International climate talks in Poland continued their ignominious march toward being completely ineffective. We’ve seen coal decking the halls and petro states refusing to recognize sound science. And then came Monday when the U.S. played the role of global troll by hosting a pro-fossil fuel event with an audience largely made-up of protestors.
The event had an anodyne name: U.S. Innovative Technologies Spur Economic Dynamism, but a more apt name would’ve been “The U.S. Loves Fossil Fuels, Please Keep Burning Them.” The session featured the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary of fossil energy, and panelists from Australia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a pro-nuclear and fracking lobbying group, and a natural gas exporter. It was headed by Wells Griffith, a Department of Energy appointee with a long history as a Republican operative, who opened the event by expounding on the wonders of fossil fuels and how the U.S. is now the biggest oil and gas exporter in the world thanks to fracking. He highlighted how the U.S. saw its emissions fall from 2005 until last year, conveniently leaving out that they rose in 2018.
Griffith tried to couch this as an amazing opportunity to reduce energy poverty, which is like saying landlines are the way to improve connectivity. When he said “it is clear energy innovation and fossil fuels will continue to play a role” in the world, laughter broke out and protestors who were largely from frontline communities adversely impacted by fossil fuel production as well as climate change stormed the front of the room. Chanting “keep it in the ground” and calling Griffith and the panelists climate deniers. The United Nations cut the livestream video but not audio as protestors testified about how climate change is impacting them.
When they eventually left the room, things looked, uh, a little thinner. And honestly, it should. The whole thing was a farce despite Griffith’s attempts to paint it as a discussion of “pragmatic solutions” to climate change. There is one pragmatic solution to climate change and burning more fossil isn’t it, chief.
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The Trump administration has from day one, debased itself to fossil fuel interests and the president’s climate denial. At home, the slavish devotion has shown up in the form of regulatory rollbacks, attempts to stifle a major climate report, and embarrassing tweets and interviews. Abroad, it’s been repeated attempts to talk up U.S. natural gas and fossil fuels.
At climate talks in Poland, dubbed COP24 in United Nations lingo, the U.S. joined Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Kuwait in blocking a chance to welcome the findings from a major report put out by the United Nations earlier this year that show we have a little more than a decade to cut carbon emissions 45 percent by 2030. And then there’s today’s fossil fuel lovefest where everything is breezy as long as the natural gas keeps flowing.
Climate talks have always been incremental at a time when they need to be transformational. But with the U.S.—the world’s largest historical emitter—now standing in the way, they’ve slowed to a crawl and may actually be more harmful than good. When the Trump administration eventually leaves power, that may change. And there’s certainly more concerted climate efforts afoot at the city and state level. But the world needs to be all in on transforming the world’s economy to run on clean energy. The U.S. is hardly alone in failing in that regard, but its active work as an international miscreant will ensure that failure continues.