Biden’s tepid response to Maui’s furnace-hot cataclysm


“Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families…” buh buh bup bup buhhh.

“…our prayers are with those who have seen their homes…” yada yada yada.

“…grateful to the brave firefighters and first responders…” wretch, gag, hurl.

Weak. fucking. tea.

And it took this papier-mâché president of ours a day AFTER the Hawaiian Congressional delegation BEGGED him to send help to get around to declaring the Maui fires a disaster and start directing federal resources to assist with evacuation and fire suppression efforts.

It’s tempting to say that President Biden missed an opportunity to climb on board the side of ecological right and deliver the decisive, compelling statement on climate change the nation is ready to hear. But he didn’t just miss an opportunity; he seemed to studiously avoid making the connection that’s glaringly obvious to any observer with a sixth grader’s grasp of American history.

People who’d been through the flash inferno that was Lahaina, Hawaii said it looked like a bomb had gone off.

Like they’d been under attack.

Like a war zone.

And it all happened almost without warning.

The exact date and circumstances could not, of course, be predicted, but there has been ample warning. Hawaii Governor Josh Green rightly tied the disaster to global warming, saying, “Climate change is here…”

But President Biden is the only one who could have said the words that would prepare the People for the mass mobilization needed to pull the planet back from the brink of complete environmental collapse. And the window of time to say those words was very, very slim.

“Yesterday, August 8th, 2023 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly attacked…”

America and the world would have cheered to hear him say that.

It took President Franklin Delano Roosevelt less than 24 hours after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor to grasp the need for oratory so potent that few people are ever in a position to command it, and then step up to the microphone with exactly the right message. In six minutes and thirty seconds, FDR didn’t just commit “all available Federal assets” to help local efforts responding to the attack. He persuaded an entire nation of the need to dedicate every energy in every sector of American life to crushing an existential threat to life and liberty.

The formerly slow-motion threat of the climate crisis is now at least an order of magnitude more dire than the combined might of the Axis powers. The People of the Unites States, despite the doubts of a raft of media simps, aren’t just prepared for the radical lifestyle change required to save 75 percent of life on Earth; we have been waiting for someone to fire the starting gun on the race to avert the worst outcomes of temperature rise and give us our marching orders already, ffs.

I have no doubt that the trogs who’ve been clinging to climate denialism would be silenced under the crush of public shaming the same way opposition to entry into WWII fairly evaporated on December 8, 1941. When the Commander in Chief identifies the enemy and announces that every red-blooded American has a duty to get in line and pitch in, grumblers will find themselves quickly cancelled by the vast majority of the public that finally feels like they have something to do to help stave off climate catastrophe. But we have to actually have a program to follow.

Remember (or remember hearing about) Victory Gardens? Even my grandmother, who had a postage stamp of a yard managed to transform a little patch of clay and gravel into a defiant vegetable plot to help out with the war effort. They were more or less a rhetorical tool back in the Great War, but now, encouraging people to plant Climate Gardens would have a very real effect in keeping more carbon out of the atmosphere. As if in response to some secret command, cities and towns across the country have been rushing to set up bicycle lanes, in many cases causing confusion and ire. Seems like the perfect time to dust off the old “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler” posters and modify them to attach excessive personal motoring to a low-grade treasonous aid to the enemies that are greenhouse gases.

Unfortunately, for any of this mobilization to work, the person sitting in the big chair in the Oval Office has to have NOT lost all credibility when it comes to the climate crisis. President Biden himself called climate change an “existential threat,” and, admittedly, rolled back the anti-environmental executive orders issued by his predecessor. Ultimately, though, his track record on climate can be described as inconsistent at best.

Joe Biden approved a massive oil-and-gas drilling project in Alaska that critics have described as a “carbon bomb.”

He threw environmental activists under the bus in green-lighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline in order to secure Sen. Joe Manchin’s vote on the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, after Manchin sided with Republicans to kill the Build Back Better Act, which would have been…well, better for the environment.

Biden’s Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Jared Bernstein, has boasted that the administration had permitted more oil and gas wells in its first two years than former President Donald Trump in his first two.

The Biden administration orchestrated the largest-ever auction of large swaths of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling.

The President failed to heed the advice of his own EPA when it proposed aggressive limits on pollution from cars and light trucks, requiring higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles starting in 2023. He refused to sign on to a multi-country agreement requiring higher fuel efficiency standards for buses and large trucks — some of the worst-polluting vehicles on the road. Fifteen countries signed a pledge to make all new commercial trucks electric by 2040 after the COP26 summit in Glasgow. The U.S. abstained.

Though the Biden administration can take credit for putting the kibosh on TC Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline, the president failed to take action against Canadian energy behemoth Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, traversing some of the most pristine, environmentally delicate areas of Minnesota, 200 river crossings, eight state forests, and the Mississippi River’s headwaters. By all informed accounts, Line 3 will have every bit as dangerous impact on greenhouse gas levels as Keystone XL would have been.

No one who has taken these positions can be said to be serious about stabilizing the climate.

So it would seem even to casual White House observers that this is a presidential administration handily captured by the fossil fuel industry in one way or another. Certainly Biden’s close associates in the financial industry, heavily invested in many of the most egregiously destructive projects, must be thrilled that the former “Senator from MBNA,” all grown up now, continues to deliver the political bacon beneficial to the bankers and Wall Street.

While I don’t believe that some momentum can’t be harnessed from the Maui fires to generate action in the fight to keep the world below 2.5º Celsius above Pre-Industrial Averages, we all need to be acutely aware that Biden failed this week to rise to the level of climate seriousness that’s absolutely necessary to actually inspire, motivate, reassure, and ultimately lead the United States and world in the radically different direction we need to go if we are to avert a civilization-ending downward spiral. This species needs to stop screwing around and fighting disastrous wars (over fossil fuels, mainly), and decide once and for all to commit to meaningful solutions, painful though the required adjustments and sacrifices may be at first.

And these solutions are somehow going to have to come from the People, apparent as it is that the one leader whose job it is to issue an historic, ringing rallying cry, to spearhead the drastic changes needed to protect the future of his own people, can do no more than mumble trite sound bites in politicalese.

• This essay was initially published at The Greylock Glass

Jason Velázquez, a journalist and publishing pro since 1999, is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Greylock Glass, based in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. He writes, he podcasts, he shoots himself in the foot by angering potential advertisers. He is also considering filling the vacant position of benevolent supreme leader of Earth in 2024. Read other articles by Jason, or visit Jason's website.