It’s 110°F in Seattle, Washington. The Gulf of Mexico is on fire. New York City subway stations are flooded. A few mere months ago, Texas was battling state-wide power outages following record-breaking snowfall. Essentially, anthropogenic climate change is now creating constant and tangible disasters before our very eyes.
But fear not, help is on the way. Your elected officials are tweeting about it!
It’s evident that social media has revolutionized how we communicate, and politics is no exception. Never has it been so easy for politicians to gain brownie points – in the form of likes, retweets, and followers – so quickly. Naturally, they’ve taken to it like moths to a flame.
The secret to being a successful political leader these days, at least a Democratic Party one, is simple. Step 1: Assure the oil companies paying for your re-election campaign that you wouldn’t dare vote against their interests. Step 2: Convince voters that you’re doing something about all this climate change stuff they seem to care so much about.
One way to accomplish the latter is to capitalize on trending topics. A video of the Gulf in flames is going viral? Quick, quote tweet it to show your constituents just how woke you can be!
To be sure, virtue signaling is a tempting art form that many people practice. Throw a few zippy, mic-drop level taglines into the Twitter abyss and you’re sure to get plenty of retweets. And who can resist that rush of dopamine that comes from knowing that everyone in your particular echo chamber thinks you’re grand?
But it’s especially soul-crushing – and maddening – to see this game played by the people we elect to handle the very problems they (or more often their staffs) now spend their days tweeting about. It’s also dangerous because these 280-character takes shape politicians’ brands, no matter how misleading those Twitter-crafted brands may be.
Right now, it’s cool to care about climate change. It’s progressive and electable. But how many of these politicians, with their ever-retweetable zingers about climate change, are actually doing something about it?
Granted, many repeat offenders of blatant virtue signaling are trying to make change behind the scenes. Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jerry Nadler come to mind. Their tweets are also insufferable – sometimes even more so because these particular politicians have made climate action their trademark and they’ve got a whole lot of practice tweeting about it.
But at least this clout-seeking tweeting is backed up by some – be it merely symbolic – action. The Green New Deal and Civilian Climate Corps, whether or not they pass or are even designed in a way that could possibly make a dent in global climate change, at least send a message about making it a priority. From what I can gather, these folks don’t take much if any money from corporate lobbyists with climate destruction agendas.
Unfortunately, meeting this bare minimum requirement is rare. Space limitations make it impossible to name all of the hypocritical congressional virtue-signalers but given the recent revelations found in these recently unearthed videotapes concerning ExxonMobil, exposed by Greenpeace and Channel 4 from the United Kingdom, let’s start there.
The videotapes feature ExxonMobil lobbyist Keith McCoy boasting about how the company counts on support from 11 “crucial” senators. “When you have an opportunity to talk to a member of congress, I liken it to fishing,” he says. “You throw that bait out, you know, all these opportunities that you use. And, to use the fishing analogy, again, just to kinda reel them in. Because they’re a captive audience. They know they need you, and I need them.”
Democratic Senators Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Jon Tester of Montana are two of McCoy’s eleven “crucial” senators. (The Daily Montanan called Tester a “secret puppet” of ExxonMobil after the videotapes were exposed.) Each has taken tens of thousands of dollars from ExxonMobil and other oil giants over the past decade to push back against climate agendas that would hurt their bottom lines.
(To be fair, Hassan has raked in far more from lawyers, pro-Israel groups, securities and investment firms and real estate companies, among others. For his part, Tester has taken even more money from lobbyists, casinos, commercial banks hedge funds and private equity firms.)
Meanwhile, and as far back as 2014, Senator Tester has been tweeting about the importance of confronting climate change. Recently, he voiced alarm about the Pacific Northwest heat wave, which is caused in some notable part by the oil companies who help fund Senator Tester’s political career.
Senator Hassan tweets at least every other day about the seriousness of climate change and the urgency of taking action — though action on her part to counter the unfolding hellscape are sadly lacking. One of her more popular tweets has the repetition, punctuation and punch necessary for true virtue signaling to commence.
In perhaps her most laughable, hypocritical tweet, Hassan opposed a Trump administration policy that she (quite rightly) said prioritized big oil companies over the environment. Does this banal blather sound familiar?
Another repeat offender is Gavin Newsom. California’s gasbag governor has recently released some half-hearted plans to cease granting new oil and gas drilling permits in 2024, and end all extraction processes by 2045. This move comes after he spent his term signing over 8,000 such permits, and after he shut down a bill in the legislature that would have banned fracking.
Of course, he has some hard-hitting, precious tweets about the importance of taking action to reverse climate change. Go figure.
Last, but certainly not least, is President Joe Biden. Mind you, he’s definitely not writing these tweets and I doubt if he even reads them before they get sent off into the echoey void. Still, it’s his administration’s consistent messaging nonetheless.
The tweets include pictures of Biden – sometimes joined by Vice President Kamala Harris or First Lady Jill Biden – walking through the White House with purpose! They appeal to blue-collar values, using words like “infrastructure,” “jobs” and “economy.”
It’s pretty and retweetable, but hollow given that Biden’s track record on the environment is mediocre at best. He signed an Executive Order early in his term that allegedly banned fracking on public lands, but the actual language did no such thing, as evidenced by his administration’s approval of more than 1,000 drilling permits since then – numbers rivaling records set by the Trump administration.
President Biden’s other claim to climate action fame came when he very publicly blocked the Keystone XL pipeline. However, following this victory for climate justice and indigenous land integrity, and once his reputation was suitably bolstered, Biden quietly allowed several other pipeline projects to move forward.
Like most of his Democratic Party colleagues, Biden’s social media persona and actions don’t line up. It’s lip-service. It’s performance. It’s politics. It’s also pathetic and disheartening to watch.
[For more information about climate change, and on what your favorite sleaze politicians are actually doing behind closed doors, foodandwaterwatch.org is a great resource.]