” “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil … preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft,” Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in 1965. That ethos would inspire a generation of environmentalists to see the fates of this planet’s inhabitants as intertwined. By contrast, the ecologist Garrett Hardin, who was labeled a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 1974 urged a “lifeboat ethics”: for rich countries to be “on our guard against boarding parties” in predominantly nonwhite countries whose residents he saw as an intolerable strain on the planet’s resources.
Racked by ever-worsening fires and floods, our little craft is not doing well. This week, the White House is welcoming world leaders to a virtual summit on curbing climate destruction. Countries will present their plans to meet the goal inscribed in the Paris Agreement to cap warming at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. President Biden has pledged to cut emissions at least in half from 2005 levels by 2030, aiming for “net zero” emissions by 2050.
But accounting for the United States’ outsize responsibility for the climate crisis requires much bolder action, according to a recent recommendation from several groups, including Friends of the Earth U.S. and ActionAid USA: “a reduction of at least 195 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions” compared with 2005 levels by 2030 — 70 percent cuts within U.S. borders and “the equivalent of a further 125 percent reduction” by providing support for emissions reductions abroad.
The question, then: Does the White House want to helm a spaceship or a lifeboat? . . . “