The Climate Does Not Care About Bipartisanship–We Live on Borrowed Time

As Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders has said many times, “Despair is not an option.”

That’s true.

The moment we succumb to despair, particularly pertaining to politics, is the moment the opposition wins.

With so many deep-pocketed special interests hoping to squelch civic participation upon which democracy is built, we simply cannot give up.

Voting rights, gun control, healthcare, union membership, education, employment, taxes are all subject to legislation that can change the status quo.

But there is one area deaf to partisan or bipartisan debate, immune to pandemics, doesn’t vote, doesn’t pay taxes, is indifferent to education, infrastructure, and foreign policy.

It’s the climate.

It could the one fight we are fated to lose.

Renewable energy factors prominently in Democrats’ “American Jobs Plan,” seeking to cut greenhouse gas emissions, address racial and economic disparities that lead to higher pollution in communities of color, distribute electric car charging stations across the country, and create tens of thousands of well-paying union jobs transitioning the country away from fossil fuels.

President Biden also seeks to invest $100 billion each in strengthening electrical grids and expanding affordable high-speed broadband, and $300 billion to build and retrofit homes.

This is the most audacious and progressive climate initiative the United States has ever proposed, and given our example on the world stage is so important, it raises the bar for other economically advanced countries.

In fact, The Guardian ran a piece Friday acknowledging the “Group of 7” leaders’ “make-or-break moment”:

“The message could not be clearer: if the world fails to act now, the future will be changed beyond anything the coronavirus pandemic has brought about.”

Yet amid all the handshaking, back slapping, and jovial photo ops in merry old England at the G7 summit, the reality lingers: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere registers now at 420 parts per million, the highest level than at any point in the last four million years.

Despite the G7’s ambitious goals, Amnesty International excoriated the world leaders:

“The unambitious climate plans submitted by G7 members represent a violation of the human rights of billions of people. These are not administrative failures; they are a devastating, mass-scale assault on human rights.”

And back here in America, republicans are still party that denies the science of climate change and are hell-bent on blowing up anything the Biden administration supports, even if it incontrovertibly helps their states’ constituents.

For example, manufacturing and deploying electric vehicles and charging stations creates millions of jobs.

Yet republicans last month countered this key component to Biden’s infrastructure plan with a paltry $4 billion for electric vehicles, insultingly well below the initial $174 billion for  installing charging stations and providing tax incentives for EV buyers.

Despite taking advantage of a narrow Democratic majority, the Biden administration last month, in a good-faith effort to “reach across the aisle,” decreased the original spending proposal for the package from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion.

That was still too high for republicans.

So ahead of President Biden’s meeting with West Va. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, whom Minority Leader Mitch “The Grim Reaper” McConnell had tapped to be the republican point person, House Democrats offered to reduce the amount even further–to $547 billion.

Before negotiations have even started, before the horse trading and arm twisting even commenced, Democrats are caving to republicans.

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.

All the while, the climate time bomb clock ticks.

Yet not all lawmakers are dithering.

Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is one of several concerned we are making a grave mistake in treating the climate crisis like just another economic package.

He tweeted:

While Washington bureaucrats argue, the Arctic is aflame with “zombie fires.”

The richest countries’ economies are projected to shrink twice as much as they did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states, we must re-wild and restore an area the size of China to meet our climate commitments.

An 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.

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 milleniathreaten to eliminate all life on Earth.

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: Patrick Hendry via Unsplash

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.