America’s Climate Emergency

Icy Bay, Alaska. A century ago, the water of this bay was covered by ice. NASA.

It does not look likely the Biden administration will act in time to forestall the predicted punishing rage of climate change.

The treachery of the Republicans

The country, but especially its political class, is divided sharply as if on the eve of civil war. The so-called Republican senators are united in their opposition to any government measures to diminish the consumption (perpetual burning) of fossil fuels, prime causes of climate chaos.

Even among the Democratic senators, one from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, denounced Biden’s climate legislation with a projected expenditures of $ 555 billion for building the country’s renewable energy infrastructure against climate catastrophe. Yet Biden was hopeful he could resolve the differences with Manchin, a fierce protector of coal.

The Manchin episode of holding a gun on Biden’s largest effort to do something about the climate danger is paradigmatic of how fragile democracy has become in America.

However, the behavior of the Republicans is much worse than that of Manchin and illustrative of a dramatic breakdown of the idea of the public good for saving America. To me, this is very bad news for democracy and civilization in this country. The Republicans are waging a war against America.

I find the rejection of the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming by the fossil fuel companies and by millions of Republicans incomprehensive and barbarous. It reminds me of the superstitions behind the crusades.

After all, this is not a trifling issue. Scientists have been studying the anthropogenic causes of global warming for decades. They keep warning policy makers, including Republican deniers of climate change, that time is running out. We have until 2030 to ban the burning of most fossil fuels so that the violence of climate change will not overwhelm the planet and civilization. Fossil fuels have to go. Stop digging for them. Stop burning them.

The military option

On the basis of this reality, indeed, fanaticism of the Republicans, in my writing I have urged Biden to use the military to do the necessary transition from fossil fuels to renewable solar and wind energy, including building the vast infrastructure that will make the transition real.

Biden must have realized the Republicans, still under the sway of Trump, are planning his ruin and the destruction of America. They intend to take over the government. Their January 6, 2021 insurrection was no more than a test for a coup d’état.

This fact of political treachery and insurrection and the climate chaos — threatening the survival of America and the world – ought to suffice for Biden declaring a state of national emergency for preventing climate calamity.

I don’t like any interference of the military in politics or society. But the situation in America in December 2021 is far from normal. Politicians are failing America. To allow the Republicans to have their way or return to the White House will be catastrophic for the future of democracy and human survival.

Act for the public good

Biden could follow the daring of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He, too, faced a major national emergency and World War II.

Biden should have a conference with the heads of corporations, including those of fossil fuels, and labor union leaders. He should explain his plan to bring in the military to do the heavy lifting for moving out of the hazardous grip of fossil fuels and preparing the country for renewable energy. Army engineers would work with civilian engineers and scientists and construction workers.

Biden should leave no doubt that resistance on the part of petroleum, coal, and natural gas companies would be futile. It would result in their breakup and confiscation of their assets.

Biden should also address the American people. Ask all to be understanding that this military-civilian effort is for the salvation of the country, possibly the world. Ask those with means to add solar panels on the roofs of their homes, purchase electric cars, and drive less gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

Ask all to take public transport, and, if farmers, to convert their farms to agroecological methods of raising food, which would eliminate the use of fossil fuel “inputs” like pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Biden should promise high-paying jobs in the spending of the $ 555 billions (and much more if necessary) for the employment of the Sun and wind for the production of electricity for the entire country. The government would also support companies in building electric bullet trains and busses and cars.

He should insist that cities create protective lanes for bicyclists.

A U-turn for EPA

Biden must order the US Environmental Protection Agency to return to its mission, which is the protection of the natural world and public health from pollution.

This would necessitate the creation of a zone of protection around the agency, no more industry testing of its own chemicals, EPA’s laboratories would test necessary chemicals and the industry would pay for the testing. No industry lobbyists would be allowed to visit EPA employees, and no more revolting doors between the industry and the government.

No more extraction for fossil fuels

At the same time, a federal emergency would allow the Biden administration to deny any fossil fuel extraction on federal lands or waters and, of course, cancel immediately ongoing extractions on public lands or waters.

I realize this proposal is quite radical. But then continuing on business as usual is a sure recipe for a national catastrophe. Keep pumping millions of tons of greenhouse Earth-warming gases every day into the atmosphere is darkening the future of our children and grandchildren. Moreover, such unconscious acts threaten our beautiful natural world that gives us so much joy and life every day.

The Republicans who benefited from pollution and risking the Earth in the Trump years are dangerous and unpatriotic. Most Americans see the danger behind the Republicans. They are behind Biden.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.