A Wilting Climate Response – The New York Times


Weather forecasters say that Britain this week may experience its highest temperature on record — more than 40 degrees Celsius, or about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In response, officials in London have asked people to stay home, saying that vehicles may overheat and rail tracks may buckle.

In France, Greece, Spain and other parts of Europe, the same heat wave has sparked dozens of wildfires.

In the U.S., parts of the Southwest and the Central Plains are bracing for temperatures that could reach 110 degrees this week. Already, the city of Tulsa has experienced more days above 100 degrees this summer than it historically has in an entire summer on average.

Yet in the face of these mounting signs and costs of climate change, the U.S. federal government is choosing not to address the problem. Last week, President Biden’s package of policies to reduce climate-warning pollution collapsed, after Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia withdrew his support. Last month, the Supreme Court restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to reduce pollution at power plants.

As my colleagues Jonathan Weisman and Jazmine Ulloa write:

Climate change remains an issue with little political power, either for those pressing for dramatic action or for those standing in the way.

“People are exhausted by the pandemic, they’re terribly disillusioned by the government,” said Anusha Narayanan, climate campaign director for Greenpeace USA, the environmental group known for its guerrilla tactics but now struggling to mobilize supporters. She added: “People see climate as a tomorrow problem. We have to make them see it’s not a tomorrow problem.”

The lack of U.S. action on climate change has alarmed many experts. Without American leadership, the world will probably struggle to limit warming to levels that scientists have urged, for the sake of preventing much worse damage than the planet is already on course to experience. The U.S. remains a major emitter of greenhouse gases, and it also has the geopolitical sway to persuade China and India to do more than they are now doing — if the U.S. is also acting.

Today’s newsletter looks at what this country can still do to address climate change, even with Washington seeming to withdraw from the fight.

California is on the verge of requiring that all new cars sold there be electric or zero-emission by 2035. Colorado and New York have sharply cut their electricity emissions in recent years. About 20 other states have also taken aggressive steps to slow global warming, as have some local governments and companies.

“States are really critical to helping the country as a whole achieve our climate goals,” said Kyle Clark-Sutton of RMI, a clean-energy think tank. “They have been leading.”

None of these changes has nearly the impact that federal action would. But smaller changes can still add up — and even foster broader changes. Consider the vehicle market: By mandating electric vehicles, California and other states will lead automakers to build many more of them, likely spurring innovations and economies of scale that will reduce costs for everybody and thereby increase their use around the country.

It’s a reminder that climate change is one of those issues on which activists may be able to make more progress by focusing on grass-roots organizing than top-down change from Washington, especially in the current era of polarization. Locally, the politics of climate change can sometimes be less partisan than they are nationally, as Maggie Astor, a climate reporter at The Times, has written.

After Manchin seemed to doom the climate legislation last week, Biden vowed to “take strong executive action to meet this moment.” His authority is much narrower than it would be if Congress passed new legislation, especially given the current Supreme Court’s hostility to many kinds of environmental regulation. But Biden does have several tools he can use.

Among them:

  • He has directed the E.P.A. to write new rules to reduce pollution from vehicles — the nation’s largest source of planet-warming pollution — and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.

  • Even with the recent Supreme Court ruling, the E.P.A. still has the authority to issue narrow rules that would affect coal-and-gas-fired power plants, the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

  • The E.P.A. also plans to issue regulations this year to curb leaks of methane from oil and gas wells, another significant source of greenhouse gases.

(The Times’s Coral Davenport has explained each of these in more detail, as well as the potential legal challenges to them.)

There are two basic reasons that a single senator — Manchin — has had the power to block climate legislation.

First, the chamber is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans (with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties), giving Democrats no margin for losing a vote. Second, no Republican senators are willing to vote for major climate legislation. Over the longer term, changing either of these situations could lead to more aggressive U.S. policies to slow climate change.

On the Republican side, some conservatives have been pushing their party to follow the lead of many other center-right parties around the world, which help pass and shape climate policies. Carlos Curbelo, a former congressman from South Florida, has pointed out that climate change is already creating daily problems for many Americans. Jay Faison is a North Carolina business executive who created a foundation to promote conservative climate solutions. The Niskanen Center, a Washington policy group, is doing similar work.

If even a small number of congressional Republicans supported policies to slow climate change, it could transform the politics of the issue, creating bipartisan, pro-climate majorities in Congress.

On the Democratic side, the main question is how to prevent Manchin from being the deciding vote in future years — that is, by winning more seats in purple and red states. As I’ve described in previous newsletters, Democrats struggle to win in these states partly because the party has alienated working-class voters who are moderate or conservative on many social issues and see Democrats as the party of liberal college graduates.

A recent poll analysis by Echelon Insights offered some fascinating details, contrasting the views of strongly progressive voters with working-class Americans on immigration, patriotism, policing and other subjects. The poll also found that views of Hispanic voters tended to be similar to working-class views — and very different from the progressive views. One example: Asked if America were the greatest country in the world, 70 percent of Hispanic voters and 69 percent of working-class voters said yes, but only 28 percent of “strong progressives” did.

For a party to win over new voters, it usually can’t simply change a couple of policy positions. Politics is more complex than that. But it is clear that many blue-collar voters don’t feel at home in the Democratic Party — and that their alienation is a major impediment to the U.S. doing more to slow climate change.

Shrek: Online obsessions with the ogre turned into a real-life party.

Blockbuster: Netflix is betting big on “The Gray Man,” starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans as C.I.A. employees.

Metropolitan Diary: A cool ride home after a breakup, and more tales from the city.

A Times classic: Lasik gone wrong.

Advice from Wirecutter: Gifts for coffee lovers.

Lives Lived: Jak Knight, a stand-up comedian, writer and actor, attracted attention as a voice actor and writer on “Big Mouth.” He died at 28.

Rory’s disappointment: Cameron Smith charged past Rory McIlroy yesterday to win the Open Championship with an eight-under 64, a round fit for legend, as Brendan Quinn writes. Smith wondered out loud afterward how many beers he could fit into the Claret Jug.

An M.L.B. draft surprise: The Texas Rangers selected pitcher Kumar Rocker — the Mets’ first-round pick last season — at No. 3, much higher than experts predicted. New York chose not to offer Rocker a contract after evaluating his medicals. Did they make a mistake? The Rangers think he’s worth the risk.

Are the Mariners legit? Seattle won its 14th straight game Sunday, entering the All-Star break on a high as the hottest team in baseball. They’re one win shy of the franchise record.

You may not have heard much about the comedian Janeane Garofalo, 57, in a while. She has no social media presence, not even a smartphone.

But she’s still performing across New York, often sharing bills with young unknown comedians, even as she eschews online life or even doing a television special. That prompted the Times critic Jason Zinoman to ask: Is this what not selling out looks like?

“It would be easy to see Garofalo performing with comics half her age to a sparse Brooklyn crowd as a portrait of decline,” Jason writes. “But to my Generation X eyes, it looks like a kind of triumph.”



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