X Close

How a divided America empowers Putin Biden's 'net zero' policies are a gift to Moscow

Biden's net zero policies are dividing America. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Biden's net zero policies are dividing America. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images


March 16, 2022   4 mins

For more than a decade, Vladimir Putin has sought to sow division and undermine American democracy. Now that he’s distracted by the conflict unfolding in Ukraine, his successor has stepped into the spotlight: America’s political class.

Once wars united people, but not in modern America. Here, the vast majority of citizens share remarkably similar opinions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: that it should be condemned outright. Our politicians, however, seem blissfully unaware of this.

In Congress last week, despite strong pro-Kyiv sentiment among the vast majority of Republicans, pro-Trump acolytes constituted the largest faction of those who voted against supplying aid to Ukraine. Yet on this issue, there is little to distinguish them from the Democratic Socialists of America, who have called for America’s exit from the “imperialist” Nato. There are even some on the far-Left who believe the West’s sympathy for Ukrainians reflects our unredeemable racism.

And yet the past fortnight has revealed something more optimistic than the intellectual adolescence of America’s politicians. The key to repelling Putin’s campaign of division in the West has also become apparent: unifying around basic economic interests.

Much attention has been paid in recent years to Russian online interference in our elections. But it is tangible realities — such as oil, food, and the ability to build things — that will determine our ability to resist external autocratic forces. And it is here that energy policy becomes crucial.

Before Biden became President, America was well on its way to energy independence, and emerged as the world’s leading gas exporter. Far more than words or military threats, the US energy revival was a blow to Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. American production was a critical factor in weakening the price of the one commodity that keeps their economies alive.

Yet this weapon is being systematically dismantled. Since taking the White House, Biden has turned the Federal Reserve and other executive departments into enforcers of “net zero” policies. From the very beginning, Biden and his green allies have busily cancelled gas pipelines, ended new leases for offshore oil, and introduced new regulations that make it harder to build new fossil fuel plants. All of this was manna for Moscow.

Biden’s energy policies, so poorly timed amid the prospect of a looming Russian invasion, has also widened a deeper, more long-lasting schism that will reverberate for years to come. Perhaps more than anything else, it seems certain to expand both class and geographic divisions.

The decision by his administration to double down on green policies, while blaming Putin for their hefty cost, has exacerbated the already-wide divide between the coast-hugging financial and tech oligarchs and the oil drillers, truck drivers, factory workers and farmers labouring outside the big cities, particularly in the country’s vast heartland. America’s coastal elites may express moral outrage about the Kremlin’s behaviour, but for those living and working in energy-producing states such as Texas — whose energy boom represents a far greater threat to Putin than elaborate virtue-signalling — this is not a matter of morals, but of livelihoods.

Oddly, American progressives even seem to lack the sense of realism that their German counterparts, once models for the Left, have adopted. Despite all evidence to the contrary, our greens cling to their fantasy that renewables can magically recast the laws of physics, the length of a day or the oscillations in the wind. Meanwhile, Germany’s greens now realise that such a boneheaded energy strategy essentially turned their country into a satrap of Sino-Russian neo-Eurasianism and helped embolden Putin’s aggression.

So far, no sense of this reality informs the Left-wing Congressional squad, whose pronouncements now constitute the leading edge of Democratic thinking. They generally oppose military aid to Ukraine, and their response to the energy shortage is to propose shutting down our entire fossil fuel production. When the mid-terms come around in November, this will likely help the Republicans in the leading gas and oil producing states. Almost all are in the heartlands, Alaska or the Intermountain West; California, the last blue energy giant, has committed itself to wiping out its large local energy industry while importing oil from Saudi Arabia and, at least until recently, Russia.

But it’s not just the government seeking to wipe out the energy sector. Big Business, through its cherished ESG investment standards, is making it increasingly difficult to start or expand energy production. Following Lenin’s supposed dictum about capitalists providing the rope with which they can be hanged, our corporate elite, perhaps unwittingly, also supports China, whose economy is fuelled increasingly by Russian oil and gas, a tie that has recently been consolidated by a plan to build a new gas pipeline between the countries.

But while such divides threaten the ability of America to lead in the current crisis, the news is not all inevitably bad. Americans can be deluded and stupid but are also capable of change. For generations, many in the West have celebrated the notion of inevitable American decline, particularly in Europe. Yet the country has a history of responding to challenges, albeit sometimes taking longer to respond than ideal.

One has to remember that during the run-up to the Second World War, America was distinctly divided — but by the time it came to mobilise, even fascist sympathisers such as Henry Ford pitched in massively. Likewise, today, there is growing concern among Democrats that the party’s energy positions are untenable for the working and middle class. It’s not inconceivable that the Democrats, and the coastal enclaves, are forced into action by the reality of soaring food, car and energy prices.

When this happens, the party’s priorities must lie both in pumping more oil and gas, as well as learning how to manufacture goods outside China. Some Democrats, rather than tightening the relentless squeeze on the working and middle classes, might even consider introducing a modest carbon tax, expanding remote work, and restoring our nuclear power industry, as even some greens now support.

This is also good politics. Some 80% of voters, and an equal percentage of Democrats, favour the use of both fossil fuels and renewables, while support for the net zero Green New Deal hovers around 20%. “Climate catastrophism”, notes the liberal strategist Ruy Teixiera, is a political “loser”, particularly among working-class voters of all races.

For the Republicans, meanwhile, the war in Ukraine also poses a challenge due to the still considerable influence of Donald Trump, who views Putin as “a genius”. Although Trump’s views are out of step even with the bulk of his own supporters, Democrats see an opportunity to link the Republicans with Putinism, and make Biden the staunch defender of democracy.

Of course, moving America in one direction is a fraught enterprise in these times of extreme polarisation. But preventing a deepening civil war here is critical if the world is to stop the likes of Putin from returning us to the Middle Ages. Foreigners may find our political divides diverting, but only the US, if it can get its act somewhat together, has the resources, the human assets and military power to fend off the unrelenting assault of the autocratic powers.


Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

joelkotkin

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

36 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
J Bryant
JB
J Bryant
2 years ago

In principle, there’s not much to argue with in this article and it certainly contains a grain of hope that common sense might return to American politics. But here’s the sticking point for me:
there is growing concern among Democrats that the party’s energy positions are untenable for the working and middle class. It’s not inconceivable that the Democrats, and the coastal enclaves, are forced into action by the reality of soaring food, car and energy prices.
Is there really such growing concern among Democrats? I’m not convinced. Look at the author’s home state of California which is dominated by the Democrats. Mr. Kotkin has written about California’s dysfunction extensively, and no matter how bad that state becomes, with people predicting some sort of popular revolt against bad government, nothing changes and things actually get worse.
My guess is the only thing that will change our Democrat-directed collapse is what amounts to a social revolution. It probably won’t be called a revolution and it might not all happen at once in a dramatic fashion, but gradually America will split in two with the more conservative states simply ignoring the dictates of DC and going their own way. Of course the coastal states will push back and try to force the heartland to obey their diktats by legal means, but the time will come when the only way to do that will be to send in the military or militarized wings of organizations such as the FBI and that’s probably where the line will be drawn because of the likely consequences of such actions.
I hope I’m wrong. I’m increasingly pessimistic about the future of America, but I keep asking for proof or signs that things are getting better, and all I receive in return are vague statements about how eventually common sense will prevail. That’s either inspired prophecy or wishful thinking.

Francis MacGabhann
FM
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Actually, your scenario of federal authorities drawing the line at militarised intervention may be a positive. Remember, America was conceived as a group of mini-countries which would only come together in limited, stated circumstances. Federal overreach, even for good ends, has always been a problem, and the left’s propensity for using it to stuff things people don’t want down their throats is a serious danger to the county’s continued unity. If America IS returning to its constitutional basis, that’s no bad thing.

Andrew Fisher
AF
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

Good point, except that that level of division of the US would, in short term, simply hand over world dominance to China. Russia, as China’s junior partner, would get what it wants in Eastern (only?) Europe. As their appetite of the authoritarian powers is whetted without resistance, of course it is likely to grow. That would be a geostrategic disaster for freedom.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Warren T
WT
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

And it is why Ronald Reagan said the U.S. is liberty’s last stand on earth.

Ned DeLorme
ND
Ned DeLorme
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

China imports 80% of its energy, primarily from the Persian Gulf, it all flows through the Straits of Malacca, a couple of destroyers can shut it down in a week. The lights will go out all over in China in 3 weeks. In six months they will be in famine. Thus the reason for the belt and road and the scramble to build pipelines to the Gulf and Russia.

Warren T
WT
Warren T
2 years ago

And yet conservatives are blamed for trying to undermine democracy! It’s quite the opposite in reality.

Martin Bollis
MB
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I’ve read a few articles about businesses relocating to red states. Is that a real thing or wishful thinking by conservative commentators?

If it is a real thing, would it eventually affect the power balance between states? I really don’t know enough about US political structures but would assume greater economic clout alters the power dynamics?

Polarisation in the US is now a common media trope. Is it a real thing “on the street?” I find here in the U.K., the bulk of the population still seems unaware or unconcerned by the kinds of issues we all get very exercised about on Unherd.

Warren T
WT
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Yes it is real. Which is precisely why the MSM seeks out ways to disparage Florida and Texas. Elon Musk moving to TX is a perfect example of relocating businesses, but the real threat is the people who leave places like CA and NY and move to FL and TX. The recipient red states get more congressional seats as a result as the big blue states lose seats. That’s where the rubber meets the road and why the MSM is apoplectic about it.

Amos Sullivan
AS
Amos Sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Shut off water and power to all blue cities and watch them crumble into chaos.

A Spetzari
AS
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yeah agreed – good comment
I think this is why we have seen a surge in popularity of more moderate Republicans (DeSantis, and Rand Paul etc).
By luck or design they are occupying a massive void in the middle for voters who might not quite buy Trump and his eccentricities, but see the Dems for the chaos and incompetence they eradiate.

Amos Sullivan
AS
Amos Sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

TRUMP exposed the rot and decay in American leadership, it is why liberals hate him so!

Tom Watson
TW
Tom Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Exactly. The entire article hinges on “it’s not inconceivable that” the Democrats might pull their collective head out of their collective backside, see reason and go back to (presumably) the glory years of Clintonite/West Wing competence and gosh-darn decency. (Republicans of course are just irredeemable baddies in this framing). It’s not inconceivable, but it hardly seems likely either.

Warren T
WT
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

Using the words decency and Clinton in the same sentence is utterly offensive. 🙂

Last edited 2 years ago by Warren T
Amos Sullivan
AS
Amos Sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Until true Americans hunt liberals and democrats to extinction, America remains at risk.

Douglas Proudfoot
DP
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago

Am I the only one to notice that the Russia Hoax, 4 years of fake Russian connections to Trump fabricated by the Clinton Campaign and sold to corrupt FBI, DOJ and CIA, basically projected weakness and disorganization to Putin? Consider that Putin was in a unique position to know that the whole thing was a hoax from day one. Now think about how he would view the perpetrators of the Russia Hoax, who are currently in power.

Further, consider how much more cash Putin has with oil at $100 a barrel than he did at $45 a barrel. Trump was a drill baby drill president. Biden is a don’t even think about drilling president. Which do you think Putin prefers?

Then we get to the canard that the right, or at least elements of it, admire Putin. That’s objectively false. The right takes Putin seriously, more seriously than trans rights in the army, or the phantom menace of man-made global warming. The left won’t pump one barrel more of domestic oil, even if that means Putin can kill thousands of Ukrainians with the munitions he buys with his oil sales at inflated prices. The left will expell experienced soldiers who think a person with a d**k is still a man, even if he says he’s a woman. The left thinks wokeness is more important than military readiness. Putin obviously doesn’t. That’s the contrast the right is making. Putin is serious. Biden and the left are not. It has nothing to do with admiration. It just takes an enemy seriously.

Leftists who identify as journalists purposely misconstrue Trump’s, and the right’s, position on Putin so that they can claim nobody would have stopped Putin. That’s obviously false as well. Trump stopped Putin for 4 years. Obama and Biden both failed to stop Putin. Green New Deal policies enable Putin. All out energy production in North America, facilitated by pipelines to transport oil and natural gas to market, weaken Putin. It’s that simple.

Last edited 2 years ago by Douglas Proudfoot
Matt Hindman
MH
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

There is talk that Saudi Arabia will allow China to purchase oil in their own currency instead of U.S. dollars. This could mark the beginning of the end of the petrodollar. Things could get a lot worse for America and China could become a lot more powerful. I have not heard a word about this from the talking heads in Washington or the mainstream media and it is potentially one of the most explosive economic and geopolitical events to happen in recent memory if the Saudis follow through.
Edit: Unherd now has an article on it.
https://staging.unherd.com/thepost/a-saudi-china-oil-deal-is-a-warning-shot-to-the-west/

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

It would be even worse if Putin, China and possibly Iran are acting in concert in an attempt to break US hegemony.

Ned DeLorme
ND
Ned DeLorme
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

What is the KSA going to do with Roubles? Answer: buy UDS and Euros.

George Brown
GB
George Brown
2 years ago

Excellent summation of our current follies and a reason to hope we will turn it around.

D Hockley
SM
D Hockley
2 years ago

It is not a divided America that empowers the enemy; it is the WEAK leader. Sleepy Joe is no man to have as president of the USA ….Indeed, this hollow man is no man at all.

Last edited 2 years ago by D Hockley
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

“For more than a decade, Vladimir Putin has sought to sow division and undermine American democracy.”
I cannot really buy that.

Dennis Boylon
DB
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Amos Sullivan
AS
Amos Sullivan
1 year ago

Liberalism destroyed Europe it is doing the same to America, soon all that have powerful fighters willing to lead will come from China and Russia. The West is too interested in deviate sexual practices and drugs.

Paul K
PK
Paul K
2 years ago

Brilliant. An article about energy policy which doesn’t once mention the reality of climate change. This entire argument rests on the hopeful/desperate assumption that climate change is a hoax/not real/doesn’t matter/won’t be disastrous etc etc. This is common amongst people of all classes and political stripes because the alternative is to face up to the possibility that the entirety of industrial modernity is built on sand. Easier to ignore fifty years of science, keep burning the oil and hope for the best. After all, it’s only crazy green leftists who think this is a bad idea, right?
Ironic for an essay about short-sightedness.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paul K
J Hop
JH
J Hop
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul K

Yes. Much better to drill it in Russia or Venezuela then ship it over.

Last edited 2 years ago by J Hop
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul K

“Easier to ignore fifty years of science”
It is not anything remotely like science just as we learned with Covid. It is little better than a scam and some people are doing very nicely out of it.

Peter Lee
PL
Peter Lee
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul K

I am just waiting (for 50years) for one forecast of climatic disaster to come true. If fact by all accounts, the world seems to be getting colder and the sea level rise is imperceptible. The yearly average temperature in North America appears to be slightly below the seasonal average.

Ned DeLorme
ND
Ned DeLorme
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul K

There is zero proof of AGW. Next.

Mike Doyle
MD
Mike Doyle
2 years ago

“Since taking the White House, Biden has turned the Federal Reserve and other executive departments into enforcers of “net zero” policies. From the very beginning, Biden and his green allies have busily cancelled gas pipelines, ended new leases for offshore oil, and introduced new regulations that make it harder to build new fossil fuel plants.”
Good!

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

How so?

Mike Doyle
MD
Mike Doyle
2 years ago

Global overheating is not an extinction level event for mankind, but it will be hugely damaging. If too little is done, it is, I think, unavoidable that there will be a huge migration crisis as both crops and water sources fail. The political, humanitarian and financial costs will be colossal. So I believe that moving away from all carbon fuels is a financial and moral necessity. My primary concern with ‘Net Zero’ is that it doesn’t go far enough – where possible we should be aiming at Net Negative.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

So a return to subsistence levels of living? It might work for those living in rural areas, but not sure about those who live in densely populated cities.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

I raised the question because the debate is still on in many circles as to whether humans can meaningfully influence warming. The debate is not ‘allowed’ to be ventilated, which is ludicrous.
Then there is the lunacy around countries going green and then buying dirty energy from other countries.
Finally, to what extent should people be wilfully ruining their economies in the light of the above and what will it cost in lives lost?

Peter Lee
PL
Peter Lee
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

I guess the most important thing is to find the cause, if what you say is true. If the problem was really serious, then we should work with China and India to reduce their emissions.

A Spetzari
AS
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

It’s not a simple binary though is it? Which is the whole point here.
By mindlessly following green policies, Biden’s administration has damaged both America’s standing and their green credentials. Banning and prohibiting fossil fuels in an economy that still heavily relies on them is just plain stupid
It seems as if no concrete thought was given to this, or how that instead of providing cleaner more efficient fossil fuels to bridge the gap as we move away, the US is now still purchasing the same amount from less-regulated less-clean (from a green perspective) parts of the world.

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
James Stangl
JS
James Stangl
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Not only plain stupid in regards to energy, the Greens seem to blissfully ignore the huge dependence of Western economies on all the other “stuff” that petrochemicals provide (hint: plastics are just the tip of the iceberg). And many of them look upon nuclear power with the same distaste as fossil fuel power for generating electricity.

The electrons just don’t magically self-generate when one flips a light switch or plugs in their EV for a recharge. Biden’s undoing of US energy independence is a disaster, and I can only hope and pray that his party gets a hiding in the midterms.