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The view from Egypt: Trumpism, Putinism, Bolsonaroism finally on the defensive
Those of us who have been faithful in bringing the world bad news are perhaps excused if we seize occasionally on the the promising straws in the wind (though always aware that ill winds continue blowing, and not just in Florida where a rare November hurricane made landfall today). I’m thinking globally this afternoon, because I’m at the climate summit in Sharm al Sheikh in Egypt, where dozens of countries have pavilions (it’s the Epcot of carbon mitigation.) And the planet looks just a little better than it did a month ago.
This is a fighting newsletter, and weeks like this encourage us to fight on. If you can afford it without causing financial hardship, I’d be grateful if you paid the modest subscription fee. But if you can’t don’t worry about it!
The midterm elections went…really quite okay. Good people lost (Mandela Barnes would have been a superb Senator, and Val Demings too) and a lot of races were razor-tight: that Raphael Warnock has to go into sudden-death overtime against Herschel Walker should be maddening for anyone possessing either a brain or heart. But, since the New York Times had confidently informed me in a news story on October 22 that the “Democrats’ Feared Red October Has Arrived,” I was awfully heartened to read the overall results in a Cairo dawn. (And awfully glad I hadn’t let the Times persuade me to stop working—I’m all but certain that the hundreds of Reno apartment doors my Third Act colleagues and I knocked the weekend after that story came out were the difference in what looks like the possible re-election of Catherine Cortez Masto and a Senate majority no matter what Georgia decides. Thank you residents of Lodestar Drive!)
The midterms weren’t the autumn’s only good news. Jair Bolsonaro’s defeat in Brazil will translate directly into tens of millions of trees not being cut down or burned; Lula is coming here to the climate summit, and indeed offering to host one of the upcoming annual meetings.
And meanwhile Vladimir Putin has decided to evacuate Kherson, the one regional capital he’d managed to take in his savage invasion of Ukraine. The timing’s interesting; some speculated that the results of the midterms were the final straw, since it’s clear that even the slim House majority the GOP will hold won’t be enough to cut off military aid to the Kyiv government. If the Republicans had picked up dozens of seats the view from Moscow might have looked a little different.
There’s many reasons for these successes (the organizing done in the wake of the Dobbs decision was remarkable) but all of these developments are tied in some way to the climate story. Brazil under Bolsonaro has been the world capital of deforestation; Putin’s invasion is funded by gas and oil, uses gas and oil as a weapon, and has given his friends in the gas and oil industry room to push for a rapid expansion of fossil fuels—enough, according to a report circulating today on the conference floor, to by itself push the world past 1.5 degrees. And he had enlisted his friends in Saudi Arabia to run up the price of oil precisely in the hope of weakening the Biden administration in the run-up to the midterms.
But it didn’t work. Gas prices indeed remained high, thanks to Riyadh, the Kremlin, and the profiteers at Exxon et al, but it didn’t produce a red wave. And the Inflation Reduction Act, with its massive funding for clean energy, didn’t produce a backlash—indeed, very few Republicans campaigned against it, cognizant that solar panels have high levels of support across the board. The IRA seems set now—the GOP plan to refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless it was repealed seems unlikely given the thin margins Kevin McCarthy will enjoy in the House.
And perhaps—just perhaps—the Trumpian moment has passed its crest. It was his feral genius for division that arguably got all this going; his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris accords was the lowest point of decades of climate politics. But he’s a reduced figure after this week.
I could easily recite a litany of our remaining challenges, and I will doubtless return to that tomorrow. (The grimmest news of the day is the Egyptian government is forcefeeding political prisoner Alaa Abdel Fattah so that his hunger strike won’t kill him while the climate conference is still underway; there will never be a shortage of tyrants in the world, and many of us here know that we’d be in jail or worse were we Egyptian). But for the moment, in at least a few places and however temporarily, rational people have confronted some of the planet’s most powerful madmen, and if reason won by 51-49 margins it nonetheless won. And since rationality—a certain kind of calm—is necessary for dealing with the most serious challenge we’ve ever faced, the mood at these talks is lighter than one had any reason to expect going in.
More news from the world of climate and energy
+New data from Global Witness and Corporate Accountability International shows 636 oil and gas lobbyists at this climate summit, up 25% from last year and larger than any national delegation except the United Arab Emirates, which if you think about is pretty much an oil and gas lobby too. Meahwhile, hundreds of scientists have signed a petition telling pr giant Hill and Knowlton to stop representing the oil and gas industry—a particularly sad tie, since they’re also the public relations consultant for this gathering. “It's like putting Philip Morris in charge of tobacco negotiations,” veteran campaigner Jamie Henn told the Washington Post.
+The smart people at InfluenceMap have put out a new report identifying the 25 companies doing the most damaging lobbying on climate issues. As you might expect, Exxon and Chevron top the list, but Toyota—once the proud provider of the Prius—comes in tenth, now that it’s taken to fighting against greening the transit sector.
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