As Biden Speaks in Glasgow, Manchin Muddles the Message
Bill McKibben / The New Yorker
(November 3, 2021) — Joe Biden, who had promised to come to the Glasgow climate summit with “bells on,” appeared to snooze for a moment as he sat listening to speeches at Monday’s session.
It was a highly relatable interlude. An inescapable feeling of fatigue has settled in around the summit — barring some useful surprise, much of the air seems to have been sucked from this conclave before it began, not least because of the ongoing antics of Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, whose influence was easy to feel even a (rising) ocean away.
The world arrived at the Paris climate meeting, six years ago, primed for action: recovering economies, a discernible beginning to a drop in the price of renewable energy, and a surge of activism around the globe meant that negotiators couldn’t really go home without having reached a groundbreaking agreement.
But now that the time has come to strengthen that pact — and the whole point of this Glasgow conference is to get countries to substantially increase the commitments they made in Paris — conditions have changed.
We have lived through the hottest years on record since Paris, but the pandemic has driven the climate and other crises out of the headlines, and sidelined (or, rather, Zoom-lined) movements calling for change. The world is also lurching through a cycle of illiberalism, and, although its hold has loosened in the United States, it has left figures such as India’s Narendra Modi and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro in positions of power.
Modi is in Glasgow, and he announced on Monday that India would get to net zero by 2070 — a half century from now. (Granted, meeting even that mark would mean that the country will have generated far less carbon in the course of history than the United States.)
Bolsonaro is not attending, but, even as the Amazon region is being destroyed at an ever faster rate, Brazil’s representatives announced that the nation is “a longtime champion of the environmental agenda.”
Xi Jinping, of China, and Vladimir Putin, of Russia, are also skipping the summit; on Monday, China submitted a written statement that basically just repeated its Paris pledges.
And the United States? This should have been a day of great triumph for America, marking its emergence from the Trump years — nothing the former President did caused as much international anger as withdrawing from the Paris accords, and Biden did apologize for that act. But, owing largely to Manchin, Biden arrived in Glasgow without the set of dramatic legislative victories that were supposed to unlock this conference.
Manchin is currently the Senate’s leading recipient of donations from the fossil-fuel industry, and it is proving a sound investment. He stripped any real guarantees of carbon reduction from Biden’s Build Back Better plan, leaving in their place $500 billion to subsidize the construction of green energy.
As Daniel Aldana Cohen, a professor of sociology at Berkeley who focusses on the climate, tweeted on Monday, the basic “economic theory is that half a percent of GDP will be enough of a thirst trap for green capital that private investors will overhaul the economy, guided by invisible hands.”
And even that is no guarantee — Manchin, having promised “clarity” on his stance Monday morning, said a few hours later that he was “open to supporting a final bill that helps move our country forward. But I’m equally open to voting against a bill that hurts our country.” One imagines that the statement quickly made its way through the vast negotiating hall in Glasgow.
Manchin’s muddling is why Biden’s summit speech sounded fairly flat — it was full of talk about how his stripped-down plan would create jobs, but, in the middle of a labor shortage, that’s not the most compelling selling point. A large cast of American advisers accompanied the President to Glasgow, and they did their best to sell the plan — Gina McCarthy, the Administration’s domestic climate czar, said that America was “kicking butt” on offshore wind, for instance.
America’s chief climate envoy, John Kerry, was perhaps more accurate. A month ago, he called the Glasgow conference the planet’s “last, best hope”; now he said that “Glasgow was never going to be, you know, the definitive one meeting.”
And, of course, he’s right. This is a huge war fought on many fronts, and on some of them responsible leaders are on the offensive. The price of renewable energy is now in such free fall that it’s clear how the energy future will eventually play out; what’s not clear is how fast it will happen.
Activists are back on the streets, too late perhaps to change the outcome of this session but with a passion that should worry the big banks and asset managers who are increasingly the target of their efforts.
It’s still possible that some startling new development could emerge to revitalize this conference. But, for the moment, although the power of Big Oil is much weakened, it isn’t broken, and that means that the thirty-year slog toward rational climate policy will have to plod on.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Reflections on COP26
(November 3, 2021) — From Manila to New York, Sao Paulo to Nairobi, London to the Pacific and across Europe, thousands of people took to the streets and protested in front of some of the world’s biggest banks and financial institutions this weekend.
Together, we’re demanding an end toall fossil fuel funding and shifting those resources to finance a just energy transition. And that’s just the beginning.
Take a look at some of the actions from the weekend:
The energy from these actions is felt here at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) where movement leaders and frontline voices are sharing their stories and telling the truth about what’s at stake in these negotiations.
In a powerful speech, Brianna Fruean from the Pacific Climate Warriors (350 Pacific) shared the message that while young Pacific people are ‘resilient beacons of hope’, any increase in global temperature above 1.5 degrees will put the survival of Samoa — and all of us — in jeopardy.
Listen to her powerful words below, then share them with your communities — we need this to reach as many people as possible.
Brianna’s message is a rallying cry for climate activists all over the world — ‘We’re not drowning, we’re fighting’.
This is the message that we need our leaders to hear at COP26 — to listen to the frontline communities feeling the effects of climate change now, and use it to guide climate action now. Will you watch and share Brianna’s important message today?