It has become very clear that such a savior does not exist.
addresses what might seem like a minor detail of how the Environmental Protection Agency regulates carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Don’t be fooled, however. That the court limited the power of the EPA to push for carbon neutrality is a blow. This sets the United States back in its efforts to eliminate fossil fuel pollution. This is a task on which we are already decades behind. The world is likely to continue to become a more dangerous place – and a more unequal place – because of this decision.
Some details of the notice are particularly troubling. In Decision 6-3, the the court rejected
the idea that the United States Environmental Protection Agency could use some kind of “systems” thinking in its regulation of the electricity sector. Congress did not give the agency that authority, the court said.
Rather, the decision implies that the EPA could regulate power plants one by one – as if the global carbon system, the atmosphere and the future of humanity did not depend on how the electric system, in as a whole works. Climate change, on the other hand, requires Systems thinking. A power plant, a sector, a nation cannot solve this problem alone.
This highlights what is a central problem in efforts to stem the climate crisis: it is everyone’s and no one’s problem.
The problem is a hot potato that spreads between branches of the US government – Congress should fix this! No, the courts!
— while the Earth cooks. This is true internationally. My head might explode if I hear another fossil fuel apologist point to rising emissions from China or India as justification for global inaction. The truth is that the United States has has polluted the atmosphere more than any other nation
. For this reason, and because of our international influence, the response of this country is extremely important.
Describing the court’s decision as a blow to the Biden administration, as many have done, is hopelessly myopic. It is one of millions of self-inflicted wounds that put all of Earth’s systems at risk. We simply cannot continue to shift blame – or, worse, obscure the truth about the urgency of global warming – with clever legal language and excuses.
“[L]let’s say the obvious,” Judge Elena Kagan wrote in dissent
. “The stakes here are high. Yet the Court is today preventing action by an agency authorized by Congress to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The Court is appointing itself – instead of Congress or the expert agency – the climate policy maker. I can’t think of many scarier things.”
Taking a step back from the court’s opinion, it is the 36.4 billionth
reminder that this is a time when everyone is on deck for climate action. Obama’s Clean Power Plan, ostensibly the subject of the lawsuit, could not solve this problem. Neither can the courts, apparently, as many of us had hoped.
My hopes for a cleaner/safer atmosphere were boosted in 2015, for example, when a court in the Netherlands said the government’s climate policies are inadequate
and ordered them to be fortified. Another one lawsuit against fossil fuel giant Shell
also succeeded last year.
Similar arguments have been tried in the United States and elsewhere, with varying results. When a group of kids took a case to federal court in Oregon in 2016, I wrote that it might be. The kids asked the courts to do what Congress had failed to do: force through sensible climate policy. The courts could perhaps the missing piece in this fight.
Sure, this case
didn’t go anywhere much; attorneys for the Obama and Trump administrations have pushed back against his constitutional claims.
Hope feels like a distant emotion these days.
Looking to Congress or the Biden administration is also cold comfort. Yes, Biden (sort of) campaigned on the climate crisis, calling it one of the “four historic crises”
his administration would attack. The world seems to conspire to thwart good intentions. Congress failed to pass Biden’s climate legislation under the Build Back Better plan, largely because of Senator Joe Manchin, who apparently represents coal and West Virginia, not the atmosphere or the air. future or people affected by climate-related disasters.
Some trust the market, which has led a change
in the United States towards natural gas (less polluting) and away from coal, with or without the Clean Power Plan.
This change is not guaranteed and it is nowhere near fast enough. The World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency
said in October that fossil fuel use could peak in the middle of this decade, but the change is not fast enough to avoid escalating climate hazards.
Technology is another logical solution. Again, there is progress. Another IEA report this week cited reasons for hope that “nuclear [power] is well placed to help decarbonize the electricity supply
Yet we have the technology – wind and solar – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for years and years; the problem is that none of these ideas are being adopted widely or quickly enough.
I could spend all your time recounting missed opportunities for climate action, dating back more than three decades; we have known this crisis for longer than that.
I’m not sure it’s useful now, though. And I’m not 100% sure what it is, actually.
It is perhaps important to remember, apart from evidence to the contrary, that we live in a democracy. The government must answer to the people. What if people from West Virginia to Washington State demanded not just climate talking points, but serious climate action – action like ridding the economy of fossil fuels – we could do it. .
Historically it is has proven difficult to prioritize the elimination of fossil fuels
in the face of the changing winds of American politics, news and life. The war in Ukraine is also a serious crisis, which has caused a spike in gas prices. But that’s no reason to support the extraction of fossil fuels. We must strive to remember that the climate crisis is just as urgent as other crises, even if its long-term and slow-moving nature keeps it out of the headlines most of the time.
Our best hope is that the outrage over the Supreme Court’s shortsighted and dangerous decision this week will fuel not the fossil fuel industry, but the energy of the American public.
It’s hard to feel that now, but the feeling will come back. Because the truth is, if the branches of the US government don’t stop global warming, then the people have to. Not by swapping light bulbs and buying new cars. But by acquiring and then asserting political power.