Politics & The Transition Away From Fossil Fuels

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Heather Cox Richardson is an historian who writes an (almost) daily blog post on Substack that illuminates how events in America’s past impact events taking place today. At CleanTechnica, our mission is to chronicle the transition from a society that depends on activities that degrade the environment to one that allows us to enjoy full and abundant lives in a sustainable world. That will require us to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels pollute our environment. Renewables harness the power of the sun, the wind, or the heat of the Earth while creating far less pollution. If we had a society powered by renewable energy, our planet would have an opportunity to heal itself from the ravages inflicted upon it by careless humans who assume they can continue to spew massive quantities of carbon dioxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen, sulfur, and other pollutants into the air without consequences.

In her blog post for March 17, 2024, Richardson describes how the upcoming election in the US could affect the prospects for a sustainable world. She begins by recounting a report by Casey Michel published by The New Republic about the recent visit by Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, to the United States to hobnob with a disgraced former president at his palatial home in Palm Beach, Florida.

Michel was one of the only reporters to add that, while here, Orbán flew to Washington, DC to powwow with the Heritage Society, a group sired decades ago by funding from Charles Koch to advance his beliefs that the only legitimate role of the federal government is to provide for the national defense. Other than that, businesses should be free to do whatever they please without artificial constraints imposed by regulations.

A Shocking Snub

Michel noted that it was “nothing short of shocking” that Orbán declined to meet with President Biden or administration officials and instead met with the Kevin Roberts, the head of the Heritage Society, failed presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, and a bevy of other notables in the extremist universe. With Roberts’s appointment as head of the Heritage Society in 2021, the conservative organization adopted the position that its role is “institutionalizing Trumpism.”

Roberts has been vocal about his admiration for Orbán, tweeting in 2022 that it was an honor to meet him. At last year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Orbán boasted that Hungary is “the place where we didn’t just talk about defeating the progressives and liberals and causing a conservative Christian political turn, but we actually did it.” In January, Roberts told Lulu Garcia-Navarro of the New York Times that Orbán’s statement was “all true” and “should be celebrated.” In a different interview, Garcia-Navarro noted, Roberts had called modern Hungary “not just a model for conservative statecraft but the model.”

Last year, Michel notes, the Heritage Society joined Hungary’s Danube Institute in a formal partnership. The Hungarian think tank is overseen by a foundation that is directly funded by the Hungarian government. Michel claims it is “a state funded front for pushing pro-Orbán rhetoric.” The Danube Institute has given grants to extremists in the US and “we have no idea how much funding may be flowing directly from Orbán’s regime to the Heritage Society.”

Project 2025 & Fossil Fuels

The close cooperation between the Heritage Society and Orbán illuminates Project 2025, a program that includes dozens of extremist organizations. It is intended to be a road map for a future right wing presidency. In Hungary, Orbán has undermined democracy, gutting the civil service and filling it with loyalists; attacking immigrants, women, and the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals; taking over businesses and giving them to friends and family; and moving the country away from the rules based international order supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Credit: Project 2025

In the January interview, Roberts told Garcia-Navarro that Project 2025 was designed to jumpstart a right wing takeover of the government. “[T]he Trump administration, with the best of intentions, simply got a slow start,” Roberts said. “And Heritage and our allies in Project 2025 believe that must never be repeated.”

Project 2025 stands on four principles that it says the country must embrace. In their vision, the US must:

  • restore the family as the centerpiece of American life and protect our children
  • dismantle the administrative state and return self-governance to the American people
  • defend our nation’s sovereignty, borders, and bounty against global threats
  • secure our God-given individual rights to live freely — what our Constitution calls ‘the Blessings of Liberty.’”

In almost 1,000 pages, the document explains what these policies mean for ordinary Americans. Restoring the family and protecting children means making “family authority, formation, and cohesion” a top priority and using “government power…to restore the American family.” That, the document says, means eliminating any words associated with sexual orientation or gender identity, gender, abortion, reproductive health, or reproductive rights from any government rule, regulation, or law. Any reference to transgenderism is “pornography” and must be banned.

The overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision recognizing the right to abortion must be gratefully celebrated, but the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision accomplishing that end “is just the beginning,” the plan says.

Draining The Swamp

Dismantling the administrative state starts with the premise that “people are policy.” Frustrated because nonpartisan civil employees thwarted much of Trump’s agenda in his first term, the authors of Project 2025 call for firing much of the current government workforce — about 2 million people work for the U.S. government — and replacing it with loyalists who will carry out a right wing president’s demands.

On Friday, journalist Daniel Miller noted that purging the civil service is a hallmark of dictators, whose loyalists then take over media, education, courts, and the military. In a powerful essay today, authoritarianism scholar Timothy Snyder explained that with the government firmly in the hands of a dictator’s loyalists, “things like water or schools or Social Security checks” depend on your declaration of loyalty, and there is no recourse. “You cannot escape to the bar or the bowling alley, since everything you say is monitored,” and “even courageous people restrain themselves to protect their children.”

Defending our nation’s sovereignty means ending the rules based international order hammered out in the years after World War II. This includes organizations like the United Nations and NATO and agreements like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provide an international set of rules and forums for countries to work out their differences without going to war and which offer a system of principles for those abused within countries to assert their rights. The Heritage Foundation and Orbán have staunchly opposed aid to Ukraine in its struggle to fight off Russian aggression.

Securing “our God-given individual rights to live freely” hints at religious rule, but ultimately focuses on standing against “government control of the economy.” The idea that regulation of business and taxes hampered economic liberty was actually one of the founding ideas of Heritage Society in the 1980s.

Since 1981, that ideology has transferred as much as $50 trillion from the bottom 90 percent of Americas to the top 1 percent. As that concentration of wealth and power among a small group of people reveals, the real plan behind Project 2025 is the rule of a small minority of extremists over the vast majority of Americans, Richardson writes.

The Need For A Powerful Leader

The plan asserts “the existential need for aggressive use of the vast powers of the executive branch — that means a very powerful leader — to dismantle the current government that regulates business, provides a social safety net, and protects civil rights. Instead of the government Americans have built since 1933, the plan says the national government must “decentralize and privatize as much as possible” and leave “the great majority of domestic activities to state, local, and private governance.”

Richardson says we only have to look at what Republican-controlled states have done recently to see what Project 2025 holds in store for America at the federal level. Republican-dominated state legislatures have taken absolute control in a number of states. They have banned abortion without exceptions and defined a fertilized human egg as a person, discriminated against LGBTQ+ people and immigrants, banned books, attacked public education, and gutted business regulations, including child labor laws. They have also attacked voting rights.

Project 2025 presents an apocalyptic vision of a United States whose problems can only be fixed by a minority assuming power under a strongman and imposing their values on the rest of the country. And yet the authors of the document assert that it is not them but their opponents who do “not believe that all men are created equal — they think they are special. They certainly don’t think all people have an unalienable right to pursue the good life. They think only they themselves have such a right along with a moral responsibility to make decisions for everyone else.”

The Takeaway

Richardson limns precisely what a second presidency by the Mar-A-Lago Magalomaniac will be like — a wholesale repudiation of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Business unshackled from any restraints other than the quest for profits and the public interest be damned. A reduction of the vast majority of people to the status of serfs in a new feudalism where religion and a virtual monarch control every aspect of society.

What the Taliban has done to Afghanistan, the right wing extremists will do to America. Notice that this is a heavily patriarchal society where women are subservient to men. The parallels to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s  Tale should not be ignored. Last but not least, any vestige of the Biden administration’s efforts to address global heating by reducing America’s reliance on fossil fuels by promoting renewable energy and the electrification of transportation will be be ripped out by the roots and discarded.

The wonder is not that a few deranged individuals would concoct such a dystopian view of America, but that so many people are cheering these lunatics and salivating at the prospect of replacing the American dream with an autocracy in which individual rights are ruthlessly suppressed, critics thrown in jail, and the notion of equal justice under law abandoned.

Any hope of pursuing a sustainable planet — one that abandons our self destructive relationship with fossil fuels — means supporting Joe Biden, with all his faults. The alternative is enabling the infantile ravings of someone who desperately seeks the approval of his long dead father. That seems like a rather silly and selfish reason to destroy a nation.

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