What if American Democracy Fails the Climate Crisis?

June 23, 2021
What if American Democracy Fails the Climate Crisis?

Four environmental thinkers discuss the limits of politics in facing down the threat to the planet

By Ezra Klein,  The New York Times

Of late, I’ve been obsessing over a single question: What if political systems, in the United States and internationally, fail to curb climate change?

It can seem an impolite question, even as it’s the path we’re on. President Biden’s climate agenda is both ambitious and, on its own, insufficient. Its political prospects are mixed at best. The international picture is little better. Only a few countries are on track to meet the goals laid out in the Paris agreement, and none of the major emitters are among them.

That is not to say there is no reason for optimism or hope. Clean-energy and battery technologies are outpacing even the brightest projections from a few years ago. Activist movements worldwide are gathering strength and flexing newly won power. A rising generation understands the urgency of the moment, even if their elders do not. The trends are, broadly, going in the right direction. But they need to move faster.

And so we convened this panel of climate experts with different backgrounds — technological, literary, political, academic — to try to reconcile the reality of our political progress with the scale of the emergency. 

The Participants

Saul Griffith
Chief scientist and founder of both Otherlab and Rewiring America

Rhiana Gunn-Wright
Climate-policy director at the Roosevelt Institute and an author of the Green New Deal

Sheila Jasanoff
Professor of science and technology studies at the Harvard Kennedy School

Kim Stanley Robinson
Novelist and author, most recently, of “The Ministry for the Future

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