McKibben: Is It Hot Enough Yet for Politicians to Take Real Action?

We’ve crushed many temperature records recently. Those temperatures are driving, precisely as scientists have predicted, a cascading series of disasters around the world. So, the crisis is everywhere—that’s why it’s called global warming. Politicians want to be seen doing a lot about climate change, but not so much that it lands them in any kind of real trouble with the fossil-fuel industry. Their argument, invariably, is that the green infrastructure they’re building will eventually reduce emissions more than the fossil fuel they’re continuing to permit. Eventually, that will be true: solar and wind power are cheap, and, given time, economics will do its job, but time is what we don’t have.

So public campaigns will need to continue, but at the moment they aren’t producing enough pressure to change the calculations that Presidents and C.E.O.s are making. There’s a rally planned for mid-September in New York City, when the U.N. Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called a Climate Ambition Summit, to make a case that Biden should meet Guterres’s demands to end fossil-fuel expansion, particularly because this country still leads the world in oil and gas production. But this moment feels as if it calls for something larger—comparable to the Earth Day demonstrations of a half century ago, which brought ten per cent of the American population into the streets. Scientists say that this past week broke records for the hottest days in about a 125,000 years. We’re at a hinge point if ever there was one. 

By Bill McKibben. New Yorker. July 11, 2023.

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