Biden adopted some middle child energy at COP26
It’s a choice to point the finger at everyone else for doing the same bad things you are.
Over the weekend, representatives from across the globe gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26, the United Nations’s annual conference on climate change. Now, as literally anyone can tell you, the United States isn’t exactly the gold standard for addressing climate change. But that didn’t stop President Biden from trying to point fingers at other countries for not doing enough while also claiming that, somehow, capitalism would solve the very climate crisis it created.
When you gather global leaders in a room, you’re going to get a bunch of interesting comments. On Sunday, Biden decided to steal the stage by blaming Russia and China for the lack of progress in dealing with climate change. Per CBS News, when reporters asked about criticisms surrounding the Group of 20’s progress, Biden stated, “Not only Russia, but China, basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change. There’s a reason why people should be disappointed in that. I found it disappointing myself.”
Biden’s commitment to adopting middle-child energy is amazing. After all, the U.S. wasn’t even part of the Paris Climate Agreement (a.k.a. the world's largest effort to address climate change) for years, after former President Donald Trump withdrew from it early in his term. Sure, Biden announced that the U.S. would rejoin the agreement hours after his inauguration, and the nation formally did so in February. But it’s still bold to point out all the bad things your siblings did just to avoid getting yelled at for the same stuff yourself.
On Monday, Biden seemed to realize the irony of the situation, because he addressed the elephant in the room. CNN reported that during a session on “action and solidarity”, Biden said, “I guess I shouldn't apologize, but I do apologize for the fact that the United States — the last administration pulled out of the Paris accords. It put us sort of behind the eight ball a little bit.”
However, it wasn’t just Biden’s remarks about Russia and China that were questionable. During his opening remarks Monday, Biden told leaders, “Right now, we’re still falling short. There’s no time to hang back, sit on the fence, or argue amongst ourselves.”
“This is the challenge of our collective lifetime — the existential threat to human existence as we know it,” Biden continued. “And every day we delay, the cost of inaction increases. So let this be the moment that we answer history’s call here in Glasgow.”
On the surface, those comments aren’t bad by any means. However, Biden’s attempts to galvanize other countries into taking action rested on kind of ignoring his own “sketchy climate record,” as The New Republic described it back in 2020. In his speech, Biden also rested the answer to the climate crisis entirely on market-based solutions; meanwhile, some experts would argue that capitalism itself is a specific driver of environmental harm.
Sure, you could say that the administration is trying its best or that Biden has made a bunch of promises and he just needs time to deliver. We can’t blame Biden for what past presidents, like Trump, have done, right? He’s trying, and it’s other people, like Sen. Joe Manchin, who are suppressing his efforts.
But as the leader of the U.S., you can absolutely question Biden about what past administrations have done. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t in charge then. He’s in charge now, and he inherited that legacy knowing he’d have to change it. It’s also worth noting that right now, five youth are on a hunger strike in Washington, D.C., due to Biden’s lack of action around the climate crisis.
As for whether or not Biden is trying his best, well, let’s look to what one of the hunger strikers, 20-year-old Abby Leedy, told Salon in an interview: “I think that Joe Biden is, frankly, being a coward. I have not seen Joe Biden stand up to Joe Manchin publicly. I've not seen him talk in honest terms about what's going on, to call out the influence of the fossil fuel CEOs in these negotiations. I have not seen him like own up to that.”