The US supreme court’s overturning of Roe v Wade was a direct attack on women. It will result in countless deaths, especially among vulnerable women, and it set civil liberties in the United States back by half a century. Now, the court has made yet another devastating decision for humanity.
In a 6-3 decision, the openly partisan and undemocratic court ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought by fossil-fuel-producing states against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The decision strips power from regulatory agencies and advances the Republican goal to end government oversight. In particular, it eliminates one of the only remaining avenues for systemic federal climate action: using the Clean Air Act to phase out fossil fuel power plants. As a result, it may now be mathematically impossible through available avenues for the US to achieve its goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which is anyway feeling dangerously unambitious in light of recent climate disasters.
In an era of crises, global heating increasingly stands out as the single greatest emergency humanity faces. Global heating is driving extreme heat, drought and flooding in the US and around the world. It’s driving wildfire and ecosystem collapse, and may already be contributing to famine and warfare. Crucially, this is all worsening day by day, and it will continue to worsen until we end the fossil fuel industry.
The scientific consensus is that global carbon dioxide emissions must peak now (ie, between 2020 and 2025), and no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built, if we are to preserve a two-thirds chance of keeping mean global heating below 2C. In my opinion, our current level of mean global heating of 1.3C is already obviously unsafe; 1.5C, which we are on track to reach in the early 2030s, would be catastrophic; and 2C, which we are on track to reach mid-century, could make global civilization as we know it impossible.
These are the stakes of this supreme court decision, which adds another layer on to already daunting strata of blocks to climate action. More than a quarter of members of Congress are still hard climate deniers. These 139 Republican members (more than half of the Republican total, including Mitch McConnell) have accepted $61m so far in direct contributions from the fossil fuel industry, not including “indirect” support. Many other members of Congress also accept fossil fuel money, including Democrats; indeed, the politician who takes the most is Joe Manchin, and four of the top 10 are also Democrats.
In the White House, we have a president who has recently put fossil fuel expansion and lower gas prices at the top of his agenda, who barely mentioned climate in his first State of the Union address, who approved far more new drilling permits during his first year than Trump, and who has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry. Internationally, we have annual meetings which have failed us for 26 years, perhaps because they have been deeply compromised by the fossil fuel industry.
Conflict of interest, lobbying, bribery … whatever you choose to call it, it amounts to the already rich further enriching themselves at enormous cost to humanity and the rest of life on Earth, and it extends all the way to the justices themselves. This is the intersection of a social system designed to concentrate wealth like a gravitational singularity (we call it “capitalism”) and fossil fuel power. For example, billionaire Charles Koch, who runs the world’s largest privately held fossil fuel corporation, not only directly pushed for this decision, he campaigned to install the three new Republican justices in the first place. Rupert Murdoch has spent decades creating a worldwide climate denial media empire that includes Fox News. And fossil fuel executives have colluded for decades to prevent climate action with full knowledge of the consequences.
Without a livable planet, nothing else matters. As the Earth’s capacity to support life continues to degrade, millions, eventually billions of people will be displaced and die, fascism will rise, climate wars will intensify and the rule of law will break down. The myth of American exceptionalism will offer no protection from deadly heat and climate famine.
In the US we now live under the sway of robed, superstitious fools hellbent on rolling back basic civil liberties and rejecting scientific facts. Carl Sagan, warning against this sort of anti-science, wrote: “The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.” The consequences of ignoring scientists for too long are coming home to roost.
We desperately need a government working to stop Earth’s breakdown rather than accelerate it, but petitions or pleas to “vote harder” will not make this happen. Due to capture by the ultra-rich, our only option is to fight. To shift society into emergency mode and end the fossil fuel industry, we must join together and do all we can to wake people up to the grave danger we are in. We must engage in climate disobedience. I believe that the tides could still turn, that power could shift suddenly. But this can only happen when enough people join the fight.