On climate, making Manchin irrelevant is the only path


July 26, 2022

Eric Engle

The world is being scorched. Europe is suffering under massive heatwaves, as is the U.S, and China. Wildfires, droughts, collapsing glaciers and devastating floods are becoming ubiquitous globally. The U.S’s fastest growing cities like Scottsdale, Arizona and Fort Worth,Texas, are on a fast track to becoming

uninhabitable, with more and more days of unbearable temperatures and shrinking water supplies.The urban heat island effect, where sprawling concrete urban centers with very little tree cover heat up to deadly temperatures much faster than surrounding areas, is exacerbating this.

In places like the British Isles, where temperatures have soared earlier this month to all-time, triple-digit records, homes are built to retain heat, not block or vent it. Air-conditioning is almost unheard of. In the history of human habitation of such places there’s been no need for synthetic cooling.We’re seeing more of this in recent years, with places like the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and parts of Canada, as well as Siberia, subject to the same heatwaves and wildfires of the American South and Southwest.

These recent summers aren’t the hottest summers of our lives; they’re the coolest summers of the rest of our lives. As heat indexes (the combination of heat and humidity) rise, humans cannot withstand exposure to them. There is a measure called the WetBulb Globe Temperature that gauges heat stress in direct sunlight. It takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed,sun angle and cloud cover (solar radiation).WetBulb temperatures are on the rise globally and are already frequently deadly in places like India and Pakistan.

Hurricane season is right around the corner.Warmer ocean surface temperatures fuel hurricanes, and warmer air holds more moisture, which is fuel for massive precipitation events. The U.S. Atlantic and Gulf states have been battered in recent years by some of the worst hurricanes, tropical storms and precipitation events in recorded history and this trend is not letting up. The worst impact of climate change, other than extreme

heat, here in West Virginia will be precipitation and flooding. We’ve already seen how ill-equipped we are to face this.

Meanwhile, Congress is failing to act. Why? Unanimous opposition from Republicans on the one hand and enabling of their obstruction and delay on the other. The chief enabler, of course, is Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Stellar reporting recently by the Gazette-Mail’s Mike Tony detailed exactly why Manchin has been a

roadblock to climate action, but the reasons for Manchin’s obstinance can be summed up quickly: he’s the Senate’s leading recipient of oil and gas industry largesse and he’s a coal baron who makes over $500,000 a year through his coal brokerage, Enersystems, selling waste coal to the Grant Town Power Plant.

Members of Congress can get away with this kind of conflict of interest through slight of hand. Manchin has put his Enersystems holdings in a blind trust and says that is sufficient, which at this point it legally is, but his son runs the brokerage. How “blind’ can the goings-on really be? Please. Laws need changed to forbid this kind of thing but good luck finding a Congress to change them. Manchin has no business being chairman of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, but it seems that all Senate Democrat leadership and the president know how to do is kiss up to him. Congressional Democrats by and large have no idea how to play hardball, even in the midst of a climate crisis.

Electoral politics is more often than not a fairly ineffective way of solving problems. Elections only matter if there are mass movements to demand that these people, once elected, actually try to solve any real problems and improve lives using public policy. But those movements exist. The movement to address the climate crisis, part of a larger web of movements that cannot be siloed, is stronger than ever. My fervent hope is that enough Democrats like Tim Ryan of Ohio, John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Charles Booker of Kentucky can be elected to make Manchin irrelevant in the next Congress, while maintaining climate-friendly majorities in the House. It’s the only way we’re going to get the federal policy solutions we need to mitigate the damage, avert worse catastrophe, and help salvage a habitable planet.