Maverick Meets the Dragon: The U.S., China and the Climate Crisis

Audio for Maverick Meets the Dragon

Steven Leibo

“Maverick Meets the Dragon”

There are few symbols of America as potent as the Maverick, that unbranded range cattle that has long inspired the American image of itself, as a land of lone decenters, not dependent on anyone else.

It was of course the name of one of the most popular TV shows of my youth and among the most popular movies of my early mid age. John McCain, built much of his 2008 presidential campaign on it and apparently was so smitten with the image, he seemingly let it overwhelm his judgment about a running mate when he chose Sarah Palin, said to be a like-minded maverick.

And, yes, it’s an image, even without the name that has inspired a generation of more philosophically minded conservatives through the writings of Ayn Rand and her steadfast characters, the almost mythical architect Howard Roark of her 1943 novel the Fountainhead brought to the big screen a few years later by Gary Cooper — of course. Who Else?

Not forgetting her infinitively more ambitious Atlas Shrugged, currently being produced in two parts, one that hit the movie theatres last year and the second half scheduled for this fall. All images feeding off a national psyche that sees itself totally in control of its own fate, a formula that for much of American history worked relatively well. Or at least it did until two centuries of fossil fuel burning brought us a challenge completely contrary to own image of self-reliant rugged individualists, the climate crisis which is currently battering us with examples of — at least for the uninitiated “Extreme Weather.”

A looming crisis that is emerging as an existential threat to American life as we have known it, and sure we are making significant progress, more and more green energy projects are going on line even as a majority of Americans are coming to understand the depth of the problem.

Yes, we have our own problems to solve. Mr. Obama, knows the climate crisis is real but even he still seems to think that making the survival of much our civilization as we know it, is somehow not a winning campaign issue, And yes, the Republican Party, is still full of people still in denial apparently seeing nothing odd in cascading series of news stories about weather disasters. A party now led by Mr. Romney who’s still playing the we don’t know enough yet game, revealing an odd disinclination to educate himself— curious for someone with not one— but two degrees from Harvard.

Nevertheless, this is America some might say we can handle Mr. Obama’s hesitancy to speak openly of the threat. We can handle Romney’s fear of the new “Know Nothing’s” of his own party. But sadly no matter how much we think of ourselves as Mavericks or John Galt or whatever, our fate lies largely outside of our own control. Because if our children are to have a future anything like our past we absolutely need China on our side.

Because, quite frankly we and the Chinese are the only two players that really matter in this planetary struggle. Which is why it is so important that we know what is really going on in China, And, far and away the best source on that is Judith Shapiro’s new book China’s Environmental Challenges. Using a masterful appreciation of contemporary and traditional Chinese values Shapiro seeks to understand the relationship between China’s generation-long thrust to build a modern industrialized society with the price it has paid in present and future environmental damage, a price that is ever so capable of destroying what has already been accomplished.

Yes, Judith Shapiro’s China’s Environmental Challenges offers an incredibly impressive job of chronicling the complicated struggle of Chinese environmental groups to navigate a system that fears any sort of political activism outside its control, challenged as well by a midlevel regional leadership often infinitely less committed to the idea of sustainable development that those either above or below them.

And creating a complicated mix of powers that America, no matter how much we revere the stereotype American imagery has to understand and appreciate. Because it must be understood, in this fight we are no longer the mavericks but linked to Beijing like a Siamese twin.

About Steven Leibo

This entry was posted in American Politics, China, Energy, The Climate Crisis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio Commentaries and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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