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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

This Is Only Going to Get Worse Until We Make It Stop

Republicans want to maximize the catastrophic heating of the globe. Democrats want to pretend to be doing something without taking on the fossil fuel industry. Without aggressive, angry climate activism, we face utter disaster.

I turned 34 yesterday. I had a great day, and things in my life are going well right now (in large part thanks to the wonderful readers of this magazine, who are consistently kind and supportive). For the most part, I’m excited about the future. 

But then there’s the climate catastrophe. It’s been incredibly, unbearably hot here for two straight months. I’m used to hot summers. I grew up in Florida. But this is a suffocating, unbearable heat. It’s the worst summer I’ve ever gone through. After a few minutes out in the heat, I feel totally exhausted. And everyone I overhear in the city is saying the same thing: It was never like this before. Dozens of Louisianans have died from the heat. We are roasting. The plants are dying. I’m one of the lucky ones, because I work indoors in the AC. Plenty of people have to endure this all day. And because New Orleans un-solved its homelessness crisis, for many people on the street, there is no relief at all. 

I want to feel upbeat and optimistic about the future. But every time I go outside, I feel dread. Is this just going to get worse and worse? What on earth will it be like in 30 years? Where are we headed? 

My dread quickly turns to rage. We know there’s a climate emergency, but the two major political parties in the United States simply refuse to acknowledge the need to do anything. The Republicans, as we saw in their first televised debate, are all totally deranged. Vivek Ramaswamy said outright that “the climate change agenda is a hoax.” Ramaswamy has said he believes that climate change itself is real, but rejects the “agenda” (i.e., the demand to do something to stop it). He thinks we need to keep using fossil fuels for the sake of human “prosperity.” This position is actually even more ludicrous than climate change denial, which could at least come from a place of sincere scientific ignorance. Ramaswamy believes that the problem is real, and we should actively make the situation worse by continuing to boil the planet. This makes the satire that we saw in the movie Don’t Look Up look mild. It’s as if a group of the film’s characters decided that not only should we not stop the asteroid, but we should actively try to get it to hit us. 

Ramaswamy’s position is not fringe among Republicans, although he was booed by the debate audience. He’s simply being frank about the policy that they all share. The Republicans have a plan for rolling back every attempt to contain greenhouse gas emissions and escalating drilling as much as possible. The other Republicans at the debate refused to acknowledge climate change as a problem, and it’s certain that they’ll do absolutely nothing about it in office. The party’s policy is that we should hurl ourselves into the abyss, going full steam ahead with burning fossil fuels no matter what the consequences are. 

There’s an astonishing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today (where the right works out all of its worst ideas), calling for a “playbook” to fight against “sustainability.” The author says there needs to be a war to stop us from “using private capital to fund a global energy transition.” They argue that environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) measures need to be stopped at all cost, and encourage those who oppose ESG to focus on stopping climate mitigation in particular. Time is running out, they say: 

The time clock for mitigating climate change by 2030 through ESG and sustainable development began ticking in 2015. We’ve now crossed the halfway point. To stave off the left’s strategy of climate doomsaying and financial re-engineering, the anti-ESG squad needs a stronger game plan for the second half.

Usually, when you read that “the time clock for mitigating climate change by 2030” is running out, people are saying that we urgently need to mitigate climate change. This person, amazingly, is saying that we have to hurry up and stop the mitigation of climate change. 

Okay, so one party’s position is that the biggest crisis facing the world should be escalated no matter how many millions die. Unfortunately, elected Democrats have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything about the climate catastrophe. The Biden administration, outrageously, tried to get a landmark climate lawsuit dismissed, on the grounds that “there is no constitutional right to a stable climate system.” Biden continues to approve thousands of new permits for oil and gas drilling and refuses to declare a climate emergency. Even Biden’s landmark “climate bill,” while it invested in green energy, was also a “boon for the fossil fuel industry.” 

Liberals say they care about climate change, but they don’t really. The New York Times not only runs ads for the fossil fuel industry, but helps to create them. Look at this video of rich Nantucket Democrats being confronted by climate protesters. The protesters were (rightly) trying to get  Democratic Governor Maura Healey to stop new fossil fuel projects. The rich people at her fundraiser are furious at the disruptive protesters. The following incredible dialogue ensues between a protester and a wealthy man in a sport coat I’m going to call Martha’s Vineyard Man: 

Martha’s Vineyard Man:

You have no idea how to get things done.


We’re afraid, because our lives are going to end.

Martha’s Vineyard Man:

My life too, we’re all the same age.


No, we’re not. I’m 20. How old are you? 

Martha’s Vineyard Man:

I have kids that are 9. Okay? You have absolutely no idea how to get things done. 


No, can you tell me? What are you doing to help?

Martha’s Vineyard Man:

I have solar everything. I have solar in my house.


Is your individual act going to help us? No, the act of someone in power is going to help.

Martha’s Vineyard Man:

If you had half a brain…


We have no money. Maura has power. And she can help save us. But she’s not.

Martha’s Vineyard Man:

But your rudeness prevents you…


We’re going to die! Who cares how rude we are?

Martha’s Vineyard Man:

I don’t mind if you die. 

This exchange is incredible. First off, the protester deserves a great deal of credit for making exactly the right points and giving perfect responses to the man. She points out that even though this man says that they are rude and don’t know “how to get things done,” he himself isn’t getting anything done! She notes that individual action is not going to solve the problem, the whole reason they’re there is to stop the Democrats from approving new fossil fuel projects, to pressure the powerful to take actions that will meaningfully affect the problem. She rightly notes that it is ridiculous to care about “rudeness” in the face of a deadly calamity.

Now, the fellow I call “Martha’s Vineyard Man” is reportedly a real estate mogul named Bruce Percelay. I call him Martha’s Vineyard Man not because I know he hangs out there (although he probably does), but because he has the Martha’s Vineyard Mindset, the pathology of rich liberals. In a short clip he manages to display many classic obnoxious traits, of the kind Phil Ochs astutely identified decades ago in “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” and which Martin Luther King Jr. responded to in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail. This type of person says: I sympathize with your cause, but you must not be too disruptive or ask for too much. The idea is that it is Pragmatic to go slow. But this is false, as the protester revealed, because the supposedly Pragmatic types have nothing to show for their “pragmatism” beyond a few solar panels on their roofs. They are not solving the problem.

In fact, there is evidence that it is pragmatic to be angry and disruptive. The angrier you are about climate change, the more you’re motivated to do something about it. We need an uncompromising climate movement that is enraged. In fact, anger is the correct reaction to the way rich sociopaths like Ramaswamy (a billionaire) and Martha’s Vineyard Man are destroying the possibility of having a livable future. We need to be much more aggressive, because it’s very clear that Democrats intend to sit on their hands doing nothing (while pretending to be doing something), while Republicans want to gleefully hurl us into the abyss.

As global warming gets worse, we are not seeing the deniers change their minds and start supporting radical action to stop the emergency. As Greece and Maui burn, all the coral dies, Canada burns, and people drop dead across the country from extreme heat, you’d think we’d see some people backing down on their commitment to fossil fuels. No. Instead, we see those on the right calling for a war against climate mitigation, or laughing on television at the idea of people boiling to death

They don’t care if we die. Martha’s Vineyard Man spoke for his class. He’s going to have a great rest of his life. Unfortunately, men like him have a lot of power to shape policy in this country. If we want the climate horror to stop, we have to act. This is going to continue to get worse until we make it stop.

What do we do to make it stop? Well, it’s been really encouraging to see young climate protesters demonstrate a new militancy. They’re an inspiration. They take their obligations seriously. In thinking about what it would take to spur the necessary action, I think we need to make it clear that any politician who refuses to prioritize the problem, and take meaningful (not symbolic) action is an enemy of humanity. We also need to make it clear that this is a solvable problem that has a cause and a perpetrator. The extreme heat people are experiencing is not natural or unavoidable. It’s happening because the profits of fossil fuel companies are prioritized over the well-being of humanity. To that end, I think the new billboards by Make Polluters Pay (above) are excellent. They give the public a clear message: This is not random. We know why it’s going on, and whose fault it is. Our job is to stop those who are doing it to us.

We have all the ingredients to give our species a wonderful future. There’s no reason it should have to be bleak and apocalyptic. Climate change didn’t have to happen. We could have transitioned away from fossil fuel use before it threatened us to this degree. But, in part because the industry lied and bought off politicians, now we’re in a disaster situation. We have to pull ourselves out of it. Nobody is coming to save us. The only path forward depends on aggressive activism that ends the careers of politicians who want to let us burn.

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