China Combats Climate Change. The U.S., Not So Much

Georgia-Pacific Mill, Toledo, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The two leading U.S. presidential candidates offer a dismal future for the earth ecosystem. That’s because it’s time for a real climate president, not a phony one, like Joe “More Oil Leases” Biden or a climate wrecker like Donald “Let the World Burn” Trump. The earth is warming, and we all know how to apply the brakes: stop burning oil, gas and coal. But both Biden and Trump refuse such a so-called radical step, thus condemning our species to a hotter, less human-friendly planet, at best.

It’s not as if we don’t know the alternatives: wind, solar and hydropower. Beijing sure knows. In fact, China’s solar companies lead not only the world, but also those supposedly nonpareil exemplars of American capitalism, the Seven Sisters oil conglomerates – BP, Chevron, Shell, Exxon and the rest. According to a Bloomberg headline June 13, “Solar Power’s Giants Are Providing More Energy Than Big Oil.” Who are those solar power giants? Seven Chinese companies.

 Put this in the context of Beijing charging ahead of everyone in green tech, and how does Biden help? By slapping tariffs on the technology that curbs climate change and thus opens a path out of our overheated morass. That tells you all you need to know about the Biden gang’s priorities: political grandstanding trumps preserving a livable world for humankind – by a lot.

Meanwhile, global warming threatens that livable world, first and foremost by gifting us drought. In Mexico City, population 23 million, as water in reservoirs evaporates, taps could run dry in the near future, like this summer. And that megalopolis ain’t alone. Robert Hunziker reports in CounterPunch June 14: “Bogota (8M pop.) recently started water rationing. Residents of Johannesburg (6M pop.) line up for municipal truck deliveries. South Delhi (2.7M pop.) announced a rationing plan on May 29. Several cities of Southern Europe have rationing plans on the table. In March 2024, China announced its first-ever National Level Regulations on Water Conservation, a disguised version of water rationing. Global warming is the key problem, as severe droughts clobber reservoirs.” If you think we here in the Exceptional Empire are exempt from this ominously thirsty future, think again.

“More than 550 neighborhoods,” posted Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam June 15, have been forced by record-breaking heat and years of worsening drought “to turn off their tap water in Mexico City. Officials are predicting ‘Day Zero,’ the moment the reservoirs will stop pumping and 6 million people will lose their water supply.” Simultaneously in the U.S., parts of the Gulf Coast and the mid-Atlantic coast experience exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Sections of New Mexico and Texas are under extreme drought, while large swaths of North America suffer severe and moderate drought or are “merely” abnormally dry. Nobody in their right mind is bothered by how water rationing could affect a yellowing lawn, but when your flowers wither and you face the prospect of limited bathing, alarm sets in.

For those who doubt that earth, our only home, is warming, nota bene: June 13 was the hottest day in our planet’s recorded history, and this calefaction comes in a context of regular, predictable temperature rises over the past decade. The average global surface temperature of 62.3 degrees Fahrenheit beat the previous day’s old record. “Record smashing heatwaves are ongoing,” tweeted Colin McCarthy of U.S. Stormwatch, “in India, China, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, just to name a few places.” Then on June 18, McCarthy reported that temps that day in Mecca were the hottest in that locale’s recorded history, namely 125.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat there killed roughly 1300 pilgrims, as of June 20. I might add that starting June 17, the American Midwest and Northeast got slammed with abnormally high temps enduring for an unfortunate stretch of days on end.

People started recording global heat in 1850. Last year was the hottest on record by a lot, while overall the warmest years ever observed are 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023. If you’re a climate denier and don’t detect a pattern, you win the ostrich head-in-the-sand award of the year, because these are some truly lousy stats. They mean that the most sizzling years in the 174-year record all happened between 2014 and 2023 and pretty much seriatim – almost as if our planet’s fever keeps rising regularly. This, people, is something we want to stop. That means attacking the pathogen causing the illness, namely burning fossil fuels.

But don’t think high temperatures are the only curse of capitalism run amok. According to the Washington Post June 10, every time you breathe, you could inhale microplastics. The worst are tiny fibers from nylon or polyester clothing. But these plastic slivers in human lungs, livers, other organs, blood, placentas, breast milk and testicles come from loads of other sources, too. What they’re really good at is “stressing the body’s immune system.” So it’s past time to take cloth bags to the grocery store and to skip the plastic ones they offer you. You may just be helping your circulatory system – one spot of microplastics’ worst impacts. “People with microplastics in the lining of their arteries [are] more likely to suffer heart attack, stroke or death from any cause…microplastics can cause tissue damage, allergic reactions and even cell death.” Phthalates or bisphenol A, two chemicals in plastics “cause hormonal imbalances and disrupt the reproductive system.” Fun times – unless somebody somewhere in power starts banning whole categories of this toxin. Some plastics are indispensable, like those for medical equipment. But most aren’t. We could save our lives by ditching them, fast.

Scientists expect to find microplastics in every part of the human body, the New York Times reported June 7. The problem is controlling exposure. Microplastics are shed by “the materials used in car tires, food manufacturing, paint,” and lots else. The Times quotes a University of California San Francisco professor advising to eat less highly processed foods. “One study of 16 protein types found that while each contained microplastics, highly processed products like chicken nuggets” – consumed by millions of children in their school lunches – “contained the most per gram of meat,” likely because “highly processed foods have more contact with plastic food-production equipment.” (Maybe switch to metal.) The Times also suggests using wooden cutting boards rather than plastic ones and replacing plastic food containers with glass ones. Oh, and surprise, surprise, more plastic infects bottled water than tap water. In fact, microplastics are everywhere, drifting around the top of Mr. Everest and embedded in the North Pole’s ice sheets (which are melting).

Drought, water shortages in major cities, once-in-a-millennium floods every other year, heat waves of an intensity never experienced before, ubiquitous, killer plastic – it all adds up to an ugly picture of decayed, financialized capitalism out of control. The only solution lies with that right-wing bogeyman, government, because corporations clearly are not about to self-regulate. If we had a functioning government, one not bought by plutocrats, and a workable regulatory framework, we could smile optimistically at our future. But we don’t, so we need to get them, tout de suite.

In a very much related matter, if uber-polluter U.S. is to compete in the world economically, it needs to de-financialize and reindustrialize – but not on the dirty 19th-century model; instead in an intelligent, green way. This is unlikely, I know, in the land of the fast buck. But there’s lots of frenzied chatter in bigwig political circles and the nearly useless mainstream media about keeping pace with China. Fine. The sane reaction is not to provoke a nuclear holocaust over Taiwan, it’s to reindustrialize. We may not be able to bring back those good jobs our corporate masters so gleefully exported around the globe for cheaper labor, but why not just cultivate them here, with financial and governmental incentives? Nurture new manufacturing, yes. But don’t kill us all with heat waves or poison us with microplastics in the process, please.

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