The GOP Climate Plan is: Let's Light Stuff on Fire
It's hard to have politics when half the players aren't even trying
Politics is inherently messy, frustrating, slow, and hard, and hence utterly out of synch with the split-second desires and judgements of a social media world; within months of taking office, even the most promising leaders now find themselves wearing out their welcome. It took just six weeks, for instance, for Chile’s new leftist president Gabriel Boric’s approval rating to drop from 55% to 31%. “Honeymoons are very short now,” said Maria Victoria Murillo, director of the Institute for Latin American Studies at Columbia University. “Voters had high expectations in Chile; they wanted to see improvements in their lives and competence in government.” Cynicism rises so fast—and it inherently favors those rightwing parties that disdain government to begin with.
Given the record of domestic policy failure over the first 18 months, it’s hard to offer a robust defense of the Democrats and the Biden administration. But you could say that on the great issues of the day they’ve at least been trying. And trying almost entirely by themselves.
One of those issues is the preservation of democracy. The hearings that began last night are offering a stark reminder of just how evil—to use a word I would not normally use—Donald Trump was and is. But they also offer a reminder of just how craven almost everyone else in his party has become. Among the 210 GOP representatives, only Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney—one retiring, and one about to be retired by the Fox-addled voters of Wyoming—are willing to acknowledge the obvious truth: Trump was willing to sacrifice our democratic system for his infantile emotional needs.
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And then there’s the other crucial issue of our time. The Republicans issued their “climate plan” a week ago, and it turned out…not to be a climate plan at all. It turned out to be a sloppy kiss for their friends in the oil and gas industry; indeed, at the unveiling, one official was so moved that he urged team Red to “promote, respect and appreciate the awesomeness and the goodness of this industry.” The GOP “climate plan” envisions six pillars:
Let America Build
Beat China and Russia
Conservation with a Purpose; and
Build Resilient Communities
Only the first of these has any details as yet, and all those details are about increasing production of oil and gas, which of course is precisely what causes climate change. (As always, the insistence that this will “cut carbon emissions” depends on no one noticing that substituting gas for coal dramatically increases methane emissions, which a new study finds the industry has been systematically underestimating.) Their “plan” involves simply taking the wishlist of the fossil fuel industry and slapping the word “climate” on it. It’s about as sophisticated and about as honest as announcing that your “health plan” involves mailing every American a carton of cigarettes and a Wendy’s coupon.
One could take some solace, I suppose, in the thought that they even have to go through this exercise: the climate movement has managed to build enough support for the idea of climate action that they feel they must pay it lip service. But it’s a reminder of how hard it is to even have a discussion when one party to that discussion is entirely unserious. (Among other things, it lets the Democrats get away with doing the absolute minimum, secure in the knowledge that it will always be better than what the other side will offer). There’s not even a single version of Liz Cheney on this issue; the few who have existed in the last couple of decades (South Carolina’s Bob Inglis, for instance) have long since lost their primaries.
Journalists still operate on the assumption that the two parties are still as they once were, broadly opposing ideological forces with different views that our political system would work to reconcile. But on the issues that matter most that’s simply not true any more. On the issues that matter most Republicans won’t even show up.
More news from around the world of climate and energy:
+Third Act continues to grow by leaps and bounds—here’s a wonderful account of the Virginia chapter at work. Deborah Kushner: “I realized that, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s my turn,’” she recalled about her rededication to direct action. “It hit me that this is our time. While some might see us as an oddity at a protest, elders have some sort of clout and we need to capitalize on it.” On the other side of the country, a powerhouse Third Act chapter is emerging in Puget Sound, and Ann Hedreen explains some of the reasons why. Meanwhile, Brad Johnson has some useful reflections on the older people running our Congress.
+Want to make your rural community more economically stable and raise your property values? See if you can persuade someone to build a windfarm there.
The study concluded that, on average, US counties where wind energy was built saw increases in per-capita income of 5% and per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) of 6.5%, relative to the average trends seen in counties that did not have new wind turbines. Furthermore, they concluded that the economic impacts were directly caused by the installation and operation of the windfarms.
+Want to understand the sordid story of how the rich countries are not living up to their promises to help the global south through the climate crisis? Read Kate Aronoff’s take:
A study released this week by Oxfam found that UN humanitarian appeals for extreme weather events have grown 800 percent since 2000. Donor nations have, on average, met just 54 percent of those appeals since 2017. Many climate-vulnerable countries are also facing mounting debt and cost-of-living crises, and could be forced even deeper into the red to recover from worsening storms and floods. That’s what happened recently in Mozambique, which took out a $118 million IMF loan in 2019 after Cyclone Idai claimed over a thousand lives. Overall, some 80 percent of climate finance has come in the form of loans.
+China looks poised to meet its current carbon targets, and may be in a position to set more aggressive ones. But it is warning about the “worst wheat crop in history,” which—as I made clear in last week’s column, and David Wallace-Wells made clearer still this week—is not the best year for this to happen.
+Australia’s sui generis climate hero Blair Palese writes an open letter to Jeff Bezos explaining how a truly disruptive tech bro may be getting useful things done down under.
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I confess that Chapter 74 below is one of my favorite scenes in this whole endless nonviolent yarn. If you want to read the first 72 chapters of The Other Cheek, you can find them in the archive.
Director Liu sat with his old team at the Propaganda Ministry—he wasn’t actually director at the moment, but the acting head had been his protégé, and he seemed content to slide back towards old arrangements, now that his boss had returned from Inner Mongolia and was, tentatively at least, back in the good graces of Minister Hua. The nine team members were arranged around a table, and he slid a tan envelope to each of them.
“Everything we do is a state secret, obviously, but this is in a different class,” he said. “These papers do not leave this room—this is where we come when we’re working on this project, which we will call ‘the project.’ The two men posted outside the door are, obviously, security; they’ll make sure that you don’t bring a phone or a computer in or out—we have all the tech we need in here,” he said, pointing to a row of shiny MacBook Airs lined up at the end of the table. “Those are not connected to anything—they’re for actually doing work on, not roaming around the Internet. If you need something from outside, Ms. Chang will look it up for you—she has the one web connection in this room,” he said, nodding towards a young woman at the end of the table.
He paused, and the eight others opened their envelopes and began to shuffle through papers. There were excited murmurs, and one man whistled low and long. “Is this for real?” he said.
“Very much,” said the director. “And it’s ten days away, on New Year’s Eve—global New Years, not Chinese.”
“But I’m confused—I thought the rocket launch was for an unmanned probe of the moon,” the man said.
“You and everyone else,” said Liu. “But in fact, the space agency has been planning to return people to the moon for a while, to pick up where the Americans left off, to show who has the momentum now. The lottery money speeded up the time table, and now that we have the other thing, President Xi has decided to do them both at once. It’s going to be the greatest day in modern Chinese history. No one will know there are astronauts on the way to the moon until they get there.”
“The other thing is . . . the babies?”
“Exactly,” said Liu. “They were born three days ago—induced labor, because we couldn’t fall behind schedule. And we had to make sure they were, for lack of a better word, normal.”
“And they are?”
“In all the ways we want them to be—happy smiling twin boys. And they’re very not normal in all the ways we want, too. They are genetically modified to resist a variety of diseases, and they will grow up with an extra dose of serotonin—they should be content, and they should be smart. We won’t know for a few years, of course, but all the genes that we can so far link to IQ have been tweaked. It’s only a few extra points, but—proof of concept. The bottom line is, these are the first. China has made the first superbabies. And our job is to make sure the world celebrates that. Our job is to write a commercial—to write a script that the astronauts can deliver, and the doctors back on the ground, and of course President Xi. To make it a night no one ever forgets.”
“What are their names?” a middle-aged woman asked.
“No, the babies.”
“Ah, good question Ms. Cai. It’s one of our jobs, to come up with the best names for these boys.”
“The parents don’t want to name them?”
“The parents will be pleased to let us do what we want,” he said. “After all, they already let us change their genes.”
“Hmm,” she said.
For a moment the table broke out in chatter—director Liu could hear people trying out names. ‘Progress,’ someone suggested. ‘Red Star.’
“Maybe we could get a corporation to pay for naming rights,” said one. “Maybe you could call them Tsing and Tao, after the beer.”
“This is not a stunt,” said director Liu. “Well, it is a stunt, but not that kind. It’s a patriotic stunt. There was some thought in the Central Committee that we could name them both Xi, because it is our great leader who has brought us to this moment, but very few twins are named the same thing.”
“The idea is that we’re going to have the astronauts announce the babies from the moon, and then cut to President Xi? That sounds complicated,” said an older man.
“Oh, it’s more complicated than that,” said director Liu. “We want to try to cut into every smartphone on earth. We want everyone to see this—right about the moment the clock counts down to midnight in Times Square.”
“How is that even possible?”
“Well, it probably won’t be possible to get it out everywhere,” Liu said. “But did you know that Vodafone and Nokia set up a cell phone system on the moon last year? It was kind of a gimmick, to support a private German mission to put an unmanned rover on the moon. And only 4G. But our guys say it means we can get a signal out to everywhere they operate. The engineers at Vodafone found a couple of the backdoors Huawei put in their routing equipment—but just a couple. There are lots of others they haven’t found yet. We should be able to ring about three quarters of the cellphones on the planet.”
“So your phone buzzes, you pick it up, and you see . . . Chinese astronauts?” Ms. Cai asked. “Won’t people think it’s fake?”
“Not once they see President Xi,” said Liu
“Maybe they won’t like it that we’ve taken over their phone?”
“Maybe they won’t like it that we’ve taken over the future,” said Liu. “In fact, that’s one of the themes to be working into this script. The 21st century belongs to us, the way the 20th belonged to America. Who’s on the moon now, suckers? Who’s got the babies? We were on top in the 12th century, and we’re back there in the 21st. Or something like that.”
“We’re doing this in China too?” the older man asked.
“Of course,” said Liu. “Midnight in New York is eleven a.m. in Beijing. It will be perfect—every phone will vibrate at once and that will be that.”
Ms. Cai looked a little dubious, but everyone else in the room was nodding, grinning. After years of the daily propaganda grind—of staring at chatrooms to make sure no one was mentioning Tiananmen Square, or of stirring up xenophobic little battles with Japan to distract from the smog—it felt good to be doing something positive. The room quieted for about ten minutes as people read their packets.
“I don’t get it,” said Ms. Cai. “If this is such a state secret, why are we tasked to work with something in America called the Better Tomorrow Institute?”
“Ah,” said director Liu. “Well, because—because a lot of the genetic tech isn’t exactly Chinese. A lot of it comes from America, so our scientists have been working with their scientists. Stanford, Harvard, Silicon Valley. But there are still certain—boundaries in America. Most of the scientists there are not eager to actually cross the line and produce these designed, improved babies. They fear a backlash.”
“Perception, maybe,” he said. “People have a bad feeling about eugenics. And religion, I think,” said the director. “America, as you know, is still quite superstitious. Some people believe that babies are a gift from God. At any rate, some of these American scientists are willing, even eager, to work with us, because they know that none of that is a problem here. Not only no religion, but since most Chinese just have one child we’ve got special reason to make sure they turn out great.”
“But if you’re this worried about security, aren’t they a greater problem than us?”
“Indeed,” said director Liu. “We are taking what steps we can to plug any possible leaks from the American end, though at this late date it’s problematic. But it’s a high priority. In fact, this entire operation—we’re calling it Operation Baby in the Moon—is now at the top of the agenda for the intelligence agencies. That’s why Minister Hua has booked all of you a block of rooms at the Hilton down the street. We’ll need you not to go home for the duration, or to communicate with your families—they’ve been told, as of this morning, that you’re needed for crucial state work.”
At this news the eager grins faded somewhat.
“I have a child of my own to look after,” said Ms. Cai. “She’s not a super child, but she’s my responsibility.”
“I’m sure your husband can look after her,” said director Liu. “In any event that’s how it’s going to be. Now, we need to get to work.”
The aspens outside SGI twinkled on at about 4 p.m. as the Colorado sun descended into the late December darkness—Allie and Cass had enlisted a bunch of the students in the task of wrapping white lights through the branches, and since the last tree-yoga session had headed home for the holidays there was no-one to complain that they were cutting off the trees’ circulation, interfering with their deciduous sleep, or otherwise engaging in arboreal harassment. (And they were using small solar panels to provide the power, short-circuiting another line of attack).
“No, they aren’t Christmas lights,” Cass had explained to a small delegation of students who had been considering a complaint. “They’re holiday lights. They can be for Hannukah except it ended about a week ago, or for Kwanzaa. If you’re a Sikh, it’s the season for marking the martyrdom of the four princes. If you’re Jain or Hindu, then we’re celebrating Diwali a little late. If you’re a two thousand year old Roman then it’s Saturnalia and you can make fun of your boss all day. If you’re nothing, then it’s the solstice. Mostly they’re pretty. When it’s this dark out we want it to be light again.” The students had considered, and then joined in the work. By the time Professor Lee drove up the entrance road with Wei and Momo in the front seat, a light snow had begun to fall, and the lights looked like constellations brought to earth, a delicate lacework against the deep black of the night.
Professor Lee had called to warn they were approaching, and so Maria was standing in the entrance door to greet them. She gave Wei a short hug designed not to overwhelm her, and took Momo into her arms for a proper kiss. “Welcome,” she said, as Professor Lee translated. “We are so happy to have you here with us. We’ve saved a little dinner for you both, and then you can decide if you want to go to the holiday party or not.” They followed her down a deserted hallway into the small conference room off the dining hall, where a simple supper had been laid out. Wei looked at the bowl of rice and the small dish of greens, and said something to Professor Lee with a smile. “Like home,” she translated. “Just the right amount. I fear that Wei has been a little overwhelmed by the quantity of food that Americans eat. As you know we came through customs in Atlanta because that’s where our friend was, and we’ve been driving since—Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, every time we stopped at a restaurant it was as if we were in some kind of eating contest. And of course where Wei grew up it was bad manners not to clean your plate. Eventually we settled on drive-throughs—a Happy Meal seems to be about enough food for a day.”
“Barbara, you’ve missed a lot,” Maria said. “Have you been able to talk with Perry and those guys?”
“Not really,” she said. “We were worried about who else might be listening. So that’s one of the jobs for tonight, now that I can use some reasonably encrypted equipment. But I did get the sense that things are coming to a head. And I did talk briefly to the folks in Arunachal today—have you been following that?”
“The DL?” Maria asked. “No—I mean, I know he’s getting close to the Tibet border, but I thought it was still a week or two of walking. Did something happen?”
“Oh, only the threat of a giant wall of water sweeping everything in its path as it crashes down from the Himalayas,” said Professor Lee. “But, they seem to be dealing.”
As they were talking, Cass and Allie came into the room, and sat down quietly next to Wei. Pointing, they told her their names, and then Allie took the dog. “Momo?” she asked, and when Wei nodded, Allie turned to the pup. “You’re very famous,” she said. “We saw you on YouTube. You’re going to like it here—and I know someone who is going to like you.”
“We’ll go see Gloria tomorrow,” Maria said. “Tonight, would you two like to take Wei to the party for a moment? I’m sure she’s tired, and it all may be a little much, so just stay with her and then take her to her room when she’s ready?”
“Would you like me to come with you to translate?” Professor Lee asked in Chinese.
“No, I will just watch. Thank you for your kindness,” Wei replied, giving the teacher a little hug. Holding Momo tight, she went off with the girls toward the faint sound of music coming from behind a door.
Wei looked at her two companions a little shyly as they reached the room, but they smiled at her and each kept a hand on her back. “Don’t worry, we’ll just sit in the back and watch,” Cass was saying as she opened the door. The minute Wei saw the scene inside, however, she went absolutely rigid, and then she grinned a grin so wide that Allie thought perhaps she was in terror. “It’s okay,” she said in useless English. “It’s just a holiday here, called Christmas. We’re supposed to be celebrating all the holidays, but Christmas is actually the most fun, so mostly . . .”
“Santa,” Wei said, pointing at the front of the room, where Professor Kennison was wearing a bright red suit and a white beard, and handing packages to Rafer and Johnson who were dressed as elves—they were delivering the parcels one at a time to students who were decorating a tree.
“You know about Santa?” Cass asked dubiously.
Wei clearly knew about Santa. In fact, it was clear she knew a lot about Santa, because she was singing along in perfect English to the tune playing through the sound system. “Good king Wenceslaus looked out, on the feast of Stephen,” she intoned. “While the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. Brightly shone the moon the night, though the frost was cru-el.” Allie and Cass were staring, wide-eyed. After a minute the song switched, and again Wei lit up. “Rocking around the Christmas tree, at the Christmas party hop,” she sang.
Cass heard someone chortling behind them, and turned to see Professor Lee, who had followed along. “I just thought I should check on her,” she said. “But I see there’s no need. There’s not a person in this room who knows more about Christmas.”
“Ho Ho Ho, what have we here,” said another Santa, this one fairly clearly Professor Goccilupe, who was returning from the bathroom. He sat down next to the girls and stuck out his hand. “Wei?” he said?
“Santa!” she said, giggling. “Santa Claus!”
Wei, as Professor Lee explained in a whisper, had spent hundreds of ten-hour days stuck in a small cubicle stuffed with Santas—Santas on unicycles, Santas in hula skirts, Santas in snow globes, Santas being pulled by tiny reindeer. Hour after hour carols had played through the tinny sound system—Bing Crosby on endless repeat. It appeared she couldn’t quite deal with this scene, though—it must have been, they later decided, like watching toys come to life. When Santa Tony handed her a present, she started to weep, and when she opened it to find a green and red Christmas collar for Momo she began to sob in earnest. She wrapped her arms around Professor Lee’s neck, and the teacher walked her away. She returned without Wei a few minutes later, and reported she was sleeping soundly.
“Is she okay?” Cass asked.
“In the last few weeks she’s fled from men with guns who came to her work to arrest her,” Professor Lee said. “She spent 48 hours in total darkness in a box in the back of a train, and got through three roadblocks of Chinese soldiers, and got woken up in the middle of the night to climb on board a helicopter which the pilot then crashed after an illegal border crossing. She and I got through U.S. customs on a fake passport, and now she’s here ten thousand miles from home and can’t speak the language, but where people clearly love her, and where Christmas apparently happens for real. So, ‘okay’ might not be the exact word, but I think she’s going to be fine.”
“Got it,” said Allie. “Can you teach us a little Chinese?” And so while the rest of the party opened stockings they sat quietly in a corner, drinking eggnog and going over phrases.