This means he isn’t serious. The New York Times, reporting on this and eliding it November 1, mentioned the world “moving away from” fossil fuels. But the world hasn’t moved away from fossil fuels. Over 80 percent of our energy still comes from oil, coal and gas, as it did 10 years ago and well before that.

Making matters worse, “Biden’s climate and social spending plan,” the Times noted, “does not eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.” Those subsides total about $20 billion per year. So we ordinary folk pay oil big-shots to set our atmosphere on fire. Biden won’t fix that. Period. How about them apples?

In short, the Dems have yet to provide proof they can get anything done on the climate and the odds don’t look good. And there’s zero hope across the aisle. That’s where the GOP lunatic fringe insists none other than Leon Trotsky guides Democrats in their mealy-mouthed climate efforts. Because how else can you explain Dems doing nearly nothing, without a dead Bolshevik? As GOP senator John Kennedy rather clumsily intoned: “President Biden and Secretary Kerry and the other Trotsky-like wokers, they see climate change as a religion, and you can’t talk about it unless you follow their dogma. It’s much like their new critical race theory.” Zzzz…wake me when it’s over.

So Republican reptiles chant the big oil mantra, as earth hurtles back toward the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. That occurred 56 million years ago, when alligators and palm trees decorated Greenland. Place your order with the GOP. One Thermal Maximum coming right up!

At least some good news wafted out of the climate summit, and we can hope it’s not all aspirational: Over 90 countries pledged to cut methane emissions, including the U.S. where, under Trump, methane literally gushed into the sky. So I guess that’s cheering. I hope those 90 countries also signed a promise to keep reducing methane regardless of who’s the U.S. president, because otherwise, methane could ultimately envelop the globe.

There was more big talk. Over 100 countries claimed they would end deforestation by 2030, assuming any forests are left by then. These nations’ bona fides would be a lot more credible if they scheduled this halt for, say, 2022. Eight years is a long time with an anti-environment maniac like Brazil’s Bolsonaro letting loggers slash their way through the Amazon rainforest. The trick at these synods seems to be a combo of nonbinding agreements and moving the date of any pro-climate promise so far over the horizon that it’s just not visible. At the rate climate change-caused mega-wildfires consume forests, this whole issue could be moot by 2030.

Right on cue, on November 4, Indonesia claimed the deforestation pact did not include a promise to end deforestation by 2030. An Indonesian official called such a commitment “inappropriate and unfair,” Reuters reported. How long before other countries begin reneging on this? Once the whining starts, it degenerates quickly into sloth. I give this deforestation pledge a couple of months before all rats have abandoned ship.

Another 40-plus countries took a nonbinding oath to end using coal, in the 2030s for big industrial countries, and the 2040s for everybody else. India, China and the U.S., the world’s biggest coal polluters, did not. So all these fine words are pretty much hot air. But how, anyway, could Biden agree to any of this by the 2030s without hypnotizing Joe Manchin? Maybe Manchin will lose his next election; one can only hope. But short of that, Biden had to recognize, probably pretty willingly and with relief, that regarding coal renunciation, the U.S. had to take its toys and go home.

Even more grandiosely, every G-7 nation assured us it would stop international coal financing by year’s end. So while it won’t kick the coal habit, the U.S. contented itself with phasing out international financing for the stuff, and I suppose Biden wants a pat on the back for that, along with all the other G-7 rulers. But they won’t be getting one for their woeful do-nothingism from me. I’ll spend my energies – and you should too – figuring out where best to weather the climate collapse and then making arrangements to relocate.

Worse, there were no false promise about biomass. (False promises at least hint officials are embarrassed enough to indulge in arrant hypocrisy.) Burning wood releases tons of carbon, but it looks like we’re stuck with that and coal for the foreseeable future, despite all the climate summit grandiloquence. After all, right now Biden could obstruct two dozen fossil fuel infrastructure projects, whose plans, Common Dreams reported November 5, sit on his desk and which will produce as much greenhouse gas as 400 coal plants a year. Has the Climate President blocked those plants? Well, ask a stupid question…

At least Biden apologized at the conference for Trump – something we Americans can never do often enough. In this instance, it was for rudely pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Accords. These accords are lethally faint-hearted, but it’s the thought that counts (kinda), and in pyromaniac Trump’s case, that thought was: “Get lost. The U.S. was and will remain a petrostate committed to torching earth.” Well, the voters returned the invitation; they told Trump to get lost. Now he threatens to come back. And the Washington merry-go-round spins along, as the earth gets hotter, less livable and the names of our dear leaders become ashes and curses in our grandchildren’s mouths.


Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.