Robert Delaney
SCMP Columnist
On Balance
by Robert Delaney
On Balance
by Robert Delaney

US-China relations: partisan, anti-science squabbling is blocking needed climate action

  • Lost in the geopolitical drama is the urgency of a face-to-face meeting between leaders of the world’s biggest polluters to address the threat
  • The alarming hostility to science in the US only underscores the challenge the world faces in the battle to stop the degradation of the environment

This past week has been so chock full of looming environmental threats and stunning partisan stupidity that it is probably time to throw out conventional wisdom when it comes to public policy and turn to Darwinism.

The devastating floods in Europe were yet another indication that we are well into a global climate emergency that will affect authoritarians and “small-d” democrats alike. We were already trying to digest the news of 49.6-degree Celsius temperatures in Canada’s British Columbia, which incinerated an entire town.
Vaccine hesitancy now appears to be our biggest threat on the Covid-19 front, particularly in the United States, where a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” is unfolding. White evangelicals, who make up a large chunk of the American South and Midwest and who dominate the Republican Party, are among the most resistant to vaccination.
Many of them prefer to leave their chances in the hands of Jesus Christ instead of the scientific success of mRNA vaccines, even though the chances of severe side effects associated with these vaccines are exceedingly small. They are certainly no higher than with the thousands of other medications that never became caught up in the current era of scorched earth politics.

So it is entirely fitting to bring up the notion of survival of the fittest, given that vaccine hesitancy in the midst of a pandemic could ultimately lower the ratio of people who are most responsible for spreading the disease. That might seem like a heartless comment, but there is a point in every tragedy at which we need to look for silver linings.

Now let’s stick with the Darwinian lens as we move from epidemiology to the realm of international political economics.

Just when we thought US-China relations couldn’t get any worse, they sank deeper into the morass over US President Joe Biden’s new business advisory on Hong Kong and sanctions against more mainland officials in the city. Things were so bad already that prospects of further deterioration seemed impossible without some kind of unexpected live fire military exchange.
Was this really necessary, particularly when the US State Department was trying to organise a face-to-face meeting between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and officials close to President Xi Jinping in Tianjin to lay the groundwork for a Biden-Xi summit?

Perhaps Biden felt the only way to limit the domestic political fallout such a meeting would cause was to tighten the screws on Hong Kong first, in which case there is some logic in the timing.

After we got the expected reactions from the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong, American diplomats said Biden’s advisory was not a warning but a “ factual account” of the escalating risks posed by Hong Kong’s national security law.

But any US company operating out of Hong Kong will no doubt be aware that the city’s leadership is reluctant to go against the hardline political imperatives of Xi and his government.

We have seen hundreds of demonstrators, activists and opposition lawmakers detained, a newspaper shut down and the imposition of a new electoral system that all but guarantees pan-democrat politicians will never gain the upper hand.
Will a Hong Kong administration that has worked in unison with Beijing widen its definition of troublemakers running afoul of the national security law to include foreign business executives?

The backlash against opposition figures in Hong Kong went further than most expected, so the risks are certainly higher now than they were two years ago. But companies that weren’t already weighing these risks and making contingency plans will not survive in a Darwinian global business environment.

What is lost in all this geopolitical drama is the urgency of a face-to-face meeting of the leaders of two of the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas-emitting countries so they can agree to address the threat facing us all, regardless of ideological orientation.
Our world is warming, burning, flooding and acidifying at a rate where existing environmental measures under consideration will not save us.
The alarming hostility to science in one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries only underscores the challenge the world’s most populous countries face in the battle we need to wage to stop the degradation of the ecosystems that feed and protect all of us.

If we do not do a better job on this front, we will find ourselves in a battle for survival more literal and more threatening than a Covid-19 infection or Hong Kong’s national security law.

Robert Delaney is the Post’s North America bureau chief