Please talk me out of a grim climate crisis analysis and forecast
As I revise Universities on Fire I have been mulling over one way of looking at the climate crisis in recent history and the near future. It’s a grim view, specifically of the United States, and yet I can’t shake it. Please help talk me out of it.
Fair warning: I’m writing this in a hurry, caught between competing deadlines, so it’ll be a short post without a ton of links or development.
Let’s start with the American partisan divide over the climate crisis. Roughly speaking the Republican party either doesn’t think it matters, or thinks it’ll happen but humans didn’t do it and the government should stay out of the issue, or considers it a conspiracy/scam. In contrast the Democratic party has been increasingly interested in viewing climate change as a dire threat and wanting to do something about it.
So when Americans elected Trump and gave both houses of Congress to the Republicans in 2016, we were set for a climate crisis retreat on the political side. (This is one reason I saw my friend Bill McKibben campaigning fiercely for Hillary Clinton that year.) While civil society may have become more interested in the climate crisis, government was either stymied or retrograde. So that’s four years lost.
Then in 2020 the US elected Joe Biden. He pledged to treat the climate crisis as a leading threat. He proposed a series of programs and participated in the 2021 COP meeting. Yet all of that political energy ran into a political minefield. Many of those programs died in Congress, thanks to solid Republican opposition, plus being undermined by putative Democrats Manchin and Sinema. Meanwhile, Biden authorized more oil drilling.
Next, Putin attacked Ukraine and it looks like Biden’s political calculus changed. The American president responded to that new war by (among other things) calling for increased fossil fuel production (LNG to Germany, expanded infrastructure, etc.) in order to help countries avoid buying Russian oil and gas. As for alternatives, global opinion seems to hold that renewables (primarily solar and wind, also hydro) are not capable of being scaled up to meet potential energy shortfalls. In short, for geopolitical reasons, the White House led the way in increasing fossil fuel production.