US politics: If you want an election issue, prioritise how an overheated planet will affect our children

US politics: If you want an election issue, prioritise how an overheated planet will affect our children


Here’s the news on climate emergency in a nutshell: it’s only going to get precipitously (as in going off the edge of a cliff) worse, especially if humanity doesn’t take collective action in the coming years to bring the burning of fossil fuels under far greater control, while increasing the use of renewable energy sources significantly.

And all of that should help explain why, when it comes to those midterm elections, I’m left with a giant question mark that has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Given how obvious and ominous our global situation already is, why did climate change not grip American voters the way abortion did? (After all, there was a Supreme Court ruling against the Environmental Protection Agency regulating the release of greenhouse gasses, just as there was one against Roe v. Wade.)

Why was the possibility of our planet becoming ever less liveable not at the top of the list of issues in the 2022 midterms? Why weren’t politicians spending their time discussing the subject? Why wasn’t it part of every stump speech, at least for the candidates who weren’t Trumpublicans?

It should be the issue of the moment, the week, the month, the year, the decade, the century, shouldn’t it?  Admittedly, post-election, Nancy Pelosi did take out after Trump and crew on the issue of climate-change denial, as well she should have, but that was a rare moment indeed.

And, to give him credit, Joe Biden has worked hard to pass significant climate legislation (even if, thanks in part to the war in Ukraine, his administration has also allowed fossil-fuel extraction to ramp up).

You want an election “issue”? Honestly, when you think about how an ever more overheated planet is going to affect our children and grandchildren, shouldn’t global warming have been right at the top of any list?  And why wasn’t its absence considered the mystery of our times, perhaps of all times?

One much-commented-upon surprise of the midterm election season was the turnout of Generation Z voters in a non-presidential year and how significantly their votes skewed Democratic. And yes, we know from polling that Gen-Z voters did indeed have climate change on their minds in a way their elders evidently didn’t. We know that, for them, it was right up there with (or just behind) abortion, protecting democracy and inflation.  And that’s not nothing.

In fact, as Juan Cole wrote at his Informed Comment website, “According to a recent Blue Shield poll, some 75 per cent of youth in America report that they have had panic attacks, depression, anxiety, stress, and/or feelings of being overwhelmed when considering the issue of climate change.

Globally, many of these young people are even afraid to bring children into the world that is being produced by our high-carbon styles of life.”

Personally, I’m with them when it comes to anxiety. When I think about the world my children and grandchildren are now likely to inherit, it leaves me distinctly depressed, stressed, and – yes – overwhelmed. And when I think that, in 2022, global warming wasn’t a significant issue, not even for Trumpublicans to attack, those feelings only multiply.

I mean, forget the melting Alps in Switzerland or the melting glaciers in the Himalayas; forget the missing water supplies in parched, overheated Jordan or the spring temperatures that soared to 120 degrees and above in India and Pakistan; ignore the 500-year record drought that engulfed Europe, drying up the Rhine and other rivers, and the soaring temperatures that, last summer, turned even China’s mighty Yangtze River into a giant mudflat; ignore the record melt of Greenland’s ice sheet this September or the coming total disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic (with an accompanying rise in global sea levels), and just think about a few basics in our own country, which has reportedly warmed 68 per cent faster than the planet as a whole over the last half century.

Approximately four decades ago, extreme weather disasters causing at least $1 billion in damage occurred in the United States on average once every four months. Now, it’s once every three weeks. Doesn’t that tell you something?

And what, I wonder, will it be like four decades from now when the Gen-Zers are at least somewhat closer to my age?

Meanwhile, that western mega-drought continues, wildfires grow increasingly severe, coastal areas are battered ever more fiercely by storms that, crossing overheated waters, only grow ever stronger, seasons become hotter, and… but let me just stop there.

I mean, you get the idea, right?  And count on one thing: someday, perhaps even in 2024, America’s elections are finally going to heat up, too – and I’m not just thinking about Humpty Trumpty or Ron DeSantis. Count on this, too: climate change on its present course ever upwards is going to become the true inflation of the future, as well as an issue, possibly the issue, in any election season.

Republican weaponising of it will end and how politicians respond to it will matter in their vote count (assuming, of course, that some version of American democracy is still in place in that perilous future of ours).

If you once rejected the very idea of climate change – yes, you Donald Trump and you Ron DeSantis! – you’ll be an object of bitter mockery and ridicule. If you supported billionaires who, flying on their own private jets, put striking amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, you’ll pay for it politically. If you urge that more coal, oil or natural gas be produced, you won’t have a chance in any election season. 

Whether we truly know it or not, whether we accept it or not, whether we paid the slightest attention to COP27, the recent UN climate meeting in Egypt or not, trust me on one thing: the perilous heating of this planet is the topic that will, sooner or later, leave all others in the dust.

New cold wars and hot wars will make no sense whatsoever in such a future. After all, we’re now on a tipping-point planet. Or rather, let me put it this way: either attention to climate change will leave all else in the dust or climate change itself will leave us all in the dust, and how truly sad that would be!

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