The grave threat to US civilisation is not China, but climate change
- For its own profit, the Trump administration wants to downplay the challenge of global warming, and flooding the media with dire warnings about China is one way to distract voters
In the great Sino-American rift that opens wider by the day, the word “civilisation” is already overdone.
The C-word now occupies the debate around the current United States-China trade war in the same way that vape pens have become a fixture of adolescence. Both trends are equally mindless and unhelpful.
There may be more to this strategy than concern about the threats the Chinese government pose to the US.
Now that the reality has sunk in, it is providing an ideological foundation for the US government’s hard line against China on many fronts.
For its part, China has dug in, repudiating the basic tenets of governance in the Western world.
Each side is trying to assert its dominance and undermine that of the other side, as though our respective ways of life depend on the outcome of this competition.
Bringing the issue to these heights is crucial for Trump and those supporting him (who have, ironically, done more than anyone in the Western world to work against its aforementioned defining characteristics).
The gravest threat to American civilisation is not China, and vice versa.
Even The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial board is a leading opponent of climate change action, published a feature last year about how the insurance industry is struggling to properly value the extra damage climate change is causing.
“We don’t discuss the question any more of, ‘Is there climate change’,” the Journal cited Munich Re CEO Torsten Jeworrek as saying.
So they need to flood the media with dire warnings about China to keep American voters agitated about an issue that won’t mean less financial backing from the fossil fuels industry.
To be sure, the US government needs to act on the threats the Chinese government pose to the US.
The US government should of course be working together with US companies to combat such threats.
But if our scientists are correct, these matters will mean nothing when our largest cities flood and our crops can no longer withstand weather extremes.
If the US and China can bring themselves to work together at this problem, they might discover ways to agree on all these other issues that are now tearing the bilateral relationship apart.
It might sound hopelessly optimistic to imagine the desire to cooperate on this urgent issue could overcome the divergent and incompatible positions Washington and Beijing have taken on so many fronts.
But this has nothing to do with optimism. Collaboration is the only remaining option to save our respective civilisations. Whether we pursue that option is up to all of us.
Robert Delaney is the Post’s US bureau chief