bond fire

The Bond Fire, driven by high winds, burns the hillsides west of Santiago Canyon Road near Silverado Canyon on Thursday, December 3, 2020. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

As the World Burns, DC Slow-Walks on Climate

The Pacific Northwest broils, and the Gulf of Mexico is aflame. Hey D.C., do something!!!…

Nazis! I hate those guys, especially when--in the white-masked modern guise of Texas-fried unpatriotic cowards called the Patriot Front--they march with their upside-down American flags right past Independence Hall, hours ahead of July 4. At least until they encountered a handful of real Philadelphians, when they bravely turned their tail and fled.

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At 85 years old, Dorothy Galliano--whom the New York Times described as "a vibrant fixture" in her neighborhood, the Seward Park section of Seattle--didn't have air-conditioning. In the Pacific Northwest's largest city, cooled most of the time by sea breezes and its frequent clouds, only 44% of homes do, the lowest of any metro area in the United States. In a few short hours last Tuesday, that conventional wisdom turned deadly.

Seattle firefighters found Galliano inside her overheated home after neighbors hadn't seen her for a while. A window was open just a crack, and her TV set was on. She was one of at least 125 Americans, with the number still rising, whose deaths were attributed to a heat dome that settled over the Pacific Northwest and sent temperatures to levels once thought unimaginable, including a record 108 degrees in Seattle last Monday. In addition, authorities say hundreds more have died just across the border in Canada, where the scenic mountain town of Lytton burned to the ground.

The sense that the world is on fire was only amplified with dramatic pictures from the Gulf of Mexico just off the coastline of our southern neighbor, where an undersea natural-gas pipeline exploded so that part of the sea was essentially ablaze.

But if Seattle's sweltering residents turned their TVs to national news, they would have seen a lot more coverage of the sudden condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., where about 145 people have died or are missing in the rubble, than of the slow-motion tragedy in their opposite corner of the nation. As the crisis of a planet overheated by greenhouse-gas pollution intensifies every year, the media somehow struggle with telling this story--helping the general public to shrug about the dangers, and giving cover to elected officials who either want to deny the crisis or horse-trade as if this is just more politics-as-usual.

The sense that the world is on fire was only amplified with dramatic pictures from the Gulf of Mexico just off the coastline of our southern neighbor, where an undersea natural-gas pipeline exploded so that part of the sea was essentially ablaze. Surely now, with such powerful images, and with climate change contributing to so many weather-related deaths, America's leaders would be compelled to take bold action, right?

In the reality-based world, the Senate moderates who negotiated a just-under $1 trillion infrastructure deal with President Biden--its final passage is anything but assured--made sure to strip out most of the administration's original climate-related provisions. That included a national clean-electricity mandate that would have sped up the end of fossil-fuel-fired power plants, as well as tax incentives for wind and solar power and most of money proposed to spur more use of electric vehicles. Team Biden has assured angry progressives that the dollars will come in a second bill to be passed through budget reconciliation, which would just need the votes of all 50 Democrats (plus the tie breaker, Vice President Kamala Harris).

Well ... good luck with that. At the very same moment that crews out West were battling back the latest wildfires, the environmental group Greenpeace UK was releasing a video of ExxonMobil's top federal lobbyist--tricked into thinking he was speaking with a friendly job recruiter on Zoom--spilling the beans on his firm's strategy to thwart major climate action on Capitol Hill that might cut into its massive profits.

The most disturbing revelation from the lobbyist Keith McCoy was his close ties to a gaggle of key Senate moderates, including those who presumably stripped the climate provisions from the infrastructure bill--naming five key Democrats. In particular, the lobbyist for the world's largest fossil-fuel corporation insisted that he speaks with the staff of the most powerful Democrat in Congress, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, every single week. Considering that Manchin--representing a state where coal is still venerated--was already a dubious supporter of major climate action, this is very bad news for Planet Earth.

But then, there are serious questions about whether Biden--even after an "A-minus" or maybe "B-plus" start on climate change, rejoining the Paris accords for global action and killing the Keystone XL pipeline for good--is fully rising to the seriousness of the moment. Despite his seeming commitment to phasing out carbon pollution, the Biden administration has flummoxed environmentalists in recent weeks by defending, at least for now, an oil pipeline that would cross Indigenous land and fragile wetlands in Minnesota, and a second controversial project in Alaska. Mixed signals and cautious incrementalism are a dangerous message from the White House at such a perilous time, with sharks like ExxonMobil lobbyists circling.

That's why I can only stand up and applaud the dozens of young climate activists from the Sunrise Movement who were arrested after sitting down and blockading all 10 entrances to the Biden White House last week, demanding the restoration of climate monies to the infrastructure bill, as well as full funding for the president's new Civilian Climate Corps that would enlist a small army of young Americans for environmental work.

Sure, I heard the carping from OK Boomer "Resistance" types (yes, my own generation ... sigh) that activists should be protesting the GOP denialists and not Biden with his good record, but the truth is Biden and the Democrats are the ones who will listen, and they can do more--a lot more. And they must. The only weapon these young people have to fight millions in Big Oil campaign contributions is putting their bodies on the line, and they are bravely doing that. Unlike their corrupt and contented elders, they are not fiddling away while Seattle, Lytton, and the Gulf of Mexico--and God only knows what next--burn.

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