This may be the most frustrating Earth Day in the 50-year history of the celebration. At no other time have we been faced with such acute peril from anthropogenic climate disruption. At no other time have more people been personally invested in making the changes necessary to create a sustainable world. At no other time has actually making those changes in the halls of power seemed more challenging.
This is the agony of the paradigm shift, of the great change that must happen even in the implacable face of vast, entrenched wealth. Those who believed Big Oil, Big War, and all the other pillars of this presently collapsing pillage-and-plunder system were going to see all the fires, floods and storms, and say, “Wow, this sucks and might make it harder for us to make money in 20 years, something must be done!” were badly fooling themselves. Today’s system is about MONEY NOW, about wringing the last few coppers from the bones of the laboring class while there is still time on the clock.
The recent summer-to-spring legislative fiasco over President Biden’s signature policy initiatives is instructive. Biden’s bills — the large Build Back Better Act and a smaller infrastructure bill — were the result of a progressive eruption within the ranks of the Democratic Caucus. Progressive legislators, led by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, filled the bill with vital climate action policies that would be paid for by taxing wealthy people and corporations their fair share. Right there, you can see how the effort was all but doomed from the start.
A one-vote majority in the Senate elevated Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia (who received 270,510 votes when reelected in 2018, compared to Biden’s 81,000,000 vote haul in 2020) to the status of kingmaker… or planet-breaker, depending upon where you stand. Like a vampire stooped over pliable prey, Manchin supped on the blood of these bills for months, until one was passed in skeletal form. The other remains in rewrite limbo. He did this for coal and campaign contributions from coal interests, and no other reasons besides.
Manchin’s partner in this effort, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (665,000 votes collected in her own 2018 race), likewise poured sand and ground glass into the gears of both pieces of legislation. She didn’t want rich people and huge pharmaceutical companies to pay for it by way of equitable taxation and drug price stabilization, and refused to budge despite multiple good-faith efforts to gain her support. In the end, the Democratic Caucus was left fighting amongst itself, Mitch McConnell and the GOP hardly had to break a sweat, and measures to save the planet from our destruction and extraction once again fell to dust.
The recent war in Ukraine also underscores the long slog between necessity and accomplishment. When Russia, one of the world’s top producers of fossil fuels, charged toward Kyiv behind a wall of tanks, Russian President Vladimir Putin was suddenly confronted with a raft of sanctions levied by an appalled world.
These sanctions have had only a dubious effect on that nation’s war-makers, and have inflicted further devastation on Russian civilians. Another impact: They have forced NATO nations and others to go looking for their fossil fuels elsewhere. Biden, in defiance of a campaign pledge to ban new drilling on public lands, is now undertaking a massive, wildly pollutive campaign of oil and gas production in order to make up for the coming shortfall.
“The department’s plans are the latest example of the political tightrope the president is trying to walk,” reports The Washington Post. “Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil prices soaring, Biden has faced pressure to alleviate the pain Americans feel at the pump. He has urged U.S. oil companies to boost production and has released millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to compensate for the loss of Russian oil from global markets.”
Thus does war hurl back even mediocre progress on attacking the environmental crisis that hedges closer to us by the day. Thus does greed and lust for power eviscerate all but the slimmest chance for meaningful climate repair, precisely in this tipping-point moment historians will revel in, if there are any left with the patience to pile through the paperwork.
The mood this Earth Day is one of deep frustration and fear. If there can be said to be a bright spot, it is this: We know what we have to do, and now we know who stands against us. All pretense is cast aside. What to do with this information is entirely up to you.