Saturday, December 19, 2015

Editorial: GOP vs. Earth

It was largely overlooked by the terrorism-obsessed news media, but President Obama and other world leaders secured a historic agreement in Paris on Dec. 12 to cut fossil-fuel emissions that contribute to climate change.

The US negotiators wanted the agreement to be insulated from the attacks of Republicans in Congress. That was no easy feat in a negotiation over an immensely complicated challenge involving 195 counties and half a dozen rival negotiating blocks. “We met the moment,” President Obama said in an address from the White House praising the deal. The Paris agreement on its own would not end climate change, he said, but “this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years.”

The deal reached in Paris set goals to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), phase out carbon emissions by the middle of the century, help poor countries realign their economies, and review their progress towards hitting those targets at regular intervals.

Obama and French President Fran├žois Hollande reportedly worked the phones to seal the deal. When final approval was held up for an hour late on that Saturday night over typos and a dispute over a single verb – shall or should – Hollande telephoned Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, to assure him the last-minute glitches would be fixed, Suzanne Goldenberg reported in The Guardian.

Obama met the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, at the beginning of the talks and the two leaders were in regular telephone contact throughout the meeting, administration officials said.

Hillary Clinton called the agreement “an historic step forward” in global efforts to address climate change, applauding America’s leadership, and she called for a redoubling of efforts to transition to a “clean energy economy.”

Bernie Sanders said that while the agreement was a step forward, it “goes nowhere near far enough.”
“The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that,” Sanders stated.

But as Mark Hertsgaard noted at TheNation.com Dec. 13, “the main reason why it doesn’t [take bold action] are his Republican colleagues in the United States Senate, which would have to ratify any bona fide treaty the Obama administration might have preferred in Paris.”

No sooner was the deal announced than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led the attack on the deal for Republicans.

“The president is making promises he can’t keep, writing checks he can’t cash, and stepping over the middle class to take credit for an ‘agreement’ that is subject to being shredded in 13 months,” McConnell said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the global warming denier who chairs the Senate environment and public works committee, said he would continue to scrutinize Obama’s climate agenda and signaled that Republicans in Congress would continue to undermine the Paris climate goals and the work of government scientific agencies.

Republican presidential candidates had little to say on the climate change deal, possibly because they didn’t want to acknowledge Obama’s accomplishment. Of the nine Republican candidates, the New York Times noted Dec. 14, only John Kasich had any substantial comment: “While the governor believes that climate change is real and that human activity contributes to it, he has serious concerns with an agreement that the Obama administration deliberately crafted to avoid having to submit it to the Senate for approval,” Kasich’s spokesman said in a statement. “That’s an obvious indicator that they expect it to result in significant job loss and inflict further damage to our already sluggish economy.”

In the past, Republicans have disputed global warming. “We’re not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate,” Marco Rubio said at a debate in September.

Donald Trump said, “I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again.”

Ted Cruz said before the deal was reached, “Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big-government politician who wants more power.”

At the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas on Dec. 15 CNN’s moderators asked no questions about global warming but there were a few mocking references to Obama’s attempts to deal with climate change. Kasich complained that the Paris talks focused on the climate instead of the threat from ISIS.

As administration officials pointed out after the deal was done, the agreement in Paris was constructed with a view to making it safe from Republican attacks – which was one reason negotiations were so difficult.

Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, said the agreement would kick off a new wave of activism targeted against big carbon reserves. He said groups would also step up the pressure on Obama.

“It is absurd we are having to have this fight and it is absurd that the administration, even while it is championing these negotiations, hasn’t yet materialized the message of these negotiations,” he said. “If anyone is serious about 2C, you have to understand you can’t be doing on the one hand or on the other hand anymore.”

Hertsgaard wrote that the summit’s accomplishments deserve the adjective “historic.”

“By aiming to limit temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and ‘pursue’ a goal of 1.5 C, the world’s governments went further than ever before in defining the allowable amount of future climate disruption. This was a case of moving the goalposts in the best possible way. What’s more, both developed and developing nations pledged to entirely eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases ‘as soon as possible,’ in effect promising to de-carbonize the global economy. Thus the leaders of both of the world’s climate change superpowers, the United States and China, praised the accord, with President Obama hailing the agreement not ‘perfect’ but ‘our best chance to save the only planet we have.’”

The Paris agreement was seen as the result of a long, slow rebuild of Obama’s climate strategy – after the chaotic end of the Copenhagen summit in 2009 and the death of cap-and-trade legislation in Congress a year later, Goldenberg noted.

In 2013, Obama made the fight against climate change one of his top priorities for his second term and began using executive powers more aggressively to reduce US emissions, including rules cutting pollution from power plants.

To make real progress on the climate, voters will have to remove climate-denying Republicans from power in Congress. Democrats must convince voters that more Americans are threatened by storms due to climate change than will be threatened by radicalized Islamist terrorists — who are still way behind radicalized Christian terrorists in the post-9/11 US body count, by the way.

The numbers are encouraging. The climate action is popular: two-thirds of Americans support an international agreement to curb emissions, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll released Nov. 30 that showed 63% of Americans — including a bare majority of Republicans — said they would support domestic policy limiting carbon emissions from power plants.

In the United States we have one major party that believes, along with the leaders of 194 other nations, in limiting climate change, to keep it below the point that scientists believe could be catastrophic. The other party ignores the scientific consensus and is content to burn fossil fuels until the dinosaur juice runs dry and the Earth is a cinder.

You can vote Republican, but you can’t also claim that you care what happens to the children or grandchildren you will leave behind. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2016

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