A new day for the climate

By | February 1, 2021

Elizabeth Kolbert writes:

Nine years ago, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse had a sign made up that showed a photograph of the Earth as seen from space. “TIME TO WAKE UP,” it urged, in large, unevenly spaced letters. Every week that the Senate was in session, Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, would tote the sign to the chamber, set it on an easel, and, before a hundred chairs—most of them empty—deliver a speech. Though the details changed, the subject of the speech remained the same.

“It is time—indeed, it is well past time—for Congress to wake up to the disastrous effects of global climate change,” Whitehouse said on May 16, 2013.

“My trusty ‘TIME TO WAKE UP’ sign is getting a little battered and showing some wear and tear, but I am still determined to get us to act on climate before it is too late,” he said on November 29, 2016.

“I rise to call this chamber to wake up to the threat of climate change,” he said on July 24, 2019.

Last week, Whitehouse hauled his beat-up sign to the chamber for the two-hundred-and-seventy-ninth time. He propped it up and announced that this speech would be the last in his long-running series. “A new dawn is breaking,” he said. “And, when it’s dawn, there’s no need for my little candle against the darkness.”

During the 2020 Presidential campaign, Joe Biden insisted that he took seriously the threat posed by global warming. Within hours of being sworn in, he had signed a slew of climate-change directives. One recommitted the United States to the Paris climate accord; another revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. A third charged the Secretary of the Interior to restore the borders of two national monuments in Utah—Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante—which the Trump Administration had shrunk.

Last week, on the same day that Whitehouse literally dropped the mic, Biden signed a second, even more sweeping batch of executive orders. Among their many provisions, they directed the Interior Department to “pause” new oil and gas leases on federal land, and created the Civilian Climate Corps, a government jobs program intended to put people to work restoring public lands and waters. They also instructed federal agencies to purchase “zero-emissions” vehicles, called on the director of the Office of Management and Budget to identify and then eliminate federal fossil-fuel subsidies, and established a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. “It’s hard to imagine the week could have gone better,” Mike Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, told Rolling Stone. “We’re going from having the worst president in the history of our country with regards to protecting the environment to someone who has the most ambitious set of environmental proposals in our country’s history.”

Yet, as sharp as the contrast between Biden and his predecessor is, a week is only a week. In dealing with climate change, the United States is by now thirty years—and billions of tons of carbon dioxide—behind schedule. [Continue reading…]

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