There is a certain type of political ideology that considers motives far more important than methods, not only when it comes to climate but across the whole range of issues including that old slogan “Visualize World Peace”. But it certainly has infected climate too, and accounts in some measure for the odd combination of apocalyptic predictions and trifling virtue-signaling prescriptions. Like the New York Times “Climate Fwd” saying “John Kerry’s most urgent task as international envoy for climate change, experts have said, will be restoring America’s credibility as a reliable partner.” How? The author thinks the key here is to pony up the missing $2 billion from Barack Obama’s $3 billion 2015 pledge to the “Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help poorer countries address climate change”. Really? Two billion bucks saves the planet by buying the US some “credibility” based on good intentions rather than, say, cutting GHG emissions dramatically? Either this game is way easier than we were led to believe or you don’t understand it.
We hard-headed or, in many people’s view, hard-hearted types dismiss such things as, well, virtue-signaling. We did above. But we also understand that, to the true believer, the signaling of virtue is no idle or self-important pursuit. Rather, since motives carry the day and states of mind sweep aside inconvenient truths, to show virtue is to trigger a runaway beneficial process.
The “Climate Fwd.” piece quietly admits that Biden would be well-advised to slip the money into an envelope and send it overseas without fanfare. Which some might call devious. But, the authors whisper, “In terms of domestic politics, the low-key approach makes sense. Proclaiming an intention to send money overseas isn’t popular in the best of economic times, much less when the economy is reeling from a pandemic and Congress continues to debate giving more money to struggling Americans.” And only small-minded persons would be detained by popular consent or domestic needs.
Or by the fact that $2 billion is peanuts to Uncle Sam. Peanut shells, really. The U.S. federal budget was $4.45 trillion in 2019, in those distant pre-pandemic days that now feel like something out of a sepia-tinted daguerreotype. (For 2020 the deficit alone might end up around $3.7 trillion.) But “normal” U.S. federal spending is $12 billion a day. The American federal government spends $2 billion every four hours. It could lose that sum behind a couch and never notice. And since climate change is meant to destroy civilization as we know it, you’d think even a week’s worth of spending (aka $85 billion) wouldn’t be too high a price to pay to get something done, let alone a morning’s worth.
After noting the political difficulties even of slipping $2 billion to foreigners under present circumstances, “Climate Fwd” declares huffily “That doesn’t change the fact that the United States and other wealthy industrialized countries that grew their economies by burning fossil fuels are the most responsible for the planet-warming emissions currently in the atmosphere (though major economies like China and Brazil are fast catching up). And, that the world’s poorest countries, which have polluted the least, are suffering some of the worst consequences today.”
Suppose it is true. What of it? If we now face a planet-roasting crisis due to GHG emissions, a few bucks sent to Bangladesh to build flood barriers as the seas surge ever upward won’t do them, or us, any good. We need massive action, not credibility on the cheap. Or so you might think. But others would not. And thus the odd combination of hyperbole and pettiness.