America’s Environmental Contradictions

United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visited Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the National Palace yesterday [Feb. 9, 2022]. He asked Mexico to speed up its adoption of renewable energies and criticized the president’s electric reform.

Before approving Kerry’s eco-friendly position and completely condemning López Obrador’s, it’s worth putting them into context. Let’s start by stating the obvious: We (governments and individuals) must all do everything possible to avoid a climate disaster. The danger is real and the world needs to act as one. But the devil is in the details.

The costs of the measures matter. We must take into account other priorities. Occasionally, the rhetoric in favor of the environment is not accompanied by consistent actions. The economic situation is important: The ability of a country like Mexico to take actions similar to those that rich countries have adopted is not the same.

While high-ranking civil servants like Kerry inspire the adoption of renewable energy, their boss, President Joe Biden, is looking to negotiate increased production of oil with different countries to avoid raising oil prices even more, and it’s affecting his approval rating. In other words, they want both clean energy and cheap gasoline.. If they were really more worried about the environment than their political situation, it wouldn’t matter to them if the price went up. Similarly, it would discourage the use of fossil fuels and push consumers to favor clean energy.

To achieve zero emissions we must eliminate the use of petroleum. It’s clear that we can’t achieve this in the short term, but that is the ultimate goal. The problem is that politicians, including the most eco-friendly, don’t dare to challenge voters with huge increases in the price of oil and gas. Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, tried it and was almost knocked down by the protests he caused. Biden knows the consequences well and is doing the impossible so that the price does not increase: from asking Saudi Arabian leaders to produce more oil to looking at open federal districts in the U.S. to extract larger quantities. In many ways, the U.S. is not leading by example.

Furthermore, Mexico cannot afford the luxury of adopting the same measures as the U.S. to combat global warming. It doesn’t have the money. For example, electric cars, one of the biggest gambles of our U.S. neighbor, have remained a luxury. Some wealthy Americans can buy them — and yet in some cases they rely on generous government loans — but in countries like Mexico, they are out of reach for the large majority of people.

Mexico is petroleum-dealing country. The hydrocarbon has generated huge wealth for Mexico, and we still have hundreds billions of dollars buried underground. To not take advantage of them will imply giving up on obtaining public resources that can be allocated to social programs or education.

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