With Climate Chaos Sitting On Our Collective Horizon, It’s Time to Vote For the Planet

In less than four weeks Americans will head to the polls for the midterm elections. And, whilst most elections get billed as the most important in a generation, this one really is. After all, planet Earth as we know it, is hanging in the balance with only 22 years left on the clock before it descends into climate chaos.

Envision a world plagued by raging wildfires, blistering heatwaves, punishing super storms, biblical bloods and catastrophic food shortages, and then throw in millions of desperate climate refugees clambering across the borders.

Although this may sound like some apocalyptic nightmare straight out of Dante’s 6th realm of hell, this is what lies in store for us in the near future. That’s according to the UN’s latest climate report, the gold standard in global warming reporting.

It’s like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen. We have to put out the fire,” Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, told the Washington Post.

In short, the world that we grew up the world is rapidly disappearing, and will fast become a distant memory unless radical coordinated action is taken across the globe.

Given the enormity of the problem, one would think that governments across the globe world be drawing up a Marshall Plan much like they did after WWII to reconstruct Europe, and that voters would be turning out in spades to demand for much needed changes. Alas, it’s quite the opposite.

Amongst the issues that voters care for in the US, climate change tends to play last fiddle to others issues such as healthcare, the economy and guns. Moreover, environmentalists don’t tend to be very politically active.

In fact, according to the Environmental Voter Project, over 15 million people who rank the environment as a top tier issue didn’t vote in the 2014 midterms. So, this year it hopes to reach nearly 2.5 million voters across 6 states in bid to swing some key races.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the lack of media attention the issue garners. Even though last year was the hottest on record and the most expensive in terms of climate related disasters, it only received 260 minutes of airtime across 6 major TV networks.

“It’s conceivable climate change will swing future elections but it’s also conceivable we will continue to ignore the issue,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication: “After all, it gets almost no ink in the media, so how can we expect people to think it’s important?”

The fact that the president of the US is a climate denier certainly doesn’t help. After describing global warming as a “hoax” invented by the Chinese to make America less competitive, Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Paris accord last summer.

Spearheaded by the US and China and endorsed by over 190 nations, the Paris accord was hailed as a historic victory for mankind when it was signed in 2015. After all, rich and poor nations alike were able to band together for the sake of posterity.

But, what a difference one election makes. With the mere stroke of his pen, the Denier-In-Chief was able to take the US back the climate dark ages. And, what makes it worse is that this craven move doesn’t stem from a disbelief in the science behind climate change. It’s far more despicable than that.

According to a recent statement from the US Traffic department, his administration feels that global warming is so inevitable and so expensive, there’s simply no point in doing anything about it.

Instead, big oil, gas and coal should try to make as much money as they can before the climate goes to hell in a hand cart. Never mind that all those extra carbon emissions will cook the planet even faster.

Issuing a clarion call last week, the world’s leading scientists called for a dramatic transformation of the world’s economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

But, at present levels of commitment, the Paris accord will raise global temperatures by a disastrous 3 degrees celsius, ushering in food and water shortages which will push millions of people into poverty.

Moreover, if other nations follow the US’s lead and drop out of the accord, global warming may hit 4C before the turn of the this century, ushering in changes not seen since the last Ice Age.

And, to make matters worse, 4C is only the UN’s median forecast: the upper end of the curve goes as high as 8C, a temperature threshold which the human race is unlikely to survive.

Although global warming started over 150 years ago, more than half of that carbon dioxide has been released in the past 30 years. That means that climate change has brought us to the brink of civilisational collapse within the span of a single generation.

Given the enormity of the problem, professor Kevin Anderson from Uppsala University calls for a new Marshall plan. After all, it will be the only way that governments across the globe can coordinate the shift away from fossil fuels to a zero-carbon energy system within the next 20 years.

“Now that sounds initially sort of very challenging, and certainly it will be. But I think there is also a very positive narrative behind this, in that this transition, will come with lots of long term job opportunities.”

And, as American political will is one of the main stumbling blocks out of this crisis, voters have no choice but to use their power when they head to the polls this November.

As Rebecca Solnit writes in the Guardian: “A revolution is what we need, and we can begin by imagining and demanding it and doing what we can to try to realise it. Rather than waiting to see what happens, we can be what happens.”

Much like the abolition of slavery, the end of apartheid, and the spread of universal suffrage, history is our proof that the impossible is smaller than we think. In the words of abolitionist Frederic Douglas: “Power concedes nothing without a fight. It never did, and it never will.”

Aiko Stevenson is a freelance writer from Hong Kong. She has a Masters from the University of Edinburgh, and has worked at the BBC, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC Europe

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