The Planet is Burning

Yet another COP comes along with another round of bad news on our climate failure. Nobody who seriously follows climate change believes anymore that the world will stay within the 1.5 C “safe” limit of warming. Breaching the even more dangerous 2 C threshold is also getting likelier with every passing year of insufficient action. Current global warming projections are in the 2.5 C—2.9 C range. But we don’t have to run complex climate models to know that wildfires, hurricanes, heatwaves and other signs of an angry planet are already pummeling us, and they will get worse.

The planet is burning. And US habits of primacy are a key reason why.

American primacy is generally defined as its global military dominance—with its enormous firepower, hundreds of overseas military bases, and a sprawling network of allies. The United States also dominates global finance. Matters are more complicated when it comes to trade and investment however, as well as the institutional arena, where newer groupings such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are revitalizing themselves. This has triggered a debate as to whether we are already in a multipolar world. But Washington’s habits of primacy (as separate from the primacy’s material extent) are more germane to the climate debate. These habits involve a sense of American exceptionalism, an à la carte approach to international law and norms, and an overly moralist gaze toward the rest of the world.

Of course, Washington’s lens of primacy is not the only reason for our inability to resolve the climate crisis. A systemic, wicked problem such as climate change cannot but have multiple causes and implicated actors. The list of climate violators is long, and they span the globe. But the ingrained habits of primacy are a key contributor to our climate failure through three principal axes: the imbalanced US-China dynamic, a dismissive attitude toward the Global South, and a schizophrenic framing of the climate challenge.

Read the full piece in The Nation.