About five seconds after the announcement came from Beijing that the United States and China had reached an unexpected and ambitious climate change agreement, Republicans in Washington declared it the worst deal since the Trojans accepted a big wooden horse from the Greeks.
Climate scientists had a different reaction. If China and the U.S. actually reach the goals to which they are committing, and if other nations follow their lead, climate experts are saying the world will have made a huge leap toward averting the worst effects of rising global temperatures.
You would think everyone would be cheering, but the boos and catcalls from the right have just begun.
Throughout his campaign for reelection, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell said it would be foolhardy to raise carbon dioxide emissions standards on American companies as long as China, the world’s biggest generator of greenhouse gases, was sticking to business as usual. But now that China has agreed to take a big step away from coal as its primary fuel source, McConnell still is not satisfied and stands ready to fight implementation of the new agreement once he becomes Senate majority leader in January.
In McConnell’s case, it is transparently obvious that his prime motivation is to protect his state’s coal industry. If that industry happens to be contributing to shifts in climate that threaten civilization, that’s tough luck. McConnell is far more concerned about the profits of the energy industries that finance his, and his party’s, campaigns.
The Senate’s chief climate change denier, Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, also damned the China deal, branding it a “nonbinding charade.” The rest of the right wing chimed in with similar sentiments, asserting that the Chinese had bamboozled President Obama. Because there are no hard and fast requirements in the deal, just aspirational goals, the critics assert that the sneaky Chinese will do nothing while Obama’s reckless and unnecessary new emissions standards wreck the U.S. economy and turn the nation into an impoverished vassal of Beijing.
Besides ignoring the positive bump the American economy would receive from turning to renewable energy sources, the conservatives’ argument misses a very big factor driving China’s sudden willingness to do something about the bad stuff their factories and cars are spewing into the atmosphere. The pollution clouding Chinese cities is a political danger to the regime. China’s President Xi Jinping has agreed to cap emissions and move 20% of the country’s energy consumption to alternative fuels by 2030, not to please the international community or to pull a fast one on Americans, but to avoid a revolt in his own smog-choked country. It’s called self-interest.
Unfortunately, in the United States, too many politicians interpret self-interest as whatever it is that will get them reelected. The true self-interest of our nation is far larger. It is to keep heartland farms from drying up, to avert extreme sea level rises that would flood coastal cities and to avoid increasingly intense and destructive wildfires, tornadoes, blizzards, floods and hurricanes – all the calamities that will come with climate change.
Anyone who actually cares about America – and the future American economy – would welcome the deal with China as a step in the right direction and would be engaged in making sure it is fully implemented by both countries. Instead, we have pseudo-patriots in Congress and the conservative media doing what they do best: spreading paranoia and protecting the interests of those who are getting rich today by forsaking generations of Americans to come.