The World Needs America’s Unwavering Response to the Climate Crisis

When the world shut down last year for the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, something happened to the air.

It got cleaner.

According to Global Carbon Project researchers, carbon emissions dropped by 2.4 billion tonnes in 2020 due to reduced air, rail, and road travel.

But, of course, they’re back up again.

In order to keep within safe, advisable levels, researchers publishing in Nature Climate Change explain CO2 emissions must decline equivalent to a global lockdown every two years for the next ten.

This comes at a time when historic climate catastrophes, devastating floods, wildfires, hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, acidic oceans, inundated cities, extreme and persistent heat waves, and the Atlantic Ocean circulation and the jet stream at their weakest in over a millenia, threaten to eliminate all life on Earth.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), February 2020 was the coldest on record in six years even though this winter ranked was among the top-10 warmest in the Northern hemisphere.

This week, devastating tornadoes and thunderstorms are predicted for the South.

We’ve seen over the past four years how absent American example and leadership causes other countries to shrug off their environmental commitments.

That’s why a coalition of American environmental groups is urging the Biden administration to commit to slashing carbon emissions by at least half by the end of the decade.

A new Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) report is calling on the new White House to commit to a “whole of government effort” toward the climate crisis, including a push for zero-emissions US-sold cars by 2035, a renewable energy clean electricity standard, and new methane emissions regulations in oil and gas drilling.

EDF vice-president for international climate, Nat Keohane, explained:

“The target has to be ambitious enough to show US leadership, but also credible, it can’t just be plucked from thin air. This is ambitious but also feasible. We need to show the US is bringing everything it can to this fight.”

The good news is, President Joe Biden is not Donald Trump.

Since his first day in office two months ago, Biden has been working overtime to either reverse or review Trump’s all-out assault on the environment, including establishing the most progressive climate policy in history, demanding the federal government pause and review oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and electrifying the government’s vehicle fleet.

In total, 21 federal agencies will now be parcel to an all-encompassing climate network.

While the fossil fuel industry is irate, General Motors (GM) has announced plans to phase out gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035 and go “carbon neutral” by 2040.

One of President Biden’s recent climate actions involved cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline permit that previously pumped Canadian tar sands through the middle of the country down to the Gulf of Mexico.

He also re-admitted us into the Paris Climate Accords from which we officially withdrew Nov. 4.

Climate groups like the Sunrise Movement were successful in moving Biden–and even invited–to help hone his climate plan into, as former Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy, called, “by a long shot the most ambitious we have ever seen from any president in our nation’s history,” resulting in the most progressive climate and economic plan of any Democratic nominee in modern American history.

Following through on a comment Sen. Bernie Sanders made about Biden having the potential to be “the most progressive president since FDR,” the president also intends to establish a Civilian Climate Corps modeled after Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps.

This will create myriad jobs in a green energy sector outpacing the fossil fuel industry.

Ending subsidies to fossil fuel giants is another monumental step, reversing decades of corporate welfare contributing to intransigence on progressive climate legislation.

Congress is already queued up.

Last year Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and other progressive lawmakers introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act to “abolish dozens of tax loopholes, subsidies, and other special interest giveaways littered throughout the federal tax code.”

This alone would save taxpayers up to $150 billion over the next decade.

This is the example the United States has needed to set for years.

Amid all this encouraging news, though, is the fact that as far as the administration is going, Biden still refuses to ban fracking and distances himself from the “Green New Deal”.

Despite shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline is still operating.

Biden still refuses to ban fracking.

He has vociferously distanced himself from the Green New Deal, the non-binding bicameral resolution calling for 100 percent net zero-emission power by 2030, a federal jobs guarantee, solid union jobs retrofitting and re-building crumbling infrastructure, universal health care, and affordable housing.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg recently pleaded with Biden to “Just treat the climate crisis like a crisis,” adding:

“They have said themselves that this is an existential threat, and they’d better treat it accordingly, which they are not. They are just treating the climate crisis as [if] it were a political topic among other topics.”

Biden has so far been receptive to activists’ calls for more progressive climate policy, so there is no reason why he shouldn’t be amenable to going ever further.

If “America is back,” let’s be the climate leader the world needs, not because America prides itself on being “the best,” but because our unique position as the global exemplar, for better or worse, requires it.

When it comes to the climate catastrophe, we not only have no more time to lose; climate change is not something a single nation can tackle singlehandedly.

We witnessed the immediate impact rolling back CO2 emissions has last year when it took a pandemic to stop us in our tracks.

The United States can, should, and must lead the world in preserving what is left of the environment before we pass too many tipping points to address.

If we don’t do it, who will?

Image credit: Chris Gitsham

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.