An aerial photo of frozen land with tributaries; by Trace Hudson via Pexels.
Climate Action

The Real Challenge to Achieving Global Climate Goals

Finding ways to be more environmentally conscious in our day-to-day choices has become something that many of us are taking more seriously. Climate change is a global concern; how we choose to move forward and embrace sustainability as individuals represents one actionable step we can take.

While a collective response from determined, like-minded people encourages a society to adopt more eco-friendly practices; the most significant change has to be fueled by robust government-led climate action — which seems futile considering the ‘carbon bomb’ projects that leaders around the world are continuing to support. It’s in our interest to preserve what (literally) underpins our existence; this can only happen if oil, gas and coal industry giants — who are primarily responsible for driving environmental collapse — are held accountable, dismantled and replaced with planet-preserving initiatives. 

To put it succinctly, any sustainable choices we undertake at home that promote green living should be coupled with political action. So, how do we achieve this?  

Foreground Text: The Real Challenge to Achieving Global Climate Goals; a Climate Action post on Transatlantic Notes. Background Image: An aerial photo of frozen land with tributaries; by Trace Hudson via Pexels.

The grim reality is that in terms of political change; there’s nothing we can accomplish unless we remove people from government who are blocking the climate action initiatives we desperately need — and that’s a gross oversimplification of the issue once you realize what is keeping these representatives where they are — and why.

The best way to understand how deeply rooted and dominant political barriers towards environmental protection run; all you need to do is look at U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia as an example. A Democrat within a strongly held Republican state, Sen. Manchin proudly displays on his website — under about/bipartisanship/legislation — that he “votes with President Trump” (a whopping 74% during the former administration); and touts his career history of supporting GOP positions 54% of the time (thus far). And why is this significant you ask? Every single Republican Senate member wants to block President Biden’s climate legislation; by consistently voting with them, Sen. Manchin effectively eliminates the United States’ ability to meet any of its climate action goals.

First, he [Manchin] killed a plan that would have forced power plants to clean up their climate-warming pollution. Then, he shattered an effort to help consumers pay for electric vehicles. And, finally, he said he could not support government incentives for solar and wind companies or any of the other provisions that the rest of his party and his president say are vital to ensure a livable planet. | The New York Times

It’s understandable he would want to court state voters that keep him in the halls of Congress — but even that is not as simple as it may seem. A survey carried out last year by Research America found that even though West Virginians are proud of their coal industry; identifying strongly with its history, cultural significance for the area and its job creation, 90% of those questioned recognized the benefits of shifting towards clean energy. They’re receptive to change; it just has to be handled in a way that doesn’t abandon their needs.  

A climate protester holds a sign that reads, “Planet Over Profit”; by Markus Spiske via Unsplash.
photo via Markus Spiske/Unsplash

So, is it merely voter concern that keeps Sen. Manchin from supporting U.S. decarbonization? Do the people of West Virginia really want to stand in the way of meeting the Paris Agreement’s worldwide target of net-zero status by 2050?

In a word, no.

Sen. Manchin took more in campaign funding from the oil, gas and coal mining industry than any other senator; he is literally being paid to safeguard their interests and shape U.S. environmental policy to that effect — which is within his power as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources panel. He also secretly earned millions of dollars through his scrap coal company Enersystems; yet another personal interest that would be threatened if the U.S. would fully commit to cleaning up its act.

And this isn’t a one off, at least with regards to the power that the fossil fuel industry wields; they fund many members of Congress who all work together to subvert timely climate action. The influence they obtain secures their interests, but this isn’t an issue only impacting America. What this country does has a global reach affecting the lives of billions of people. Governments from around the world need to apply pressure on those who put company or individual profit over saving the planet. 

The U.S. has contributed more heat-trapping pollution than any country over time and has been the prime driver of global climate change. […] Whenever presidents or Congress have introduced measures to slash emissions to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, they’ve been repeatedly derailed. | How Decades of Disinformation About Fossil Fuels Halted U.S. Climate Policy (NPR)

To be clear, this isn’t just a Senator Manchin issue; however, by examining his positioning and power, it illuminates U.S. political structures set up to benefit the few and reveals the hold special interest lobbyists have on Congress. We’re struggling with the effects of global warming today; while double dealing, political theatre and the personal financial gain of politicians and industry giants continue to obstruct securing a future that generations to follow can thrive in.

Working on eliminating political barriers that impede climate goals should also remove special interest influence; anyone receiving funding from oil, gas and coal industries should no longer be allowed to sit on or chair any panels or committees that make climate action decisions. The same applies to Members of Congress who are climate deniers (of which there are many).

A large, crowded group of climate protesters gather behind a metal barrier; by Katie Rodriguez via Unsplash.
photo via Katie Rodriguez/Unsplash

While we’re diligently focusing on making eco-friendly lifestyle changes for ourselves, we cannot get distracted into thinking that what we’re undertaking is enough. Repurposing, reusing and recycling equally extends to our elected officials; if they don’t step up and act, we cannot support their political career — we must make climate action a central voter issue.

And this is where the last barrier I’m exploring in this article comes into play — voting. With widespread disinformation campaigns that feed division; gerrymandering that manipulates boundaries of electoral constituencies to favor one party; voter suppression and an entire system designed to uphold disenfranchisement and discrimination — it’s clearly not going to be the reliable saviour so many want it to be. However, this belief falls conveniently into the hands of those who want to disempower groups; like the 8 million environmentally conscious voters who decided not to exercise this right back in 2020.     

Defeatism nurtures apathy and inaction; but ultimately, who does that benefit? People can still drive progress; we just need to fully grasp what we’re up against. Creating challenges that counteract this is far more complex than I can cover here, but individual climate action could include:

  • reading and sharing reputable sources or fact-checking articles that counter disinformation
  • becoming unapologetically vocal about holding oil, gas and coal giants accountable (and the politicians they fund) by utilizing social media to raise awareness
  • joining grassroots, community-based climate groups that improve sustainability in your area (these can sometimes compel local politicians to perceive this issue as central to election/re-election)
  • supporting voter participation within your district (especially among groups disproportionately impacted by disenfranchisement); find organizations that help with registration, access to mail-in or early voting and that provide transportation to polling stations (don’t forget to do this for yourself too)

Things can seem pretty impossible right now, but if life has demonstrated anything to me, it’s that there are many more people in this world who will help others than there are who will protect their individual interests or fuel their own hatred. This whole situation is fucked up; there’s no point lying or sugarcoating this harsh reality — but don’t allow that to cloud your efforts. There’s work to be done; we can’t stop now.

How are you supporting climate action goals? Do you think world leaders are doing enough to slow global warming?


Further Info:

Declaring a Climate Emergency Could Unlock Potent Tools for Biden — At a Steep Cost – Politico

24 thoughts on “The Real Challenge to Achieving Global Climate Goals”

  1. Great post! As a Canadian, my belief is voting in people who acknowledge and support green living. This is not only at the Prime Minister level, but at provincial and local levels as well. Someone not afraid to cross party lines but to actually take some leadership.

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  2. Thank you for this! Climate change is a very real danger and the picture says it all. We need the mentality of planet over profit. I screenshot the action steps you suggested. Amazing post!

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    1. I hope more and more people come around to that way of thinking (planet over profit) and those who don’t are held accountable. We cannot play about with climate change any longer. Thanks for engaging with this and making a note of the action points!

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  3. This is so depressing, especially since many Americans don’t “believe” in climate change… The best thing we can do is get out the vote for the Midterms and help Biden pass climate change legislation.

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    1. It is so very depressing when seeing the numbers of science/climate deniers increasing — and that they are getting into positions of power too. I hope despite all the difficulties put on place that people do go out and vote for those who will take solid climate action.

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  4. This is such an important post! It’s shocking how much further we have to go – and I think a large part of that is political change. I love the idea of joining grassroot climate groups! Thank you so much for sharing such an informative resource.

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  5. It’s so sad that we’re at the mercy of elderly politicians (people who won’t be alive when everything goes up in flames).

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    1. This is how I feel regarding many political issues; the ones blocking things know they’ll be okay and have probably found a way to secure their families wealth/health/well-being/rights but will do nothing beyond that. Scary times.

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  6. It’s pretty fascinating (and a bit distressing) to see a case study on one Senator and know clearly that it is not just him that is benefitting from the oil money. That “Planet over profit” photo is so fitting because that’s really what I see as the main problem–the people in charge are swayed way too much by the profit. There is in no way enough being done.

    One of our main provincial political parties is getting a new leader soon and it feels like such a precarious time because they could have so much power to destroy our remaining old growth forests if they vote in a politician swayed by the money of the forestry industry.

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    1. The big money industries and companies hold so much sway over politicians it’s truly alarming. Transparency has become better [about who is being funded by them, etc.] but it has to addressed and removed. There should be no special interest groups influencing political policy. I feel very despondent about it all sometimes but then always look to the grassroots movements that accomplish so much. Joining them is where we can take action that has a ripple effect. Planet over profit is really a great phrase/mantra in this case.

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  7. Thank you for sharing this informative post! Many of us are trying our best to make sustainable changes, but they absolutely start with our government. Somedays it’s tiring and seems impossible, but thank you for sharing resources on how we can take action and hold our government and those in power accountable.

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  8. This was a fascinating insight into US politics and I love that it brings light to the nuance and many facets that are present in the climate battle. Things aren’t always as simple as they seem, people have different levels of authority, and vested interests! Thanks for supplying some extra reading too, I’ve added it to my reading list for my next coffee break!

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    1. I think that news stories about these actions (or lack of action) are getting better at exploring the layers behind them; it’s never as simple as it seems. The U.S. political system has been infiltrated by so many powerful special interest groups that strings are being pulled at all levels — as fascinating as it is disappointing. Thanks so much for reading!

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