As a preview of the virtual climate summit that President Biden will convene on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22 and Friday the 23rd, the article entitled, Joe Biden Faces Major Test Building US Credibility at Climate Summit, by Oliver Milman in The Guardian is a useful heads-up to all Americans, not just climate activists. The headline the article carries, however, is inaccurate. It’s not Joe Biden who faces a major test of building U.S. credibility on climate change. It is America in general and the U.S. Senate in particular who are being tested.
Biden has made it crystal clear by his announcements, his Executive Orders, and his appointments that he understands that the climate crisis to be an existential threat to the country and the world, so vital that he has mandated that climate be an essential component of every department and agency of his administration. He has laid out, in broad strokes, a far more ambitious climate agenda than any previous President. He has stated that he wants America’s electricity system to have net zero carbon emissions by 2035, and that he wants to reduce all emissions 45% by 2030 and to zero by 2050. He has done most of what he can through Executive Orders. However, to implement his full agenda he needs Congress to pass legislation enabling and enforcing the sweeping changes that decarbonizing the American economy entails.
Displacing the fossil fuel industry from the central position it has held in America’s society and economy since the 1950s is a monumental task. The industry employs millions of Americans in its various facets, from coal mining to oil and gas exploration, drilling, production, shipment, refinement, distribution, advertising, and sales to consumers through thousands of gas stations.
Gasoline-powered automobiles dominate the transportation sector, employing hundreds of thousands in production, promotion, new and used car dealerships, selling and adjusting vehicle insurance, auto maintenance, cleaning, repair, and disposal. Aviation flies on oil specially refined as jet fuel. In America’s manufacturing sector, heavy industry runs on fossil fuels. Production of steel and concrete, which are very energy intensive, depend especially on fossil fuels.
Farming in America is highly industrialized; its tractors, tillers, planters, balers, combines, and utility vehicles all run on gasoline. Grain is stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled silos. Dairy cows are coddled in heated barns, fed automatically, and milked with electrical milking machines.
Plastics, ubiquitous in American society, are made from petroleum products.
Natural gas is used in most homes for heating, bathing, and cooking. Most offices have heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that run on electricity generated in plants fired by either coal, natural gas, or oil.
Retrofitting America’s built environment will cost trillions and employ millions for the next three decades, but it must be done if humans are to preserve the favorable climatic conditions we have enjoyed with only short deviations for our entire existence — not too hot or cold, not too wet or dry, stable enough to plan, plant, harvest, and hoard for winter; to adapt survive, and thrive.
Our profligate use of fossil fuels has powered the rise of human civilization from when we huddled around a fire for warmth and depended on what we could catch or kill to keep us alive. Abundance and comfort cosset many but not all Americans today.
Yet a byproduct of our addiction to fossil fuels now threatens to eject us from our contemporary Eden. The so-called greenhouse gases (GHGs) — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide — trap energy from the sun, preventing it from being radiated back into space, and heating up the Earth. The extra heat is altering the complex interplay of the climate’s subsystems of winds, water, currents, land mass, terrain features, seasonality due to Earth’s tilt and orbit, and the Sun’s own variability. That’s why we’re experiencing increasingly abnormal weather — record heat waves, longer droughts, more frequent and fiercer extreme weather events like hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, even tornadoes.
Climate scientists are 97% united in their assessment that conditions will only deteriorate further if mankind as a whole doesn’t cease emitting greenhouse gases. They have determined that to avoid the most calamitous effects of a climate turned hostile those emissions must end by 2050, only 29 years from now.
The 2015 Paris Agreement committed nearly every country to limit their emissions to meet that goal. However, most countries are lagging badly in meeting their commitments. The absence of American leadership during the last four years has slowed progress, losing precious time to effect the massive transition required to preserve a hospitable home for humans. Time is now the enemy, a resource we have wasted since climate scientist James Hansen first warned the U.S. Congress of the danger more than 30 years ago. Now we must act urgently and comprehensively.
President Biden understands the scale of the problem and its urgency. He hopes to rally 40 of his fellow world leaders at his virtual Summit this week. For America to lead the global mobilization that’s needed, Congress must embrace the challenge as if it were a mission to send a man to the moon and return him safely within a decade, or an imminent World War III.
And most importantly, we the American people must put aside our differences and unite in demanding that America save itself and all mankind from the chaos and misery of an uninhabitable Earth.
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