Joe Manchin throws fuel on the fires of a burning planet

Joe Manchin did the Democrats not just a ‘setback’. He not only dealt a “crushing blow” to President Joe Biden. By pulling out the carpet among his negotiating partners — for the umpteenth time in the past year and a half — the West Virginia conservative may have doomed the last, best chance of passing legislation to combat climate change in the near future. “We are not going to achieve our goals, period”, environmental scientist Leah Stokeswho has advised congressional Democrats on climate legislation, the . told New York Times on Friday. “I honestly don’t know how he’s going to look his own grandchildren in the eye.”

Democratic leaders have courted Manchin for months and drastically scaled back their once-ambitious domestic agenda in a bid to get the approval they needed to evade the GOP’s filibuster through a budget process called reconciliation. Just this week, they hoped for a compromise and noted “real progress” in talks with the West Virginian over a package that would include tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans and provisions to tackle global warming. But Manchin began to get cold feet as the week went on, telling reporters he was “very, very careful” about doing anything that would contribute to inflation. Then he blew up the negotiations on Thursday: according to the… Washington Posthe told his fellow Democrats that he would not support climate action or tax increases for top earners — essentially accusing them of playing politics.

“Political headlines are of no value to the millions of Americans struggling to afford groceries and gas as inflation rises to 9.1 percent,” Manchin spokesman said. Sam Runyon said. “Senator Manchin believes it is time for leaders to set aside political agendas, re-evaluate and adapt to the economic realities facing the country, to avoid taking steps that would fuel the inflation fire .”

It’s unclear how, exactly, Manchin’s move on Thursday would curb inflation — especially given he himself described tax hikes for wealthy Americans as crucial to lowering consumer prices earlier this year. It’s also an interesting choice of words, given that parts of the country are literally on fire and much of America is in the midst of a dangerous heat wave — including Texas, which burns so hot it’s straining the power grid again. Inflation is a real challenge at the moment, both at home and abroad. But climate change is not an abstract threat or a political game, as Manchin’s office suggests; its effects are being felt, here in America and around the world, straight away. And without significant, concerted action, it will get worse. By torpedoing even the modest measures taken by the Democrats, Manchin greatly increases the likelihood that this will happen. “I’m not going to hide my disappointment here, especially since almost all climate and energy problems were solved,” Senator Ron Wyden said. “This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic – and costly – effects of climate change.”

“We can’t go back another decade and avoid billions — if not trillions — in economic damage and undo the inevitable human toll,” Wyden added.

Hopes were already fading that the goal of limiting temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would be met. But that feels even more out of reach lately. Not only have leaders in the United States and other industrialized nations failed to demonstrate the urgency on this issue — the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has crippled its environmental efforts through political dysfunction. In June, the right-wing Supreme Court drastically curtailed the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, essentially transferring responsibility for any climate policy to Congress. That body has long been broken, polarized to the point of paralysis; the idea that a motley crew that can’t even formally agree on who won the last election will be able to come together to tackle a huge, complex problem like climate change is rather grim. But with the GOP — which largely refuses to even recognize climate change as a problem — preferring to retake power in the meantime, the 117th US Congress may represent the best opportunity to do something.

That undermined Manchin Thursday.

Why? Perhaps it’s because he’s deeply concerned about inflation, although he has also introduced tax hikes for the very wealthy, which were a key part of the package’s deficit-reduction plan. Perhaps it is because he receives more money from the fossil fuel industry than any other senator and made his personal fortune from coal. Maybe it’s because he simply enjoys his role as the self-proclaimed gatekeeper in a divided Washington. Be that as it may, he has once again proven himself to be a wildly unreliable negotiating partner, despite his smug view of himself as the standard-bearer of reasonableness and common sense in his party. Manchin isn’t just turning away from Democratic proposals – he’s running away from things he himself proposed a year ago.