A year ago, on January 21, 2021, the United States acknowledged the correctness of environmentalists. President Joe Biden, one of his first decrees, returned the country to the Paris Climate Agreement. A little later, America pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 (compared to 2005) and reduce atmospheric pollution with methane. The year that has passed under the sign of the “green” turn has changed the rhetoric of the Americans: today, through the lips of Biden and ex-President Barack Obama, they accuse Russia and China of unwillingness to counteract global warming. Meanwhile, historically, the source of climoskepticism lies in America itself – it is the hydrocarbon lobby with billions of dollars. According to organization Greenpeace, his spending on the fight against the environmental movement is measured in hundreds of millions of dollars.
Smog over California
For the first time, clashes between opponents and supporters of environmental legislation unfolded in the United States in the 1940s. Then Los Angeles tried to get rid of the smog hanging over the streets. City-hired expert Airy Haagen-Smith discovered its cause in imperfect refining technologies. A controversy ensued on the pages of newspapers, which in our time would seem strange. Experts invited by the American Petroleum Institute (API) insisted that the link between human activities and the formation of smog was not proven or exaggerated, and Haagen-Smith, who defended the scientific point of view, was personally attacked in the media.
Ten years later, he was recognized as right, but when the United States approved the Clean Air Act in 1963, the confrontation between oil workers and environmentalists resumed: the former argued that restrictive measures would bring the American economy to its knees.
The 1980s, when the concept of global warming took on a modern shape, gave the green debate an edge. The American oil business was one of the first to react. The movement was led by brothers Charles and David Kohey, owners of Koch Industries, whose combined capital for two exceeded $ 100 billion – more than the richest man in the world today. The Kochi invested generously in funding climate-skepticism: Greenpeace estimates that from 1997 to 2018, they spent $ 145 million on these needs.
A climate of mistrust
The 1990s and 2000s were a time of victories for the American hydrocarbon lobby, despite the fact that the political class in the United States spoke favorably about the fight for the environment. In the early 1990s, President George W. Bush proposed limiting harmful emissions into the atmosphere, using market mechanisms instead of prohibitive measures. His idea was to get companies to compete with each other for pollution quotas so that the successful can buy them and those who go to the bottom can pay with them. According to calculations, the total amount of harmful emissions from a competitive approach would go down. American oilmen accepted this project without approval, and it was not developed.
In 1997, under President Bill Clinton, the Senate considered it best not to even consider the first international climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol. The treaty was considered contrary to American interests due to the fact that, according to it, developing countries, led by China, were exempted from the reduction of harmful emissions. The Americans demanded equality, and not getting what they wanted, they postponed the “green” agenda for later.
In 2009, they returned to it again under President Barack Obama. But his attempt to revive the ideas of Bush Sr. was unsuccessful. They started talking about quotas again, their draft was approved by the House of Representatives, but the senate’s mood was so implacably hostile that the reform was not even presented for its consideration. Obama chose to introduce environmental regulation by his own decrees. This turned out to be a dangerous tactic, because it is vulnerable: most of the orders were canceled by the next American president, Donald Trump.
Republicans choose oil
The years leading up to the entry of the radical republican into the White House were the time of maximum success for the Koch lobbyists.among the right. Around 2010, not without their influence, the Republican course underwent dramatic changes. Prior to this, the conservatives spoke favorably about the fight for the climate, but later environmental appeals disappeared from the programs of most candidates. Some, like Congressman Fred Upton from Michigan, changed their position before our eyes, others, who did not foresee the danger, found themselves overboard. Among them is Bob Inglis, who represented South Carolina in Congress. In 2009, he pushed for a “hydrocarbon tax,” which prompted the Koch brothers, former sponsors, to invest in his primaries rival. The campaign that had started was considered by many to be dirty: Republicans of the right wing moved from one city of the state to another, making fights and simply shouting over Inglis. When the new composition of the Congress was formed (without Inglis, he lost), It turned out that the leading positions in it among the Republicans are politicians from the resource states, friendly to Koham, but hostile to the “green”. A climate-skeptic consensus was rapidly emerging among the right.
The future President Donald Trump became part of it around the same 2010. Back in 2009, he signed petitions to protect the environment, but the next year he changed his tone. First, Trump began to sneer on Twitter about the weather, then criticize Obama’s environmental initiatives, and in 2015, after running for president, he turned to accusations more sharply. According to Trump, global warming should be viewed from the perspective of a conspiracy theory: reducing harmful emissions is beneficial to China, which has little of its own oil, but hurts the American economy, where millions of workers are involved in the raw materials sector, and in addition, refines someone else’s oil. Trump pledged to pull his country out of the Paris Climate Agreement (approved in 2015) to increase employment and raise living standards – and by entering the White House,
And yet she heats up
Donald Trump’s presidency was the pinnacle of American climoskepticism. The topic of changing the natural environment constantly flashed on Twitter of the president, but until the last year of his reign he spoke about it only in a mocking tone. After inheriting Obama’s decrees, Trump revised them: The Clean Energy Plan, which obliged the United States to cut emissions, was sent under the knife, and the EPA’s budget was drastically cut. To the outrage of green activists, Trump has turned out to be a supporter of coal mining, the fuel considered to be the most harmful to the environment. Thanks to the shale revolution that began under Obama, Trump’s America has strengthened its position in the international energy market. The climate-skeptic president made a bet on its development: part of this policy was pressure on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Europe. By increasing the production of hydrocarbons, Trump set himself the goal of increasing their exports to the Old World. And he hoped for success, drawing on the solidarity of Western countries against Russia as an argument.
The energy ambitions of the Republicans became a factor of global importance, but increasingly ran counter to the climate consensus of most of the rest of the world. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the United States found itself alone: ??despite its influence, it could not launch a climatic-skeptic wave. In January 2020, Donald Trump changed his position: he recognized global warming as a “non-fictitious” threat. But Trump was not going to and could not seriously compete in the fight for the environment with the Democratic candidate Biden, and he did not completely abandon his previous views.
The current owner of the White House, Joe Biden, may go down in history as the greenest president of the United States. But he is hindered from achieving this goal … opposition in America itself. The fight for the environment is still not a subject of universal agreement. Biden’s environmental initiatives are focused on the Build Back Better reconstruction of the American economy, which is opposed by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. The representative of the raw materials region, he seeks to cut spending. But if the White House compromises, commitments to reduce emissions by 2030 will fail. Yet it is on Manchin’s voice that the Build Back Better’s passage through the upper house of Congress depends.
The difficult history of its own climoskepticism does not prevent the United States from not only criticizing China and Russia, but also trying itself in the role of leaders of the global “green” transition. Only time will tell how successful the American initiatives will be in this direction.