OAKLAND, Calif. – Treachery! Pure and simple.
No sooner had President Obama finished pledging in Paris Dec. 1 that the U.S. would be a leader among nations seeking a successful accord on climate change than the House Republican leadership back in the nation’s capital set up votes aimed to undermine him and to derail the conference.
Mostly along party lines, the Republican majority in the House passed two resolutions (already approved in the Republican-controlled Senate) to scuttle Environmental Protection Agency rules that would drastically cut carbon emissions from present and future coal-fired power plants.
This is an effort to undermine the Obama administration’s credibility and, given our country’s prominence, to sabotage the United Nations Climate Change Conference’s potential for success in Paris, where leaders of nearly 200 nations were gathered to avert catastrophic harm to Mother Earth and its inhabitants.
Meanwhile, also on Dec. 1, Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that the climate “will always change and man will always contribute to it.” But, “It’s not a crisis.”
The rest of the Republican pack was no better, trying to outdo one another with hybrid versions of Christie’s assessment.
The challenges confronting negotiators at the #COP21 climate change conference in Paris are nothing short of phenomenal after 20 years of unproductive attempts to come up with some sort of binding agreement.
But of all the potential hurdles, none weighs more heavily on my mind than Election Day in November, 2016.
It could all come to naught on that fateful day.
Imagine waking up the next morning to a Republican president at the nation’s helm and both houses of Congress still in Republican control, with carte blanche to select the next right-wing Supreme Court justice, tipping the court’s balance decidedly to the right.
All three federal branches of government in Republican far-right hands would be a catastrophe for the American people, humanity and nature.
That need not be the outcome.
Whether you see President Obama’s environmental agenda as opening a window of opportunity wide or just barely, it’s nevertheless an opening and a far cry from the Republicans’ solid wall of opposition.
Significantly, the Democratic presidential candidates are committed to pursuing the president’s environmental agenda if any one of them were to be elected.
By all accounts, this time around the prospects for a meaningful worldwide climate change accord in Paris are better than ever – though significantly short of what’s necessary to keep the climate from spiraling out of control.
The hoped-for-accord is being seen as the beginning of a process requiring close monitoring, unprecedented international cooperation and more consequential action by the world community in the near future.
Meanwhile, a rapidly growing movement to curb climate change at the sub-national level among states, provinces and metropolitan areas can already claim meaningful initiatives in some areas, however modest at this point.
At the same time, grassroots movements are popping up with greater frequency and existing ones are gaining strength across the globe, including in our own country, as the reality of global warming imposes its catastrophic consequences more widely and the movements’ ideas resonate with ever-larger sections of the populace.
Hugely significant, two-thirds of Americans favor the U.S. joining a binding international agreement to curb the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.
Sixty-three percent – including a bare majority of Republicans – said they would support domestic policy limiting carbon emissions from power plants.
All these developments, however uneven and faltering they may be at times, are cross-fertilizing.
They represent the emergence of a formidable constellation of class and social forces doing battle against the oil and fossil fuel giants of industry and allied interests.
Advancing climate goals means waging the struggle along four intersecting fronts: street heat, legislative struggle, electoral action and the battle of ideas.
Ignoring any one of them means battling the fossil fuel industrial goliath with one hand tied behind our backs.
A couple of challenges in the battle of ideas for those on the left.
In my opinion the president’s executive actions on climate are significant, especially in the context of fierce opposition by the Republican majorities in congress and in the many states under Republican control, the powerful fossil fuel industry and allied interests, and some in his own party.
However, it’s neither a matter of agreeing with President Obama across the board nor nitpicking at his admittedly imperfect proposals.
Rather, it is a matter of proactively defending the president’s positive moves against the rightwing climate deniers while continuing to press him, other public officials and institutions to go further as, for example, the campaign to stop fracking.
On a related matter, I too think that the sooner capitalism is replaced by a socialism deeply rooted in the people and their democratic aspirations, the safer we will all be from the scourges of runaway climate change, war, poverty and injustice.
But it is in the present struggles – as they actually are, not as we wish they were – that more fundamental reforms and a vision of democratic socialism will resonate among the people.
Unquestionably, many questions of unity remain to be solved at the international and national level, but that is beyond this article’s scope.
Finally, before we can move to higher ground in this struggle for survival, we have no choice but to cross the bridge that the 2016 elections represent.
Going into the elections, the environmental movement is not alone.
There is plenty of common ground with all sorts of movements championing their particular causes being attacked by the Republican right wing.
Many of these have come to embrace the struggle to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewable energy sources.
All the more reason to join what amounts to an all people’s front to defeat the Republican right come November.
Let’s hope that with this crucial step, we will be sowing the seeds from which a robust environmental and democratic (in the broadest sense of the word) renewable order will spring and grow to fruition.
Photo: Blake Deppe/PW