A Question Needing Answers

The New York Times' Ezra Klein asks a question on the minds of many - can Western democracy rise to meet the challenge of the climate emergency?

Klein has convened a panel of environmental thinkers. Their identities probably won't mean much to those reading these posts and the article is a bit on the long side so I'll just select quotes without attribution. 

It can seem an impolite question, even as it’s the path we’re on. President Biden’s climate agenda is both ambitious and, on its own, insufficient. Its political prospects are mixed at best. The international picture is little better. Only a few countries are on track to meet the goals laid out in the Paris agreement, and none of the major emitters are among them.

...With the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration was comfortable using deficit spending because it was an acute crisis. That is not the case for the infrastructure package. They don’t actually consider climate to be that type of crisis. And there is still a real desire to have this transformation happen in a way that is painless, and painless for particular people, and to have the same type of people bear the pain that often bear the pain of the system — largely Black, Latino, poor communities.

...we are stuck in an international system of nation-states, and we don’t have time to invent and institute any kind of alternative world governance, so we have to use what we’ve got. But we also have the Paris agreement, and climate equity was written into it so that developed rich nations were tasked with paying more and doing more and helping the historically disadvantaged and even colonized nations. Executing all that is, of course, a different story.

...It is a fragile system. It could become like the League of Nations. In the future, to the extent that there will be historians, they may look back and say it was a good idea that failed. People may look back to our time and say, Here was a crux, and then they blew it. This is the power of the basic science-fictional exercise of looking at our own time as if from the future, thus judging ourselves as actors in creating history. From that imaginary perspective, it can sometimes become blazingly obvious what we should do now. Parochial concerns over quarterly returns or the selfish privileges of currently existing wealthy people fade to insignificance when you take the long view and see us teetering on the edge of causing a mass-extinction event that would hammer all future living creatures.

...Covid functioned, in some ways, as a test run for how our political systems would handle the disruptions of climate change. It was a crisis that experts had warned about for years and years. And we didn’t really prepare at all. And then it hit. And so you’d imagine that the last year has led to a tremendous sharpening of our catastrophic imagination, that the idea that the perils we are told will come are not abstract, that they really do come and they really transform our lives. On the other hand, you can read it the opposite way: It’s a potentially scary lesson in how much external destruction the rich countries, if they can protect themselves, will get used to. How has the pandemic changed your model of how societies will envision and then respond to true catastrophe?

...When we retire anything that emits carbon dioxide, we must replace it with the thing that won’t emit carbon dioxide. And that will only get us under two degrees if we have a World War II “arsenal of democracy”-style intervention in the economy. Back then, American manufacturing was ramped up to make the materials to win the war: bullets, tanks, airplanes, Liberty ships. The bullets to win this war are batteries, electric vehicles, offshore wind platforms, wind turbines, solar, rooftop solar and heat pumps. All those industries are about 10 times below the production rates we need to hit this target. No better time to do that than coming out of the pandemic, when unemployment is high and we need to put people back to work.

...Because we absolutely have to decarbonize civilization as fast as we can, if that involves slowing down supply chains — meaning profits — and slowing down the economy generally, and slowing down our own personal travel around this planet, so that the planet grows bigger for those of us who do travel, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to understand that living in fossil fuels was to live in a smaller world, cocooned in crap. Decarbonization can actually make us more alive.

...And no matter what happens, there will be a class of people, all over the planet, who will have the money, the political connections, the insurance to move their houses inland or up the hill or whatever. And who knows, maybe the kind of thinking that we had in the United States back in the 1970s, about the population explosion and the need to control the global population, could make a return. You know, who cares if there is a winnowing out of global humanity if Noah’s ark can be made available for the rich?


  1. can Western democracy rise to meet the challenge of the climate emergency?

    And thus ends the first lesson.

    Western democracy ( never mind the rest) is bought and paid for by the multinationals.
    Until we can change our voting habits of right vs left and them vs us there is little room for improvement.
    Well meaning words fall on fallow ground when the sun don't shine!



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