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Tomgram: Michael Klare, Heating the Planet Through a New Cold War

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

It began with fire. It ended with ice. In between, there were the storms and floods. And the extremity of it all should have caught anyone's attention.

First, of course, there was that burning season that set staggering records across California four million acres incinerated, double the previous high Oregon, and Washington. Those devastating burns spread as far east as Colorado at a moment when the Southwest may well have entered a climate-change-induced "megadrought."

Then, of course, there was that Atlantic hurricane season: a record fifth-straight above-normal season with 30 named storms stretching across two alphabets, 12 of which "landed" with often devastating effect in this country. Let's not forget those floods either, one of which set a record in Michigan.

And finally, of course, as 2021 began, the stunning winter storms with record cold and ice that essentially turned Texas into a failed state. Millions of Texans were left without power or running water in freezing temperatures evidently caused at least in part because the Arctic is rapidly overheating, pushing frigid air southward in winter. Of course, the governor of Texas promptly went on Fox News to assure those iced-in millions that it was all the fault of alternative energy systems. (It wasn't, not faintly.)

And keep in mind that such climate extremity is becoming the norm. After all, the last seven years have been the hottest in recorded history and 2020 tied for the warmest of them all.

Such records (a word that, when it comes to climate change, has to be used again and again) should be daunting enough to make one thing obvious, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change, points out today: the two greatest greenhouse gas emitters on planet Earth, the United States and China, desperately need to collaborate to bring climate change under control. It's so self-evident it should hardly need to be said and yet, eerily enough, as Klare has been reporting, the U.S. and China seem ever more locked into a new, increasingly militarized, cold-war-style relationship, one that the Biden administration seems by no means prepared to avert. Under the circumstances, that's the definition of a catastrophe. Tom

Biden, Climate Change, and China
A New Cold War = A Scalding Planet

By

Slowing the pace of climate change and getting "tough" on China, especially over its human-rights abuses and unfair trade practices, are among the top priorities President Biden has announced for his new administration. Evidently, he believes that he can tame a rising China with harsh pressure tactics, while still gaining its cooperation in areas of concern to Washington. As he wrote in Foreign Affairs during the presidential election campaign, "The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China's abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change." If, however, our new president truly believes that he can build an international coalition to gang up on China and secure Beijing's cooperation on climate change, he's seriously deluded. Indeed, though he could succeed in provoking a new cold war, he won't prevent the planet from heating up unbearably in the process.

Biden is certainly aware of the dangers of global warming. In that same Foreign Affairs article, he labeled it nothing short of an "existential threat," one that imperils the survival of human civilization. Acknowledging the importance of relying on scientific expertise (unlike our previous president who repeatedly invented his own version of scientific reality), Biden affirmed the conclusion of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that warming must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels or there will be hell to pay. He then pledged to "rejoin the Paris climate agreement on day one of a Biden administration," which he indeed did, and to "make massive, urgent investments at home that put the United States on track to have a clean energy economy with net-zero [greenhouse gas] emissions by 2050" the target set by the IPCC.

Even such dramatic actions, he indicated, will not be sufficient. Other countries will have to join America in moving toward a global "net-zero" state in which any carbon emissions would be compensated for by equivalent carbon removals. "Because the United States creates only 15 percent of global emissions," he wrote, "I will leverage our economic and moral authority to push the world to determined action, rallying nations to raise their ambitions and push progress further and faster."

China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases right now (although the U.S. remains number one historically), would obviously be Washington's natural partner in this effort. Here, though, Biden's antagonistic stance toward that country is likely to prove a significant impediment. Rather than prioritize collaboration with China on climate action, he chose to castigate Beijing for its continued reliance on coal. The Biden climate plan, he wrote in Foreign Affairs, "includes insisting that China" stop subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing pollution to other countries by financing billions of dollars' worth of dirty fossil-fuel energy projects through its Belt and Road Initiative." Then he went further by portraying the future effort to achieve a green economy as a potentially competitive, not collaborative, struggle with China, saying,

"I will make investment in research and development a cornerstone of my presidency, so that the United States is leading the charge in innovation. There is no reason we should be falling behind China or anyone else when it comes to clean energy."

Unfortunately, though he's not wrong on China's climate change challenges (similar, in many respects, to our own country's), you can't have it both ways. If climate change is an existential threat and international collaboration between the worst greenhouse gas emitters key to overcoming that peril, picking fights with China over its energy behavior is a self-defeating way to start. Whatever obstacles China does pose, its cooperation in achieving that 1.5-degree limit is critical. "If we don't get this right, nothing else will matter," Biden said of global efforts to deal with climate change. Sadly, his insistence on pummeling China on so many fronts (and appointing China hawks to his foreign policy team to do so) will ensure that he gets it wrong. The only way to avert catastrophic climate change is for the United States to avoid a new cold war with China by devising a cooperative set of plans with Beijing to speed the global transition to a green economy.

Why Cooperation Is Essential

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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