Record fires in Oregon and California. Floods in Houston and New York. Deadly winter storms in Texas. Droughts across much of the west. Flash floods in England and Germany. Blinding dust storms in China. One hundred year cyclones devastate Fiji and Indonesia. Deadly droughts across sub-Saharan Africa. Wildfires in Greece and Italy.
The year is not over yet, but in the United States and across the world, the toll in lives and destruction is growing in storms of biblical proportion. The poorest peoples and the poorest nations are most at risk, but no one is insulated against the impact. The wealthy on Lake Tahoe are evacuated in the face of unprecedented wildfires. Texan oilmen struggle when record winter storms shut down the electric system. Wall Street bankers are hit with floods sweeping through subways and streets.
As the storms increase, food supplies and prices will be hit. Millions will be displaced. There is no longer any doubt about the reality of global warming, the dangers of it, or the causes of it. Republicans who for years scorned the reality of global warming — Donald Trump dubbed it a “Chinese hoax” — now accept that it is real. Corrupted scientists paid by oil companies that argued the crisis wasn’t manmade, now quietly reverse their opinions. Now the only question is: what will we do in the face of what the United Nations warns is literally an existential threat?
We can’t undo what we have done, but we can alter how bad the future becomes. We can move to sustainable and efficient energy systems, make production and housing and transport more energy efficient, replant forests, invent new ways to generate or save energy, or more. In its last authoritative report, the UN issued what it called a “code red for humanity.” The change must take place over the next decade or we will seed calamities too horrible to imagine. Already this year, the town Lytton, British Columbia, in Canada was erased by a hit so extreme — temperatures reached 121 degrees — that it literally went up in smoke and was reduced to ashes.
And yet, we keep putting more and more carbon in the atmosphere. Like addicts on drugs, we know we are killing ourselves but can’t resist the high. Feeding deadly drug addictions — from heroin to crack to fentanyl — are multitrillion-dollar enterprises, some corporate, some gangs, all criminal. They have the power not only to slake the thirst of the addicted, but to corrupt the guardians — the police on the street, the politicians in the suites, the CEOs in the boardrooms.
Can we summon up the awareness, the moral courage, and the popular demand to meet this clear, present and growing threat to our lives? Over the next few weeks, Congress will face yet one more skirmish in this struggle between the blind and the aware, the corrupt and the alarmed, the powers that be and the powers that must be. Democrats in the House and Senate are now working to draft and to pass the core elements of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan.
Central to that are the first major investments in addressing climate change — mass transit, electric cars, rebuilding housing, solar and wind energy, an end to fossil fuel subsidies, modernizing the electric grid, creating a civilian climate corps that can enlist the energy of the young to retrofit houses and plant trees and much more. Republicans no longer deny the existence of the threat and admit that it is manmade in origin.
Now they argue that it is too costly to do anything about it. They raise alarms that developing new energy and electric cars and retrofitting homes will somehow hurt jobs and the economy, when in fact, the transition to sustainable energy will be a source of new demand, new invention and new jobs and growth. Moreover, the U.S. would surely benefit if it became the leader in the new green technologies that surely will drive growth markets across the world. Plus, with their leaders convinced they will benefit politically if Biden fails, Republicans have lined up unanimously to oppose the Biden plan. So, making progress on climate demands completely on Democrats.
With the Senate split 50-50 between the two parties, and Republicans unanimously opposed, Democrats must vote unanimously so Vice President Harris can break the tie to pass a budget bill that would contain the first major investments in dealing with climate change. That won’t be easy. Despite popular support for reforms, big interests are mobilized against change led by Big Oil, the coal barons, and companies hooked on fossil fuels, the deadly crack of our time. An army of lobbyists has descended on Washington.
Deep-pocket donors are calling in their chips. When a politician like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) says he needs “greater clarity” and won’t support the Biden plan, particularly its measures designed to accelerate the transition to renewable energy by utility companies, he isn’t confused, he is compromised. The legislative process — the ugly sausage-making of the Congress — is confusing, secret and arcane. It seldom generates headlines or attention. But right now — in the next few weeks — this Congress will decide if we take the first steps to address a threat already taking a rising toll in lives and destruction. The interests invested in stopping change are mobilized. The only hope is that we the people rise up to demand the change that is desperately needed.