Meteorologists say Britain could experience its highest temperature on record this week – over 40 degrees Celsius, or around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In response, London officials asked people to stay home, saying vehicles could overheat and train tracks could warp.
In France, Greece, Spain and other parts of Europe, the same heat wave has sparked dozens of forest fires.
In the United States, parts of the Southwest and Central Plains are bracing for temperatures that could reach 110 degrees this week. Already, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma has seen more days above 100 degrees this summer than it historically has for an entire summer on average.
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Yet, in the face of these growing signs and costs of climate change, the US federal government is choosing not to address the problem. Last week, President Joe Biden’s package of policies aimed at reducing climate warning pollution collapsed, after Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia withdrew his support. Last month, the Supreme Court restricted the power of the Environmental Protection Agency 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 who demand dramatic action or for those who oppose it.
“People are exhausted from the pandemic, they are terribly disillusioned with the government,” said Anusha Narayanan, climate campaign director for Greenpeace USA, the environmental group known for its guerrilla tactics but now struggling to mobilize its supporters. She added: “People see the climate as a problem of tomorrow. We must make them understand that this is not a problem of tomorrow.
The lack of action by the United States on climate change has alarmed many experts. Without American leadership, the world will likely struggle to limit warming to the levels advocated by scientists, in an effort to prevent far worse damage than the planet is already on the verge of. The United States remains a major emitter of greenhouse gases, and it also has the geopolitical influence to persuade China and India to do more than they are doing now – if the United States also acts.
Today’s bulletin looks at what this country can still do to fight climate change, even as Washington appears to be pulling back from the fight.
Sum of parts
California is set to require all new cars sold there to be electric or zero-emissions by 2035. Colorado and New York have cut their electricity emissions sharply in recent years. About 20 other states have also taken aggressive action to slow global warming, as have some local governments and businesses.
“States are really key to helping the country as a whole meet our climate goals,” said Kyle Clark-Sutton of RMI, a clean energy think tank. “They’ve been in the lead.”
None of these changes have nearly the impact that federal action would have. But small changes can still add up – and even support larger changes. Consider the vehicle market: by mandating electric vehicles, California and other states will drive automakers to build many more, likely spurring innovations and economies of scale that lower costs for everyone and thus increase their use throughout the country.
It’s a reminder that climate change is one of those issues on which activists may be able to make more headway by focusing on grassroots organizing than top-down change from Washington, especially at the top. current era of polarization. Locally, climate change politics can sometimes be less partisan than it is nationally, as Times climate reporter Maggie Astor wrote.
After Manchin appeared to condemn climate legislation last week, Biden vowed to “take strong executive action to address this moment.” Its authority is much narrower than it would be if Congress were to pass new legislation, especially given the current Supreme Court’s hostility to many types of environmental regulations. But Biden has several tools he can use.
– He ordered the EPA to write new rules to reduce vehicle pollution – the biggest source of global warming pollution – and accelerate the transition to electric vehicles.
– Even with the recent Supreme Court ruling, the EPA still has the power to enact narrow rules that would affect coal and gas-fired power plants, the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
— The EPA also plans to issue regulations this year to curb methane leaks from oil and gas wells, another major source of greenhouse gases.
There are two fundamental reasons why a single senator – Manchin – had the power to block climate legislation.
First, the chamber is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans (Vice President Kamala Harris cutting ties), giving Democrats no room to lose a vote. Second, no Republican senator is willing to vote for major climate legislation. In the longer term, changing either of these situations could lead to more aggressive US policies to slow climate change.
On the Republican side, some conservatives have pushed their party to follow the example of many other center-right parties around the world, which are helping to pass and shape climate policies. Carlos Curbelo, a former congressman from South Florida, pointed out that climate change is already creating daily problems for many Americans. Jay Faison is a North Carolina business executive who started a foundation to promote conservative climate solutions. The Niskanen Center, a political group in Washington, does similar work.
If even a small number of congressional Republicans supported policies aimed at slowing 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 the coming years, that is, winning more seats in the purple and red states. As I’ve described in previous newsletters, Democrats are struggling to win in these states in part because the party has alienated working-class voters who are moderate or conservative on many social issues and consider Democrats like the liberal university graduate party.
A recent analysis of a poll by Echelon Insights provided fascinating detail, pitting the views of strongly progressive voters against those of working-class Americans on immigration, patriotism, policing and other topics. The poll also found that the opinions of Hispanic voters tended to be similar to those of the working class — and very different from progressive opinions. An example: when asked if America was the greatest country in the world, 70% of Hispanic voters and 69% of working-class voters said yes, but only 28% of “strong progressives” did.
For a party to win new voters, it usually cannot just change a few policy positions. Politics is more complex than that. But it’s clear that many blue-collar voters don’t feel at home in the Democratic Party — and their alienation is a major obstacle to the United States doing more to slow climate change.
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