Robert Reich focuses in his latest Guardian column on Monday, Aug. 2, on the resistance of the Covid pandemic and Trump’s malevolent hucksterism to dissipate and disappear from our lives. Yet both persist. Both refuse to slink away and let us be. Both still present clear and present dangers to every American, and indeed, to every human.
Reich is right, and I find it all very depressing. It is hard not to despair of this country’s future, and for that of the world, given the increasingly poor prospects that the UN climate summit to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, will produce an effective response to the climate crisis.
Key to the success of that summit, called COP26, are the rich, developed, countries in the G7 (US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada) and the BRICS, the large, rapidly emerging nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). Together, these dozen countries are the main emitters of the so-called greenhouse gases that trap the sun’s heat, causing global temperatures to rise and the climate to change for the worse. The main GHGs (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone), are mostly produced by burning fossil fuels (mostly coal, oil, and natural gas).
These 12 countries are the most important pieces on the global chess board. Australia and Spain aren’t quite big enough to be included in the G7; Russia was a member of the G8 before it was kicked out for invading the Ukraine and annexing Crimea. All the other nations are pretty much pawns in the game, although collectively, as in chess, they have some clout.
The US was instrumental in shepherding the 2015 UN Climate Summit in Paris (COP21), to a collective commitment by 195 nations to limit global heating to 2°C (3.6°F), to an accord now known as the Paris Agreement. To play the same role in Glasgow, the US has to be able to show the rest of the world that it is making serious efforts to control its own emissions. President Biden “gets” the existential nature of the climate threat, and has proposed sweeping initiatives to rapidly transition the US economy from one based in fossil fuels to one based on sources of energy that don’t produce GHGs. His ambitious plans for the climate have to pass a polarized, dysfunctional Congress to be enacted. Their passage is far from certain. Slivers of those plans were in the $1.9tn COVID Relief Bill passed in May, and in the $1.1tn bipartisan Infrastructure bill now, finally, before the Senate. The main parts of Biden’s climate agenda are included in the $3.5tn infrastructure bill that Democrats hope to enact through the Reconciliation process that needs only a majority vote to pass. To succeed, all 50 Democratic Senators need to vote for it, a result still very much in doubt. If they fail, Glasgow will likely fail to elicit the level of commitment by the major players to forestall the deterioration of the climate past the 1.5°C (2.7°F) rise that nearly all climate scientists and economists agree will have catastrophic social, economic, and political consequences.
So yes, as Reich describes, Trump’s continued espousal of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, the continued willingness of all but a few elected Republicans to perpetuate that lie and others promoted by Trump, and the continued hold Trump has on most of his base, are all still with us. Together, they constitute a grave threat to America’s democracy and, it’s not too alarmist to say, a world order in tumult and a climate less and less hospitable for humans.