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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

Do Democratic Politicians Understand That Fossil Fuels Have to Go?

The IPCC has made clear that expanding oil and gas infrastructure is suicidal insanity. Why are U.S. progressive politicians contemplating agreeing to it?

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released a “stark report card on the world’s progress on cutting emissions.” It looks at “what the world can do to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” As Vox reports, one of the main things we need to do is stop burning fossil fuels sooner rather than later

In the most ambitious scenario of limiting warming to around 1.5°C, the report concluded, global carbon dioxide emissions would need to peak in the next three years, and fall by nearly half in the next eight. It means most of the world would need to start to abandon existing fossil fuel infrastructure in the next decade, and also nix any new and existing coal-fired power plants and plans to expand offshore oil drilling.

Politico says of the report that it demands “a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and electrifying many of the things that currently run on fossil fuels.” Yet the report comes as “Europeans scramble to find new sources of oil and gas to end its dependency on Russia and the U.S. and others eye ramping up their production to fill the gap.” The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, laid out the stakes in a speech that castigated politicians around the work for their failures to act

[The new IPCC report] is a file of shame, cataloging the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unliveable world. We are on a fast track to climate disaster. Major cities under water. Unprecedented heatwaves. Terrifying storms. Widespread water shortages. The extinction of a million species of plants and animals. This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies. We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5°C limit agreed in Paris. Some Government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency. Climate scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts.  But, high‑emitting Governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye, they are adding fuel to the flames. They are choking our planet, based on their vested interests and historic investments in fossil fuels, when cheaper, renewable solutions provide green jobs, energy security and greater price stability. We left COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Glasgow with a naïve optimism, based on new promises and commitments.  But, the main problem — the enormous, growing emissions gap — was all but ignored… Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.

Now, let’s be clear: when the UN Secretary-General is talking about lying politicians who say they care about climate change but then don’t take action, his description covers U.S. Democrats. The Washington Post reported in January that while “environmentalists had hopes that President Biden would end the fossil fuel bonanza,” Biden actually “has outpaced Donald Trump in issuing drilling permits on public lands,” including “setting a record for the largest offshore lease sale last year in the Gulf of Mexico” and was then “plan[ning] to auction off oil and gas drilling rights on more than 200,000 acres across Western states by the end of March, followed by 1 million acres in the Cook Inlet, off the coast of Alaska.” The Biden administration “declined to defend the Obama administration’s 2016 coal moratorium, which Trump lifted two months after taking office” and instead “argued that environmentalists’ lawsuit to restore it should be dismissed on technical grounds.” The administration has insisted that its hands are tied by the law, but this is false in at least some cases. A federal judge actually canceled 1.7 million acres of drilling leases on the grounds that “the government had justified the sale using a flawed analysis.” Barack Obama has openly boasted about the fact that his administration was responsible for expanding fossil fuel production:

 “It went up every year I was in office. Suddenly America is the largest oil producer. That was me, people. It’s a little like, sometimes you go to Wall Street and folks will be grumbling about ‘anti-business.’ I said ‘Have you checked where your stocks were when I came into office and where they are now? What are you complaining about? Just say ‘thank you,’ please.” 

Obama might not get the thanks he feels he deserves for worsening the climate crisis, but according to the Post, the head of the Independent Petroleum Association of America has said that the Biden administration “should be credited with moving forward with the drilling permits.” 

On the very same day that the IPCC released its warning that we simply cannot build more fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to avoid climate catastrophe, Politico ran a news story saying that progressives in the House of Representatives are becoming more open to proposals that might expand fossil fuel production, if this will get corrupt coal baron Joe Manchin to support other climate policies. Furthermore, Politico says, “many on the left have backed Biden’s call for U.S. oil companies to increase their output to combat high prices — even though that production will drive up greenhouse gasses.” Rep. Ro Khanna commented that “If [Manchin] wants some increase for short-term production for the broader package of $500 billion on renewables, I am open to that… It’s not ideal for the climate, but I am not comfortable with Americans paying 6, 7 bucks for gas.” Donald McEachin, a member of the House Climate Crisis Committee, comments that “Every now and again you have to swallow a toad. And this is swallowing a toad.”

It’s a strange metaphor to use, because one thing about toads is that you do not have to swallow them “every now and then.” In fact, it’s possible to go through life (as I have) without ever swallowing a single toad. But it tells you a lot about the capitulating, easily-bullied spirit of Democrats that they can say things that sound like “Every now and then we all have to let other people dunk our heads in the toilet.” 

This should go without saying: do not swallow poisonous toads. Ever. Some actions are non-negotiable, because they can kill you. You can’t accept them as a “compromise” because suicide is not a rational “middle ground.” The IPCC has made clear that “projected carbon dioxide emissions ‘over the lifetime of existing and currently planned fossil fuel infrastructure’ would ensure the world overshoots the 1.5°C target.” That’s carbon emissions without new fossil fuel infrastructure. So these kinds of “poisonous toad” compromises are off the table. They’re not acceptable, period. There is no room for negotiation here. 

Let’s make it clear to all Democrats: You either accept the findings of the IPCC, or you deny them. If you deny that they are correct, and if you think António Guterres is lying or delusional, then say so. But do not say, as a member of the Climate Crisis committee, that while you are very seriously committed to addressing the climate crisis, you are also open to making it worse instead. If you’re open to making it worse, then get off the committee. Be honest about who you are. 

Jacobin magazine has rightly concluded that “the Democrats are climate deniers,” albeit in a more insidious way than Republicans, because they pretend to accept the science, while acting in ways that you could not rationally act if you actually did accept the science. Influential liberal pundit Matt Yglesias even recently wrote a column arguing that Democrats should embrace “more Manchinism,” castigating progressives for being so anti-Manchin and wondering why they seem so emotional in their opposition to him. The column did not mention climate change once—Yglesias doesn’t seem to grasp why people might be viscerally angry at someone who is guaranteeing their descendants a miserable future through his self-enrichment and sociopathic disregard for the well-being of the planet. 

Every politician, Democrats and Republicans alike, should be confronted constantly with the basic questions: Do you accept the IPCC’s findings or do you think Guterres is a liar? If you do accept the findings, then how do you plan to end fossil fuel use? They should be confronted at press conferences and in the halls of Congress. They should be confronted as they go and eat sandwiches. They should be pestered on the beaches and in the streets. Disruptive action is not enough, but it’s an important start. Those who will not act, or who sign suicidal compromise deals, are enemies of humanity. They are treating an atrocity as acceptable and twiddling their thumbs when we should be in a state of emergency. Anyone talking about “compromising” with measures that worsen the problem should be treated as a dangerous lunatic. They cannot be allowed to shove the poisonous toad of climate destruction down all of our throats. 

Photo by Jakob Rosen via Unsplash

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