The Joe Manchin climate doctrine
The climate plan he creates will be exactly what the fossil fuel industry paid for.
Senator Joe Manchin owns several coal companies. Well, technically, his son owns them now. But the West Virginia Democrat still profits immensely from the world’s most climate-polluting fuel. So it makes perfect sense that, according to the New York Times, he’ll be in charge of crafting the most high-stakes climate legislation in human history.
That’s not hyperbolic. The U.N. warned in a Friday report that we risk nearly 3 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 absent rapid, radical action by high-polluting countries. Three degrees is a horrific number, and the U.S. holds the most responsibility for it as the world’s largest historical polluter. So what we do now will determine the future, and who within it gets to thrive.
It’s also not sarcastic. It truly makes sense that Joe Manchin will be in charge. The fossil fuel industry has spent billions of dollars over many decades to ensure it will be able to shape U.S. climate policy, if climate policy ever comes to pass. It’s getting exactly what it paid for with Manchin: a coal baron deemed “kingmaker” by Exxon’s top lobbyist who once shot a bullet through a cap-and-trade bill. And someone who, to many, still reads as a “reasonable” or “moderate” voice on climate.
The reason Manchin appears “reasonable” to some is because he claims to accept climate science and wants to solve the problem. It’s just that he does not accept many solutions proposed by progressives. But when you dive into Manchin’s beliefs, it quickly becomes clear he doesn’t accept many climate solutions at all, and the ones he does accept are extremely fringe. For example:
He believes other countries hold similar responsibility. “This is a global climate,” he said. “Some of our environmental friends … they make it believe we are polluting the whole climate.” The U.S. is the biggest carbon emitter in history. (June 2021).
He believes eliminating fossil fuels—including coal—won’t solve the problem. “You cannot eliminate your way there, (but) you can innovate your way there,” he said. The world’s leading energy body has said the exact opposite. (June 2021).
He believes eliminating fossil fuels will make climate change worse. “They want to get rid of [fossil fuels], and thinking that's going to clean up the global climate, it won't clean it up all. If anything, it would be worse," he said. There is genuinely no scientific basis for this statement. (September 2021).
He believes there should not be financial incentives for clean energy growth. “The transition is happening. Now they’re wanting to pay companies to do what they’re already doing. It makes no sense to me at all,” he said. Global emissions are set to rise by 16 percent by 2030. (September 2021).
He believes the best way to clean up the energy sector is to make fossil fuels clean. Manchin is “for more research and investment in carbon capture and sequestration, contending the focus should not be on eliminating forms of energy, but making them cleaner.” Carbon neutral fossil fuel does not exist and there is no evidence it ever will. (June 2021).
In sum, Manchin believes climate change can only be solved by technology that makes fossil fuels clean, which does not exist. In the meantime, he believes there should be no ramping down of fossil fuels, and no incentives to increase clean energy either. As climate science warns of impending doom, the Manchin doctrine says “Chill, we are doing enough.” This is climate conspiracy theory disguised as climate solution. And it’s a conspiracy theory the fossil fuel industry has been teaching us our entire lives.
A symptom of America’s fossil fuel education
The most important thing to know about Joe Manchin is that he’s not actually that important. He could retire tomorrow, and he would likely be replaced by another “moderate” Democrat with an extremely limited vision of what can be done to solve the climate crisis, based on the objectively false idea that fossil fuels must continue to fuel the economy forever or else everyone will be poor or sad or dead.
This isn’t just because the fossil fuel industry has spent billions to elect these types of lawmakers—which it has. It’s because the fossil fuel industry has also spent decades making sure these same ideas are being taught in public schools and universities, effectively grooming the U.S. population to accept their solutions above all else.
The fossil fuel’s industry’s systemic miseducation of the American public—and how it has affected climate rhetoric and policy—is the subject of a new podcast series from Drilled’s Amy Westervelt and Earther’s Dharna Noor. It’s called “The ABCs of Big Oil,” and I got the chance to listen to the first episode over the weekend.
I won’t give away too much now, but I will give you Earther’s own description of the series:
The show will shine a light on the oil industry’s long history of crafting pro-fossil fuel lesson plans, from elementary school through the college level, to indoctrinate children. The industry’s campaign to infiltrate social science curricula is a particularly insidious form of propaganda.
These curricula aren’t always recognizable as outright climate denial. Just as often, they aim to subtly shape kids’ understanding of society and the economy, promoting the false idea that human prosperity and freedom depends on the continued existence of fossil-fuel-based capitalism.
Millions of Americans have been exposed to these narratives. Even now, as the world tries to end its fossil fuel addiction and transition to clean energy, you can still hear Big Oil’s classroom arguments parroted in response to ambitious climate policy proposals.
I’ll also tell you the podcast is engaging—and most importantly, eye-opening. If you’ve ever wondered why so many seemingly intelligent people and institutions so easily accept fossil fuel propaganda as fact, this will almost certainly help you understand.
The ideas promoted by Manchin today have been embedded into our brains since we were children, by people who knew they needed to start early. As Amy and Dharna demonstrate in their podcast, the industry knew the day would come when their industry would be need to be heavily regulated. That’s why they created their school curriculum. They admit it freely.
I interviewed Amy and Dharna about the podcast, and they were kind enough to send me some incredible supplementary material as well. Later in the week, I’ll share that interview and material with the subscriber community.
In the meantime, you should absolutely pre-subscribe to Drilled on your favorite podcast app to make sure you get the first episode when it’s released.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to thank the New York Times staying on brand. They broke the story about Manchin crafting the U.S. climate plan—and then included some paid fossil fuel climate propaganda in the text.
Catch of the Day:
Fish has never been to any kind of school, which is why he never learned to ask politely before jumping on the bed.
Thank you for the great article. I guess we will see whether Manchin's views on the reconciliation bill is just posturing or an actual attempt to derail it, but like you pointed out, he deeply holds the same views fossil fuel interests have promoted for a while now. Like the false idea fossil fuels have some role to play forever instead of their rapid extinction being both necessary and possible.
But on that point, the source you use isn't the best in my opinion. I followed the links to the studies cited and I came across the "work" of Mark Jacobson, who in my honest opinion is a total hack. His 100% wind, water, solar (WWS) "studies" are deeply flawed and arise more out of an ideological hatred of nuclear power than an honest attempt to model a 100% WWS energy system.
"On Monday, the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published a scathing critique of Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson’s analysis, which claims a full transition of all sectors of the U.S. energy system to wind, water, and solar power by 2050 is “technically and economically feasible with little downside.”
The article, authored by 21 leading energy researchers from institutions including U.C. Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Jacobson’s own Stanford University, found that Jacobson’s analysis “used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors, and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions.” Thus, they conclude, Jacobson’s findings on the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of a full transition to wind, water, and solar “are not supported by adequate and realistic analysis and do not provide a reliable guide to whether and at what cost such a transition might be achieved. In contrast, the weight of the evidence suggests that a broad portfolio of energy options will help facilitate an affordable transition to a near-zero emission energy system.”"
In fact, in response to that article he sued for defamation. Just a complete betrayal of the academic process of critique and debate.
Why not just link the gold standard, the IPCC, on this who has already modeled that what you are saying is possible and that it can happen with sustainable development?
"The most important thing to know about Joe Manchin is that he’s not actually that important. He could retire tomorrow, and he would likely be replaced by another “moderate” Democrat with an extremely limited vision.."
Great article. I'm confused about the conclusion that Manchin would be replaced by another Democrat. Replacement as Chair of the Senate Energy Cmte? Or replacement as a senator from West Va. Since West Va has a republican governor and was Trump +39ish in 2020 pres election, I'd think being replaced by a Republican would be more likely.