Replay: Are we finally getting serious about climate change?

Joe Biden has unveiled the most ambitious climate plan in American history. Can he really make it happen?

Welcome to EarthWatch, an environmental news and opinion newsletter for people who think you should never turn your back on Mother Earth—written by me, Jerry Bowles, an ancient scribbler who has been around the Sun a few times and doesn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

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I’m taking a day off to the enjoy the glorious camellias in my backyard in Charleston, SC so this is a replay of the very first EarthWatch post I made back on February 1. I had only about eight readers at the time so I’m guessing it will be new to most of you. Bon weekend, as we used to say in West Virginia. See you on Monday. Jerry

Originally posted 2/1/2021

That mysterious blast of fresh air swirling around your neighborhood the past three weeks is just the earth breathing a colossal sigh of relief after four years of being ravaged by the worst stewards of the environment in American history.

Our climate change-denying former president never saw a forest he didn’t want to cut down, drill in, or build pipelines (or extremely cheap ugly buildings) on. He believed forest fires could be prevented by sweeping forests more frequently. Picture a flotilla of cute little Roombas hoovering the Francis Marion National Forest around the clock.

His interest in water was whether toilets were getting enough pressure to flush exuberantly enough which is, let’s face it, a rather odd obsession. The cruelest misdirection of his regulatory “drain the swamp” agenda was to pack the EPA and other agencies with industry lobbyists who then gleefully trashed rules designed to keep industries from killing animals, plants, and people.

The incoming Biden administration arrived with an army of brooms and mops and immediately began cleaning up the combustive mess that Trump and his minions left behind. In its first three weeks, the administration rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, halted the Keystone Pipeline, paused new federal oil leases. pledged to electrify the government’s enormous fleet of vehicles and build out a network of electric-car charging stations nationwide, reserve 30 percent of federal land and water for conservation purposes, and make climate policy central to national security and foreign policy decisions.

Biden promised that his directives would lead to “a clean energy revolution” that will put the country on a path to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Taken at face value, this is by far the most ambitious climate and environmental agenda ever proposed by an American President, including the Obama administration of which Biden was a part.

The obvious question, of course, is can he really pull off a turnaround of this scale when Congress and the American public are so bitterly divided?

It won’t be easy. Biden—like his immediate predecessors—is depending on Executive Orders to accomplish things that in a sane country with a functioning political system would be done through legislation, with reasonable input from both sides. America is not that country right now. It may never be again. That means that the next climate cretin to sit in the Oval Office can undo almost everything Biden has planned by Executive Order, much as Biden has done with Trump’s EOs. Getting big things done in this political reality is often a matter of one party controlling the purse strings until an initiative is completely finished or so far along that there is no turning back. On a positive note, that is why there will be no border wall that Mexico was never going to pay for.

“Politics is the art of the possible,” as Patty Lupone used to sing in her Evita days. Is it possible to sell positive environmental change to millions of voters who take their cues from politicians who believe, or claim to believe. that this whole “green” business thing is just a wussy ploy by elite liberals to take away their right to level forests, dig holes in the earth and flood them with toxic chemicals, build mining roads through pristine wilderness, level mountaintops and burn whatever natural resources are necessary to keep dying but wealthy, industries afloat.

To put it another way, if millions of Americans can’t be persuaded to wear a simple mask to keep from killing themselves and others in the middle of a global pandemic, how in God’s name can you convince them to give a rat’s ass about carbon emissions and the fate of pronghorn antelope and oily sea turtles?

Despite all the obstacles, I’m more optimistic than I have been for a long time. Climate change is top of the agenda in every boardroom in the world, as individual companies are taking action at the behest of their customers and investors. The economics of the solar industry are improving dramatically every year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has always opposed aggressive action from the federal government is on board with the Biden plan. Companies are falling over themselves in the race to get to zero emissions and General Motors’ plan to end production of all diesel and gasoline powered cars, trucks and SUVs by 2035 is a gamechanger.

The urgent problem is how to persuade the one-third of the American populace that is convinced that any progressive initiative—on any issue, including climate—is part of some Satanic plot to take over the world by a blood-sucking cult of pedophiles. Yes, my friends, it has come to this. These people vote and they regularly send neanderthals like Marjore Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan and Louie Gohmert to Congress.

If we’re ever going to get anywhere, we have to get better people into Congress and state legislatures. We have to market the environmental crisis better and stop talking in cute slogans to the whiners and doubters. We have to try to avoid making it about the educated elites versus the great unwashed. Words matter. People who say the words matter. To his credit, Joe Biden has cleverly attempted to tie his climate plan to “economic stimulus” and “jobs creation” and “national security.” Look for his forthcoming infrastructure bill to be heavy on positive climate initiatives too.

Like face masks, “green” and “climate” are triggers that usually lead to nasty and futile interactions on Facebook and other social media. We should avoid those and talk about economic outcomes, new forms of growth, new jobs, new opportunities for revitalizing dying communities.

In short, we need to be smart and cool. Don’t bring up the pronghorn antelope and the oily sea turtles on the first date.

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