Saturday May 07, 2022
How can the rest of the world blame India for taking a short-term stand when world’s emitters do the same?
Picture used for illustrative purpose only.
Elizabeth Shackelford. Tribune News Service
India’s record-breaking heat wave has been a footnote in the news cycle. I would hardly have noticed myself, but my fiance, a commercial airline pilot, checked the weather ahead of a trip this week to Delhi. He braced himself for steady 112-degree heat. It hit him even from inside the cockpit as he descended below 10,000 feet. The air was already heavy with the stench of humanity under stress — polluted, dusty and cooking. When he arrived at the hotel at 11 p.m., the heat was still unbearable.
India saw its highest average temperatures ever this March and April, and May typically gets hotter. Pavement literally melts. Fire risks are high, and crop yields threatened, compounding an already severe global food crisis. Melting Himalayan glaciers risk flash floods. Pollution rages. People cannot work, students cannot learn and heat-related deaths soar. Electricity usage stands at record levels as populations try to cope.
India’s response has been to boost energy output, doubling down on coal, which provides 70% of its power. Railroads canceled passenger trains to free up capacity to move more coal. This focus on near-term relief only worsens the long-term problem that has already arrived. But how can the rest of the world blame India for taking a short-term approach when the world’s biggest emitters do the same?
China, the largest polluter by far at 27% of the world’s total emission, is also boosting coal production this year. The U.S. comes in second at 11% followed by India at 6.6%.
The war in Ukraine gives the West a golden opportunity to double down on renewables to wrest financial resources from the rogue state of Russia. Instead, America’s response has been “Drill, baby! Drill!” This response aimed at lowering fuel prices and boosting oil and gas supplies directly clashes with climate change mitigation action that this administration has promised. It is a testament to the power of the fossil fuel industry, which continues to receive direct government subsidies to the tune of $20 billion a year. Next time you hear a politician complain about how expensive renewable energy is as an alternative, remember that the fossil fuel industry has been subsidized for over 100 years. The existential crisis of climate change demands global leadership but has none. If the United States wants to lead the world on anything, this would be a great place to start.
It’s hard to imagine we will. If our own apocalyptic summer last year couldn’t drive meaningful action, what will? Record fires, droughts, heat waves and storms rattled America for months, and yet what tops public and political concerns today is gas prices, not the livability of our planet. Our chronically short attention spans are incompatible with the kind of action we need to address this global and generational threat.
Climate change is the gravest economic and national security threat any of us have seen. Last year alone the United States saw 20 separate weather and climate disasters that each cost more than $1 billion in damages — totaling $145 billion. These disasters also caused 688 deaths, more than double the total for 2020.
In addition to violent weather, increasing competition over dwindling basic life necessities will drive up prices of all the things we need to live, make parts of our own country and much of the world uninhabitable, drive migration to levels never before imagined and dramatically increase conflict in every corner of the world.
The global dependence on fossil fuels that drives this climate crisis also empowers some of the world’s worst actors by lining their coffers with wealth that enables their bad acts. The most direct path to making Vladimir Putin irrelevant and to avoiding entanglement in future conflicts in the Middle East is to end our dependence on fossil fuels. None of this is new, but it should be far bigger news than it is. This crisis takes lives every day, costs us more every year, even here in America. The numbers don’t lie. The administration of President Joe Biden came to office with promises of unprecedented action to lead the world in mitigating climate change, but those plans have come to nothing so far. For this inaction, there is plenty of blame to go around. If we want to talk solutions though, two facts are unavoidable.
First, this crisis demands American leadership. The United States is both a major cause of the problem and the only country on Earth with the resources and convening capacity to rally a coalition to the cause.