The supreme court has left the US with no plan for the climate crisis

Jul 7, 2022 by

Oliver Milman

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In mid-June, a ferocious “heat dome” brought roasting temperatures to much of the US, placing around a third of Americans under hazardous-heat warnings. It came soon after a record heatwave in India so brutal birds fell from the sky. Floods, meanwhile, have been the worst in a century in Bangladesh and so fierce in America’s Yellowstone national park that entire bridges and buildings were washed away.

Amid this tumult, the US supreme court has restricted the ability of the world’s largest historical carbon polluter to address the climate crisis. Last week, the rightwing-dominated court ruled that the US government cannot use its existing powers to reshape the country’s power generation away from coal towards a cleaner future.

In another country, this would be surmountable by simply passing legislation to remedy the shortfall. Many places, such as the UK, have, after all, enshrined climate targets and stipulations to phase out coal and other fossil fuels within certain timeframes.

Our planet’s leading superpower, however, has contrived to turn global heating into a partisan, ideological argument that sees climate action wax and wane depending on which party is in power. It has been almost four decades since then-president George HW Bush boasted: “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect forget about the White House effect.” And yet the US still has no national climate or energy policy in place. Having no such plan in 2022 as the world hurtles into a new reality of electric cars and wind turbines has left it oddly out of place in the modern world.

Governments do not have a further four decades to address escalating temperatures, and the window of opportunity to avoid the worst is now severely shrivelled. It’s unlikely we will dodge disastrous heating without strong action from the US and yet that first-ever climate bill is stalled in Congress – held up by a centrist senator who owns a coal-trading firm – and there is little time to strike a deal ahead of midterm elections in November, where Democrats are expected to lose.

The political failure for Joe Biden, who campaigned as the first climate president and presided over slender Democratic control of the Senate and Congress, would be enormous. But the real losers will be those left bereft of life, limb and property from the latest heatwave or flood. The next few months will be critical in deciding how many will have to suffer that fate.

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