This may be the most frustrating Earth Day celebration in the 50-year history. We have never faced such severe peril from anthropogenic global climate disruption at any other time. There has never been a greater number of people who have invested their time and effort in creating a sustainable future. Making those changes in power has never been more difficult.
This is the agony and the need for paradigm shift. It is the great change that must take place despite the impossibility of large, deeply entrenched wealth. Those who believed Big Oil, Big War, and all the other pillars of this presently collapsing pillage-and-plunder system were going to see all the fires, floods and storms, and say, “Wow, this sucks and might make it harder for us to make money in 20 years, something must be done!” were badly fooling themselves. Today’s system is about MONEY NOW, about wringing the last few coppers from the bones of the laboring class while there is still time on the clock.
The recent summer-to-spring legislative fiasco over President Biden’s signature policy initiatives is instructive. Biden’s bills — the large Build Back Better Act and a smaller infrastructure bill — were the result of a progressive eruption within the ranks of the Democratic Caucus. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, both progressive legislators, filled the bill with essential climate action policies. These policies would be funded by taxing wealthy individuals and corporations. You can see that the effort was almost doomed right from the beginning.
A one-vote majority in the Senate elevated Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of Arizona (who received 270,510 votes when reelected in 2018, compared to Biden’s 81,000,000 vote haul in 2020) to the status of kingmaker… or planet-breaker, depending upon where you stand. Manchin, who looked like a vampire, ate the blood of these bills until they were passed in skeletal form. The other bill is still in limbo. He did it for coal and campaign contributions from coal-interested interests, and no other reason.
Manchin’s partner in this effort, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (665,000 votes collected in her own 2018 race), likewise poured sand and ground glass into the gears of both pieces of legislation. She didn’t want rich people and huge pharmaceutical companies to pay for it by way of equitable taxation and drug price stabilization, and refused to budge despite multiple good-faith efforts to gain her support. The Democratic Caucus was left fighting for its survival, Mitch McConnell and his GOP didn’t have to work a sweat, and efforts to save the earth from our destruction and extraction fell apart once again.
The long struggle between necessity and achievement is also evident in the recent war in Ukraine. When Russia, one of the world’s top producers of fossil fuels, charged toward Kyiv behind a wall of tanks, Russian President Vladimir Putin was suddenly confronted with a raft of sanctions levied by an appalled world.
These sanctions have had only a dubious effect on that nation’s war-makers, and have inflicted further devastation on Russian civilians. Another impact: They forced NATO nations and other countries to search for their fossil fuels in other places. Biden is now waging a massive, highly polluting campaign of oil and natural gas production to make up the shortfall, in violation of his campaign promise to ban new drilling on public land.
“The department’s plans are the latest example of the political tightrope the president is trying to walk,” reports The Washington Post. “Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil prices soaring, Biden has faced pressure to alleviate the pain Americans feel at the pump. He has urged U.S. oil companies to boost production and has released millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to compensate for the loss of Russian oil from global markets.”
This is how war can impede even modest progress in solving the environmental crisis that draws closer to us each day. Greed and lust after power destroy all chances of meaningful climate repair. This is precisely the moment historians will celebrate, if they have the patience to go through the paperwork.
The Earth Day mood is one filled with fear and frustration. If there is a bright spot, it’s this: We know what we need to do, and we know who is against us. All pretenses have been abandoned. You decide what to do.