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Hey, these days the world really is a barrel of cheery news, isn't it? Take the U.S. and China. How much more swimmingly could relations between them go on this planet of sickness and heat? Just in case you missed it, despite the attack on the Capitol on January 6th and his never-ending claims that he won the election, Donald Trump did leave office. Economically speaking, however, as the New York Times reported, he didn't not when it comes to China anyway. To date, eight months into his term, President Joe Biden is Donald Trump, at least in the sense that he's refused to lift the former president's tariffs on Chinese goods (for which, during the election campaign, he criticized Trump fiercely) and is pushing China's leaders on "trade commitments agreed to during the Trump administration."
Worse yet, when it comes to preparing for a new cold war with that country, if not a potential full-scale conflict, he's increasingly become The Donald-plus. And with the recent announcement of AUKUS, a new anti-Chinese bloc involving Great Britain, Australia, and the U.S. (the white man's Asian alliance, it seems), cemented by the selling of nuclear-powered subs to the Australians, things only grow more ominous. And both sides continue to spar dangerously around the island of Taiwan.
Meanwhile, as the American West has burned and the Chinese city of Zhengzhou essentially drowned, the possibility of significant climate relations between by far the two greatest greenhouse-gas emitters on the planet seems anything but hopeful. In fact, when former Secretary of State John Kerry, the Biden administration's special climate envoy, visited China last month, he came away with distinctly less than nothing. ("The Taliban got a better reception," noted one China observer.) And yet, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare makes all too clear today, if Beijing and Washington can't reach some kind of serious agreement, we, our children, and our grandchildren are in trouble deep. We face a future all-too-literally embroiled in what, as he explains, could be the hottest "war" around. Tom
How to Save the World (from a Climate Armageddon)
There's Only One Way and This Is It
This summer we witnessed, with brutal clarity, the Beginning of the End: the end of Earth as we know it a world of lush forests, bountiful croplands, livable cities, and survivable coastlines. In its place, we saw the early manifestations of a climate-damaged planet, with scorched forests, parched fields, scalding cities, and storm-wracked coastlines. In a desperate bid to prevent far worse, leaders from around the world will soon gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for a U.N. Climate Summit. You can count on one thing, though: all their plans will fall far short of what's needed unless backed by the only strategy that can save the planet: a U.S.-China Climate Survival Alliance.
Of course, politicians, scientific groups, and environmental organizations will offer plans of every sort in Glasgow to reduce global carbon emissions and slow the process of planetary incineration. President Biden's representatives will tout his promise to promote renewable energy and install electric-car-charging stations nationwide, while President Macron of France will offer his own ambitious proposals, as will many other leaders. However, no combination of these, even if carried out, would prove sufficient to prevent global disaster not as long as China and the U.S. continue to prioritize trade competition and war preparations over planetary survival.
In the end, it's not complicated. If the planet's two "great" powers refuse to cooperate in a meaningful way in tackling the climate threat, we're done for.
That harsh reality was made clear in September. The United Nations then issued a report on the likely impact of pledges already made by the nations that signed the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (from which President Trump withdrew in 2017 and which the U.S. has only recently rejoined). According to the U.N.'s analysis, even if all 200 signatories were to abide by their pledges and almost none have global temperatures are likely to rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius (nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by century's end. And that, in turn, most scientists agree, is a recipe for catastrophically irreversible changes to the planetary ecosphere, including the kind of sea level rise that will inundate most American coastal cities (and many others around the world) and the sort of heat, fire, and drought that will turn the American West into an uninhabitable wasteland.
Scientists generally agree that, to avert such catastrophic outcomes, global warming must not exceed, at worst, 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels and preferably, no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Mind you, the planet has already warmed 1 degree Celsius and we've only recently seen just how much damage even that amount of added heat can produce. To limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, by 2030, scientists believe, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would have to be reduced by 25% from 2018 levels; to limit it to 1.5 degrees, by 55%. Yet those emissions driven by strong economic growth in China, India, and other rapidly industrializing nations have actually been on an upward trajectory, rising on average by 1.8% per year between 2009 and 2019.
Several European countries, including Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands, have launched heroic efforts to lower their emissions to reach that 1.5 degree target, setting an example for nations with far bigger economies. But however admirable, in the grand scheme of things, they just won't matter enough to save the planet. Only the United States and China, by far the world's top two carbon emitters, are in a position to do so.
It all boils down to this: to save human civilization, the U.S. and China must dramatically reduce their CO2 emissions, while working together to persuade other major carbon-emitting nations, beginning with fast-rising India, to follow suit. That would, of course, mean setting aside their current antagonisms, however important they may seem to U.S. and Chinese leaders today, and instead making climate survival their number one priority and policy objective. Otherwise, put simply, all is lost.
The U.S.-China Carbon Juggernaut
To fully grasp just how central China and the United States (the largest carbon polluter in history) are to the global climate-change equation, you have to grasp their present roles in both carbon consumption and CO2 emissions.
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