Climate change is stoking life-threatening heat and wildfires in Europe while tens of millions of Americans in the South, Southwest and Midwest broil under excessive heat this week. Much of California is under strict outdoor watering restrictions because of severe drought. But President Biden's best hope for serious climate action has collapsed.
This month, Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said he would not support his party's climate legislation, extinguishing any lingering prospects of congressional action and increasing the likelihood that we and future generations will experience catastrophic levels of warming. Not long after, Biden was in Saudi Arabia fist-bumping Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a reprehensible dictator whose power lies in his control of some of the world's largest oil reserves.
These two events are more related than they might seem. That's because the future being foisted upon us by Manchin and the entire Republican Party — one of continued reliance on planet-endangering fossil fuels — makes our country weaker by prolonging our dependence on petrostate autocrats. As the war in Ukraine has made clear, only true energy independence derived from clean, renewable sources will free us from this kind of shameful groveling in service of lower gas prices.
Biden and other Democratic leaders were right to try to forge a deal with Manchin to secure his support for climate action. Their narrow control over Congress presented a historic opportunity to take meaningful action against the gravest threat to our collective existence, a responsibility U.S. politicians have abdicated over and over again.
Manchin strung along his colleagues for more than a year in a fruitless exercise of bad-faith negotiation and appeasement. Even after the Biden administration diluted its climate agenda to meet his demands, Manchin made new ones. Most disturbing are reports that the administration delayed important federal environmental rules out of fear of angering Manchin, with nothing to show for it.
It should be clear by now that Manchin has no intention of acting in the public interest and cares more about retaining his position of power than the viability of our planet. Should we have expected more from someone who has made a fortune from the burning of coal and receives more campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry than any other senator?
Manchin's betrayal of his party and of future generations may not be surprising at this point. But it still stings. Congress' inability to pass meaningful climate legislation marks only the latest chapter in a sad history of failure going back decades. It's especially galling because of how in-your-face the effects of global warming have become. The dithering is at odds with the desires of growing numbers of Americans who are alarmed and demanding action. Practically, this defeat means that we will almost certainly miss the climate targets necessary to keep global warming in check, and dashes hopes of cutting U.S. emissions in half by 2030, as Biden has pledged.
It's maddening that because the entire Republican Party refuses to address climate change, a single senator from a coal-rich state with a population less than 5% of California's can effectively veto action on a spiraling crisis that threatens the lives of everyone on the planet. The Supreme Court is similarly out of step, having limited the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act without explicit authorization from Congress — an action the justices well know lawmakers will not take.
That doesn't mean we are hopelessly stuck, though it does portend a serious scaling back of Biden's climate agenda. Even if it falls short, some climate action is still better than none. And preventing even a fraction of a degree of additional warming is better than doing nothing.