Round 10 in the Fight to Save the Planet - and Fatigue Has Set-in
US Renew Op-Ed | By: Todd J Broadman | August 1, 2022
Header photo taken from: AP Photo / Noah Berger
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Photo taken from: Caitlin O’Hara / The New York Times
Global warming as our single most important political issue has begun to wane, taking a backseat to economic concerns. A scant 1 percent of those recently polled by the New York Times / Siena College perceive climate change as the most important U.S. issue. That low ranking for climate as an issue held true for those under 30 as well. As this is a long-term issue and one that requires long-term determination, the apparent widespread apathy is cause for concern.
While we know that party affiliation plays a role in the perceived importance of this topic, we also know that if there is no direct experience of the impact of climate change on an individual’s life, motivation to act tends to waiver and often declines. In each succeeding year since 2010 there have been increasing extreme weather events that do impact lives. 2021 was the fourth-hottest in United States history. And the media is covering this summer’s wildfires and droughts, providing updates on Europe’s plight. Americans tend to feel more of a relationship with Europeans than they do with other groups.
A recent comment reflects broader change in voter sentiment: “Climate change is always going to be a problem. That’s just a given. Honestly, there’s only so much our leaders of the country can do.” Inflation, and its effect on housing and food, have now taken center stage along with the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Over and above this, “People are exhausted by the pandemic, they’re terribly disillusioned by the government,” observed Anusha Narayanan, climate campaign director for Greenpeace.
Those whose passions were ignited by Greta Thunberg and Al Gore before her, have witnessed grand proclamations to address climate change only to be let down by lack of action on the ground. Last week, we saw an ambitious $2 trillion dollar program to reduce carbon emissions all but expire in the Senate due to concerns about inflation and tax hikes. A paltry $2.5 billion to assist with an infrastructure of electric vehicle charging stations was approved. This will do little to meet bold pledges to cut CO2 emissions.
Meanwhile, the latest IPCC projections put the earth on track for a temperature rise of 3°C (5.4°F) rise by the year 2100. UN secretary-general António Guterres described this latest report as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.” In the face of being directly in line with devastating climate impacts, citizens are reacting to what they perceive as a failure of leadership and turning away. It remains to be seen if a unified political movement can re-emerge, even if large numbers in the U.S. become displaced climate refugees.
The political paralysis characteristic of the U.S. legislature is just one of several significant developments that have led to a malaise and growing disappointment over repeated missed opportunities to take action to save a threatened planet. There is also the ever-present blame-game. China, the world’s largest emitter would not commit to any concrete actions to reduce their carbon footprint at COP26. 75% of India’s electricity is generated by burning coal and their position is to increase its usage going forward. With this as backdrop, the U.S. justifies its finger-pointing and rationalizes inaction.
The world’s poor, largely in the southern hemisphere point their fingers at the relatively wealthy north who they claim are the cause of their looming climate plight. More than half of Africa’s population will likely be displaced due to drought and resulting famine conditions now underway. At COP27 – to take place in Egypt in November – financing from the rich to the poorer countries in the form of a “loss and damage facility” will be on the agenda. We are already in the damage mitigation phase, and here we can expect little in the way of actual funding and coordination on the ground.
Consistent with the paralysis and finger-pointing is the long string of broken promises. The G7 broke a promise by making the decision to invest in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry. Germany issued this as rationale: “[Our investment is] a necessary response to Russia’s war on Ukraine and the related impacts on global fossil fuel supplies.” The U.S. for its part would seem more transparent about its lack of intention to keep its promises. There will be no “Build Back Better.”
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The media itself, a corporate oligopoly itself, has played a key role in downplaying the need for political action while intensifying the concerns of buck-passing and finger-pointing. The media has determined their own economic model is not enhanced by in-depth reporting and holding politicians to promises, even when it involves the fate the living planet. Extractive industries and the banks that fund them are given a relatively free hand to continue their pursuit of profits without consequences. The media again remains silent.
In a sense, at least in the U.S., the waning interest in climate change can be seen as a victory by polluting industries and their well-managed and sumptuously funded information campaigns. Charles Koch who heads Koch Industries, the largest private company in the U.S., best exemplifies the effectiveness of “dark money.”
The right-wing activist network that he and partners financed over many years has paid dividends in the appointment of Supreme Court justices and their resulting decisions. One observer noted that the West Virginia v. EPA decision “represents the culmination of years of attacks by Koch-funded groups on these rules.” The power of predatory capitalism overrides environmental concerns.
There has been a tangible capitulation and surrender to these forces. Those who are willing to make sacrifices for a renewed planet are becoming more dejected. All the reasons I have described for this foreboding trend are contained within a statement given by Chuka Umunna, head of Environmental, Social and Governance for JP Morgan, when asked about their continued financing of the petroleum industry.
“We reflect society. Society has not come off oil and gas. We all want to get to the promised land where we do substantially reduce our reliance on oil and gas. But we do not, unfortunately, have renewables at scale right now to replace oil and gas… And that’s not JP Morgan’s fault. That is society’s challenge.”
The values menu has not changed: profits before people and planet. And we are witnessing the stunning success of that values mission in the demoralized apathy of the citizenry.