Climate crisis: Who’s pulling strings of budget negotiations?

Protesters dressed as President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a climate demonstration in Glasgow, Nov. 1.

The consequences of a century’s worth of industrial capitalist destruction of the atmosphere continued lashing out at the earth in late October. A “bomb cyclone” attacked the U.S. West Coast, while a nor’easter slammed the Northeast. 

The damaging weather from the west then sped clear across the country after causing floods and mudslides. Tornadoes and thunderstorms rocked the region known as Tornado Alley, from South Dakota all the way south to Texas. 

On the East Coast, from as far south as North Carolina and all the way north, thunderstorms with winds clocked in between 60 and 100 miles per hour. In New England, a storm surge of three to four feet knocked out power to well over 500,000 people. 

The extreme weather of 2021 has surpassed so many previous records. It has been severe and frequent.

The most important international conference on climate change since the Paris Climate Accords were reached in 2015 began in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 31. The White House was counting on getting an assortment of climate change proposals included in a broader spending bill through Congress before Glasgow – to avoid international embarrassment. 

The U.S. is the worst per capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and hasn’t moved forward in its commitments. Biden has to present a puffed-up picture of progress. Negotiations with a handful of right-wing members of his own party sent Biden and other U.S. representatives to Glasgow empty-handed.

The Build Back Better spending bill was initially proposed with a price tag of $3.5 trillion. Along with a handful of other Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has beaten that down to $1.75 trillion, and is still pushing for more cuts. 

Manchin himself was already a coal baron before he became a U.S. senator. He’s raked in more than $5 million since then. In April he was made chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a bipartisan vote. That should be seen as a major conflict of interest, but it doesn’t raise any eyebrows in Washington. There’s plenty of that in capitalist government.

Alongside programs that would be key to mitigating climate change, the bill would have boosted crucial social services like paid family leave, student debt relief, child nutrition, an expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, and more. The spat within the Democratic Party has put all of that on the chopping block. 

Manchin, the senator from Big Coal, says he wants the total spending bill cut to just $1.5 trillion.

CEPP on cutting room floor

Also left on the cutting room floor as of this writing is the Climate Energy Performance Program (CEPP.) That proposal would have paid power generators incrementally to switch to wind, solar, hydro or nuclear power instead of coal or diesel. It would have imposed penalties for non-compliance. 

CEPP was the flagship among the climate change proposals included in the spending bill, and the Biden administration was counting on it to happen before Glasgow.

The overall bill is framed in the media as grand and ambitious, but it doesn’t live up to the urgency of the climate crisis. None of these climate change proposals go after the profits of the giant U.S. banks or energy industry. The CEPP came the closest — and that was too close for comfort from the point of view of Big Capital. Manchin is their attack dog.

The congressional group aligned against the bill used phony concern over deficit spending – a favorite of the right-wing — as a cover story. It’s really the profits of giant corporations that they’re defending. 

The money is there. Much of it is locked away in the bloated military budget with near-unanimous bipartisan support. U.S. military spending over the same 10-year period projected in the Build Back Better spending bill will add up to at least $800 trillion — and that’s a conservative guess, because there will be increases. 

But Pentagon spending is considered untouchable, as are the trillions of dollars in the coffers of the tiny handful of corporate owners that dominate the world. 

Their wealth far outstrips that of the rest of the population of the planet. The White House could have pushed harder to get the banks and corporations to pay for the entire spending bill. If they were looking for an easy target, Trump’s tax break gift of $2 trillion to the capitalist class was staring them right in the face. 

If you add that to the $2.1 trillion that parasitic corporations like Amazon, Walmart and others stole since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the total is far more than the original amount of the spending bill.

The real negotiations

Biden didn’t have to cave in to Manchin and his hit squad. But the real center of power that the White House is negotiating with is the collection of giant banks, energy companies and other corporations – the capitalist class. 

Big banks and oil companies put on an act that they are investing in “going green.” But a study called Banking on Climate Chaos reported that seven U.S. banks have invested about $1.3 trillion in fossil fuels in the six years since the Paris Climate conference. 

JPMorgan Chase was out front with $268 billion; Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citibank are close behind. They’re at the top of the list globally. Their investments were in some of the biggest U.S. oil and gas corporations. 

The U.S fossil fuel industry has not budged an inch in the interest of saving the planet, and the Democratic Party has done nothing about it.

The White House may try to put a good face on it, but the U.S. is lagging way behind the 2015 Paris goals to keep the rise in the earth’s temperature below 2 degrees Celsius by 2030 or reach net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. The Glasgow conference is meant to strengthen those goals. 

Further, the catastrophic weather events of 2021 have the world’s climatologists studying the question of whether that timeline is adequate.

In mid-October, 655 people were arrested during “People vs. Fossil Fuels” protests in Washington, D.C. Youth blockaded a road while Indigenous leaders — the initiators of the protests — sat in at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, demanding that Biden call a climate emergency. 

These brave activists have the right idea. Big Oil can’t be negotiated away. 

The people’s movement that is needed has to be more than independent – it has to be revolutionary. To save the planet, capitalism must die.