The Normalization of Climate Destruction

by Basim Hussain

What You Can Do

  • Disrupt the narratives about the United States being “back on track” or the goal of “net zero” when you hear them being brought up to reframe discourse around immediate change [1]
  • Pressure public and private leaders in your community to call for immediate decarbonization [6]

Since the turn of the century, climate change has been recognized again and again as an existential threat to human life. Even decades before, environmental researchers and activists warned that, should the status quo remain the same, humanity was on a crash course towards environmental destruction. Yet, only incremental changes have been made towards combating the causes of climate change, all while public and private sector leaders reassure us that we are “on the right track.” The Biden administration and its allies are attempting to normalize this narrative, with the dire consequence of silencing challenges to the existing state of affairs that are necessary in combating climate change.

Public and private sector leaders have been attempting to normalize the inadequacy of current responses to climate change through the creation of various narratives that exclude the radical change essential for environmental conservation. One such rendering is the myth of “restoration” being presented by the Biden administration. In appointing John Kerry and Gina McCarthy to climate-change related positions, public leaders such as Al Gore were quick to claim that the United States was “back on task,” as though preventing climate destruction had ever been an American priority. This is the “restoration” myth: under its new leadership, the United States will somehow restore its commitment to environmental protection. However, looking at the facts, it is clear that no such commitment existed even prior to the Trump administration. For example, in 1997, the United States was the only country out of 192 not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the first major international climate agreement. By arguing that the public should accept the current administration’s climate policies because they are “better than Trump’s,” the restoration narrative ignores that Biden’s wish to return to pre-Trump climate policies inevitably spells doom for the environment [1].

This myth of restoration is perhaps best exemplified by the Biden administration’s pride in rejoining the Paris Agreement. The administration claimed that entering this agreement once again was the first step in “weaving climate change into our most important bilateral and multilateral conversations at all levels” [2]. However, the weakness of the Agreement and the administration’s actions since then paint a very different picture. As we saw even before Trump, the Paris Agreement does little to prevent the already massive fossil fuel industry from continuing to expand. For example, right after the Paris Agreement was initially signed under the Obama administration, Obama ended the United States’ crude oil export ban, easing restrictions on the destructive fossil fuel market [1]. Furthermore, since rejoining the pact, Biden has approved oil and gas drilling “at a faster rate than Trump” [3]. It is clear that this facade of the country being “back on track” is only a veneer for a return to a status quo that guarantees environmental destruction.

Furthering the complacency of world leaders is the myth of “net zero emissions.” By aiming for net zero, the United States and other nations are not trying to prevent climate destruction; they are trying to maintain business as usual. The typical thinking behind net zero is that sources of negative emissions will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, like through futuristic renewable technologies [4]. But while the United States and others place their hopes on untested technologies that might achieve net zero by 2050, the continued propagation of fossil fuels is destroying land and communities right now. While nations in the Global North have the luxury to wait decades for climate protection, for nations in the Global South disproportionately affected by climate change, immediate systemic change is the only option [5]. The net zero myth ignores this suffering. Proponents of it seek to mask the urgency of the climate crisis by continuing to place our hopes in magical, non-existent technology.

The continued dissemination of these dangerous narratives by public and private leaders in the United States and abroad demonstrates their complete disregard for real environmental protection and their single-minded desire to uphold the status quo. We should not accept these empty statements of being “back on track” and “net zero by 2050.” We need to pressure our leaders to implement immediate decarbonization now.

Works Cited

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