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The Glimmer of a Cliamate New World Order

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26.08.2019

I didn’t know politics could move this fast. It has been barely a week since the world woke up to reports of fires tearing through the Amazon rainforest, and already a new sort of global red line has been established — the first of its kind to be drawn around climate behavior. Led by grandstanding French president Emmanuel Macron, the leaders of the G-7 have essentially told Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro that the burning of the Amazon simply cannot stand.

Bolsonaro is himself a showboat, of course, usually excited by the opportunity to troll the community of globalists and liberal cosmopolitans almost literally embodied in the leaders of the G-7 — and particularly in forums bringing those leaders together as though they are puppet-mastering the rest of the world over a continental breakfast. And yet, over the last few days, Bolsonaro has performed a dramatic about-face, moving from shrugging his shoulders at the fires and blaming them on leftist NGOs, to acknowledging they are a problem and deploying his military to put them out. Presumably, this is not just the result of Macron’s rhetoric — “our house is on fire,” the French leader tweeted late last week — but what followed: a promise to spike a major European trade deal with Brazil if Bolsonaro did not take the fires seriously. In other words, a threat to apply the same tools of leverage and sanction and shame to crimes of climate as have been applied, in the past, to violations of human rights and territorial sovereignty.

This is, of course, unprecedented—and much more significant than the paltry $20 million the nations of the G7 pledged to send to Brazil to help fight the fires. It was also, in a way, inevitable. If climate change does transform life on this planet at anything like the scale and speed scientists promise it will, our politics will change with it — and probably quite dramatically. One question this raises is: In what ways? Another is: Will we like what warming does to us? The answers to both are very much open, and we’ve barely begun to develop a political science around climate change that might help us think through the possibilities.

On Friday, I wrote about the fact that, on the very same day that the Brazilian fires became news in America, the U.S. lost its one candidate for president, Jay Inslee, who was committed to taking climate change as seriously as the world’s scientists insist we all must — and I suggested that action on climate may well require an entirely different kind of politics than one that consigns principled crusaders like Inslee to the bin of also-rans. Less than 24 hours after Inslee dropped out, Bernie Sanders dropped his own climate plan — one much grander than anything even Inslee proposed. If Sanders’s gambit represents one new kind of climate politics, this G-7 climate shaming surely counts as another. But what kind is it?

Saturday at the Atlantic, Franklin Foer proposed that meaningful action to combat warming may require that the bedrock principle of national sovereignty be retired, such that leaders like Bolsonaro (or, for that matter, Trump) won’t be able to operate with impunity on climate issues which, despite playing out within those nations’ borders, impact the rest of the world as well (often more so, since impacts are distributed unequally). “If there were a functioning global community, it would be wrestling with how to........

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