In Spite of Everything, Prioritize the Climate

While the world gawks as the US government-to-be assembles a MonStars-esque lineup of retrograde white nationalists, the Washington Post shared some grave news: on Thursday, the North Pole reached a smoldering 36 degrees Fahrenheit above its average temperature. While that’s still chilly by New York standards, it’s indicative of a crisis-level condition for wildlife, human populations, and for the planet. As we’ve learned in the past year or so, life can comes at you fast. In the midst of multilateral domestic and global brokenness, I’d like to clarify the importance of climate change remediation as a fine use of your political capital.

As you may choose to acknowledge, Earth is a nearly infinite network of co-dependent relationships among living and non-living things, all existing in relative equilibrium. The climatic disruption caused by human carbon emissions has crazily altered these relationships in a few short generations. That’s astronomically faster than species and ecosystems can adapt through natural selection. In this context, a 36 degree temperature anomaly is akin to local wildlife surviving in a totally different region, or on an alien planet.

Among a litany of depressing anecdotes from climate researchers, A few stick out in their poignancy: due to warmer temperatures and melting ice, orcas have drastically extended their northern range. The apex mammalian predator in temperate waters, orcas are increasingly able to infiltrate deep polar regions to prey upon native narwhals, belugas, and bowhead whales- all species that are finely adapted to survive in areas where orcas cannot. The pack ice that sheltered these species has dwindled to the point where marauding orcas have regionally extirpated narwhals, killing off entire family groups with impunity and depriving local hunters of their meat. Bowhead whales, some of which personally survived the modern whaling period (bowheads can live to up to 200 years) are being undone by the burning of the same fuel that had spared them from the whaler’s lance. Conversely, polar bears, which need that same pack ice to stalk seals, are forced to swim to exhaustion in search of suitable floes, or are stranded outright on land to scavenge from garbage dumps.

These stories are sadly typical of the sickening climate instability rocking natural systems across the globe; systems upon which all of human enterprise is calibrated and built. As this stability further degrades, the societal benefits of such predictability will become harder and harder to access.

I would love to think we have bigger problems than those of rogue whales and bears eating trash. A coterie of reckless authoritarian goons is threatening our civic life; inequality, austerity, profiteering, unrest, and economic decline loom as likely political outcomes. This is a miserable reality and plainly unjust. However, I’m grappling with the fact that adverse civic conditions are merely the problem within the problem. The greatest peril is that these same hooligans will hew to the mundanity of political consolidation and ignore the elephant in the room. The same problem confronts those who would oppose such political abuses: Failure to soothe the climate will result in far more debilitating instability and social decay than being racist scoundrels ever could. Worldwide migration, hunger, and societal collapse can be avoided, but only if they’re treated with due priority. It’s shaping up to be an uphill battle in all respects, and politically, if we have to choose a hill to die on, I choose “Climate Hill”, and so should you.