Devastating hurricanes, destructive wildfires, coral bleaching, ocean acidification, extreme droughts, deadly resource wars, global food shortages, massive refugee crises and the total breakdown of civil society; say hello to climate change, present and future.
Faced with this imminent threat at the voting booth on Tuesday, all we could muster was a collective shrug. In spite of the apocalyptic new climate report issued by the IPCC as well as a stretch of supercharged natural disasters, we remains apathetic. According to exit polls, the issues of healthcare, immigration, gun control and the economy overwhelmingly took precedence over the climate. Environmentally progressive ballot measures and candidates were defeated across the nation: a carbon tax amendment was shot down in Washington and a ballot measure which promised to reign in the public health risks of fracking was defeated in Colorado. In Florida, whose biggest city will be underwater in the next 30 years, an advocate for serious climate change reform, Andrew Gillum, lost in the gubernatorial race.
Outside of Gillum, there were only two candidates who ran on climate change agendas which addressed the scale and urgency of the the problem: Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez wants to transition the United States to a “carbon-free, 100 percent renewable energy system and a fully modernized electrical grid by 2035.” Omar thinks along similar lines: “We must break the fossil fuel industry’s monopoly over our energy grid and create a just transition to a green economy.” This thinking is not particularly radical; in fact, it’s in line with what the scientists are suggesting. In the words of the most recent IPCC report, the world must must undergo “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” in order to fight climate change.
As both the richest nation and the second most prolific emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, the United States is in a unique position to fight back. If Congress were to initiate a plan in the vein of Ocasio-Cortez’s or Omar’s, a significant dent could be made in global emissions. Concurrently, the United States has the capital to invest heavily in the renewable energy infrastructure of developing nations, where energy demand is growing at a breakneck pace. Again, urgency is of paramount importance; change cannot wait.
Unfortunately, these measures are unlikely to become policy any time soon. Almost every Republican member of congress identifies as a climate change denier or skeptic. Their skepticism is likely linked to the tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions they collectively receive from the worst polluters: oil and gas companies. Besides their personal financial incentives, Republicans have a strong inclination towards market based approaches as opposed to large government investments. Even the weakest reforms, like carbon taxes or emissions trading, are too radical in their eyes.
But Democrats won the house this week, right? Surely that means something? In theory, a victory for the party which doesn’t actively deny climate change is good. In actuality, many Democrats are also under the thumb of oil and gas companies. Even though Republicans continue to attract the most donors in this sector, Democrats still received over $17 million, or 22 percent of donations in this election cycle. Prominent energy companies like Exxon Mobil, Occidental Petroleum, Chevron Corp and ConocoPhillips poured millions of dollars into Democratic congressional races this year. Regardless of campaign donations, most Democrats (outside of Ocasio-Cortez and Omar) are still focused on weak ideas which lack the power or urgency to beat back climate change. Even if Democrats did support bold action and then miraculously pushed that action through the Republican Senate, a President who received almost a million dollars from the fossil fuel industry in 2016 stands in their way.
In lieu of policy change through electoral politics, I wish I could say that local organizing and action have the potential save the world. Unfortunately, it seems the scale of this issue is beyond anything but a radical shift in policy, attitude and political will. In Congress’s current iteration and considering our country’s attitude towards climate change, nothing is going to get done any time soon. The outlook looks grim.
Harry Zehner is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.