There are better ways to address climate change than insisting federal lawmakers declare a national “climate emergency” — including building a left-right coalition that can work together to build resilience to the environmental challenges of the 21st century while preserving democracy, civil liberties and human rights.
In February 2022, 1,140 organizations sent President Biden a letter urging him to declare a “climate emergency.” A group of U.S. Senators did the same, in October 2022, and a House bill, introduced in 2021, also called on the president to “declare a national climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act.”
But what does it actually mean for the president of the U.S. to officially declare a “climate emergency”?
Most people don’t realize that under U.S. law, a national emergency declaration triggers a set of emergency powers that allows a president to act without the need for further legislation.
For civil libertarians across the political spectrum, from left to right, a “climate emergency” should be a focus of concern.
Even environmentalists who may instinctively and understandably support the idea should be worried about the potential for the authoritarian model of “emergency” governance that arose during COVID-19 to overtake climate policy.
Elements of the left and right should be coming together to reject demands that we sacrifice democratic norms, rights and freedoms for flimsy promises of safety from political and economic elites who seek to exploit a crisis — a cynical ploy that COVID-19 thoroughly exposed.
Before that, I might have supported a “climate emergency” without a second thought. Now, after three years of lockdowns, mandates, censorship and other heavy-handed policies, the trust is gone.
The leaders pushing for a new emergency who have failed to repudiate the abuses of the last one — even those with the purest of intentions regarding the environment — have lost credibility.
How would a ‘climate emergency’ even work?
Environmental advocacy groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity have called on the Biden administration to invoke specific emergency statutes that would give him the power to:
- Ban crude oil exports.
- Stop oil and gas drilling on the outer continental shelf.
- Curtail international trade and investment in fossil fuels.
The Center for Biological Diversity says that these emergency powers would allow Biden to put the U.S. on the path to “jettison the fossil-fuel economy and burgeon a just, anti-racist, and regenerative America in its place.”
However, there are many reasons to doubt such grandiose claims. Numerous energy and materials experts, including the well-known analyst Vaclav Smil, have concluded that a rapid transition to “green” energy may not even be possible.
Even if Biden fully exercised the emergency powers identified by the Center for Biological Diversity, this would have little effect on emissions.
Climate experts who must speak on the condition of anonymity to “avoid upsetting colleagues” admit that “while a climate [emergency] declaration is important in terms of media attention and galvanizing the climate movement, it does not have significant impacts on carbon pollution.”
When you look at the wish lists of the Senate and House members who want Biden to declare a “climate emergency,” and the demands of the many activists who say we must reach “net-zero” emissions by 2050, the emergency powers listed by the Center for Biological Diversity barely scratch the surface of what most say is needed.
Elizabeth Kolbert, a leading climate journalist, recently wrote an article “Climate Change from A to Z,” published in The New Yorker. Here’s what she says must happen to reach net-zero by 2050:
- The fossil fuel industry will essentially have to be dismantled, and millions of leaky and abandoned wells sealed.
- Concrete production will have to be reengineered. The same goes for the plastics and chemicals industries.
- The fertilizer industry will also have to be refashioned.
- Practically all the boilers and water heaters that now run on oil or gas, commercial and residential, will have to be replaced. So will all the gas stoves and dryers and industrial kilns.
- The airline industry will have to be revamped, as will the shipping industry.
- Farming “emissions, too, will have to be eliminated.”
- Electrical transmission capacity must be “expand[ed] so that hundreds of millions of cars, trucks, and buses can be run on electricity.”
- “Tens of millions” of public charging stations [must be installed] on city streets and even more charging stations in private garages.
- Nickel and lithium must be extracted for electric batteries, “which will mean siting new mines, either in the U.S. or abroad.”
- New methods for producing steel or building a new infrastructure for capturing and sequestering carbon” must be invented.
“All of this should be done — indeed, must be done,” Kolbert wrote. “Zeroing out emissions means rebuilding the U.S. economy from the bottom up.”
A 2021 report by Deutsche Bank said that we may have to accept “a certain degree of eco-dictatorship” to reach net-zero by 2050. The U.N. has suggested countries are moving too slowly, leaving us with no option but the “rapid transformation of societies.”
How a ‘climate emergency’ could infringe on civil liberties and human rights
How worried should we be that a “climate emergency” intended to “rapidly transform” our entire society by 2050 — which would be the 80th national emergency in U.S. history — might gradually expand in scope to infringe on basic civil liberties and human rights?
In October 2020, University College of London economics professor Mariana Mazzucato, who chairs an economics council for the WHO, published an article expressly raising the possibility of “climate lockdowns” to address a “climate emergency.”
A “climate emergency” is a powerful legal tool that could conceivably be used to impose “green” restrictions on the public in circumvention of the normal democratic lawmaking process, particularly if a presidential administration comes under pressure to stretch its emergency powers beyond their intended purpose.
The book “Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It,” by three environmentalists, methodically picks apart arguments that solar, wind and other “green” energy technologies are clean, renewable or good for the planet.
Even to find sufficient quantities of minerals for “green” energy to be developed at scale, mining companies may begin “deep-sea mining” — some have already applied for permits — which ocean ecologists fear could annihilate ocean ecosystems.
Mining for lithium and other metals at a large enough scale would also have to take over vast areas of wildlife habitat, worsening the global biodiversity crisis.
Climate activists and progressive politicians seem to believe that this collateral damage to the environment is a small price to pay for a “green” economy, which will ultimately save more of the planet than it destroys — but there are reasons to be skeptical.
Gefology Professor Simon Michaux, Ph.D., for instance, concluded there are not enough minerals and other resources on Earth to build economy-wide “green” energy technologies and infrastructure.
And of course, it remains doubtful that “green” energy is even capable of powering the growing global economy, which still gets over 80% of its energy from fossil fuels. Even under a “climate emergency,” for the foreseeable future, we will most likely be stuck with the environmental damage caused by both fossil fuels and “green” energy.
Missing from the conversation about a “climate emergency” is a broader understanding of how ecological damage to soil, water, forests, biodiversity and ecosystems drives climate change and interrelated environmental problems.
As activist Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., explained, the globalized industrial food system is a main driver of climate change due to land use change, agrochemical pollution, monocultures, and other unecological methods.
Governments around the world are using environmental goals to forcibly shut down small farms as they promote dependence on industrial technologies and factory foods that could make climate change and other environmental problems worse.
Would government officials use a ‘climate emergency’ to let Bill Gates ‘dim the sky’?
As if all the above were not worrisome enough, there is one final thing that the U.S. government operating under a “climate emergency” might try to do — something that has unparalleled potential to end in ecological disaster.
Another New Yorker article — this one by the country’s foremost climate activist, Bill McKibben, who has led the charge for a federally declared “climate emergency, warns, “Dimming the Sun to Cool the Planet is a Desperate Idea, Yet We’re Inching Toward It.”
McKibben’s article is about “solar engineering” — spraying reflective chemicals into the stratosphere — to cool down the planet. Scientists funded in part by Gates have been studying the issue.
The potential side effects of “dimming the sun” are mind-boggling. They include turning the sky from blue to white and plunging entire regions of the Earth into ecological chaos.
‘Left’ and ‘right’ must collaborate to pursue alternatives to a ‘climate emergency’
This issue should not be framed as a dispute between “deniers” and “believers” in climate change. The prospect of a wide-ranging and long-lasting emergency mode of governance should prompt serious questions from everyone across the political spectrum.
These questions include:
- Will a “climate emergency” put us on the path to solving climate change, or will it merely centralize power and enrich special interests while potentially undermining democracy, civil liberties and human rights?
- Will a “climate emergency” be used to promote dubious or even dangerous “green” technologies that actually harm the environment?
- What happens if/when emergency measures most likely fail to affect climate change? Will the government keep doubling down on policies that do not actually work, creating a doom loop of failure followed by louder calls for more to be done?
One major cause that a left-right coalition could get behind is local, small-scale, organic agriculture — healthier and much friendlier to the environment than the globalized industrial food system, which is responsible for at least a third, and by some estimates, a majority of greenhouse gas emissions.
Small-scale organic agriculture also is good for family farmers and small business owners, and more conducive to local food security in a time of global instability and economic uncertainty.
What to do about those involved in geoengineering and terraforming which changes climate? Are we trying to solve a problem these bad actors are creating to establish despotic control and depopulate by 6 billion people. Stop that activity first and watch the climate heal.
Mexico has adopted a direct ban on geoengineering, Raymond. That’s certainly a start: https://stuartbramhall.wordpress.com/2023/01/28/mexico-becomes-first-nation-to-admit-harms-of-geoengineering-halts-future-experiments/
Hopefully non-aligned countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia will be quick to follow suit.
That being said, I agree with the source Vandiver cities in the article about industrial agriculture being responsible for the bulk of climate problems: https://grain.org/article/entries/5102-food-sovereignty-five-steps-to-cool-the-planet-and-feed-its-people
Even more dire is the loss of most of the world’s topsoil and fresh water by industrial farming.