The U.S. State Department is one of those places where, for better or for worse, a long-term outlook has prevailed in the past. Faced with the overwhelming problem of totalitarianism, secretaries of state developed policies of containment and Cold War that dominated the planet’s public life for decades; historians debate their soundness still, but there was an unbroken resolve behind them that lasted across generations.
That’s why it’s odd to see State so feeble in coming to grips with by far the biggest international problem we face at the moment: the spectre of climate change that now haunts an entire planet. Clearly it puts at risk security, cooperation, development: everything State is charged with monitoring and protecting.
But when it came time to judge the proposed Keystone pipeline, the State Department pronounced itself uninterested in the climate impacts of helping open up Canada’s tar sands, the second-biggest pool of carbon on earth. And now, apparently, the department is leaning on the World Bank to approve the necessary loans for a giant coal-fired power plant in Kosovo despite a barrage of studies showing that the plant will hemorrhage money and carbon.