Climate change, elections, and fear

I have a major problem when it comes to writing about climate change. I don’t like the notion that all I’ve got to offer is doom and gloom. What we know about climate change isn’t good for humanity, and the closest thing we get to good news from climate scientists is something along the lines of “this thing might provide a very, very minor mitigating factor, so it might not get as bad as we fear as quickly as we fear.” A good example would be this publication from 2011 talking about how icebergs that break off from rapidly melting ice sheets actually create a small increase in CO2 absorption. It’s nice that there are some negative feedback loops in play, however small, but it’s small comfort in the face of what’s going on. Likewise, there’s plenty happening in renewable energy around the world, and I do plan to write more about that, but the take-away is that it’s not enough yet. Not close to enough.

And so there’s this election. The best possible outcome tomorrow is that we’ll all be relieved that Trump was not elected, and that’s not nothing. The case has been made many times now that while Clinton might not be the candidate that many of us wanted, she will move the country in the right direction on a number of issues, that none of the third party candidates have presented a clear case to vote for them (if your personal moral system includes doing the most good and the least harm possible with the power you have), and that Trump is a weak-willed, insecure, Putin wannabe with no self control who could single-handedly plunge the world into generations of chaos.

I often find myself reminding people that context matters, and in this context, a Clinton win is something to celebrate without reservation. Backing away from the election of a bigoted demagogue is a major accomplishment that a number of nations around the world have failed to achieve. It’s something that humans do on a regular basis, and avoiding that course is no small feat.

But no matter the outcome of this election, we will be faced with yet another presidency that underestimates the scale, severity, and urgency of what is happening in our climate. In that context, it’s hard not to feel gloomy about what the rest of this century is going to look like. Droughts, floods, and lethal heat waves are coming, and with them will come starvation, disease, and unrest across the globe. From what I can tell, that is no longer avoidable.

And while there are some encouraging predictions about what will happen to global society and global energy sources in the next two decades, this election has served as a stark reminder that there are some people who fantasize about living in a Mad Max-style hellscape, because they think they’d do well in that situation, and they’d be “free”. These people are also generally heavily armed, and have spend a significant portion of their lives fantasizing about a world in which they can, or indeed must kill other people to survive. The problem with trying to maintain a somewhat ordered civilization is that it doesn’t actually require a majority of people to disrupt it and create chaos. There’s no question that the U.S. armed forces, even without bringing in the really heavy weaponry, could create an massive amount of chaos if they turned their weapons on this nation. They make up less than one percent of the population. I don’t know what percent of the nation is involved in the militia movement, the KKK, and other extremist groups, but the reality that as the climate conditions worsen in the coming years, my biggest fear is the damage that could be done by the people who have stockpiled weapons, ignorance, and paranoia.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t think anybody does, but I trust the scientific method, and the data I’ve seen indicate to me that the biggest threat to civilization will come from a combination of worsening conditions and some of the people who think it’s a good idea to hand over world-ending power to someone like Donald Trump.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    I’m almost a single-issue voter when it comes to the environment. One of the first things I heard about Trump was how he tried to lobby the Scottish government to dismantle a wind farm, because he thought it spoiled the view from his golf course. That told me everything I needed to know about what kind of a leader he would be.

  2. StevoR says

    @ ^ brucegee1962 : Me too – of course in Australia we have preferential voting and I can vote Greens with a clear conscience knowing I’m not accidentally getting the worst choices in power by voting for my ideal ones.

    The thought of a Trump Presidency and the damage it will do to our whole pale blue dot for decades and more into the future is sickening and has me seriously scared.

    Really hope Hillary Clinton wins and as big and as early as possible, please. She’s not perfect but compared to the alternatives .. yenonexistentgods!

  3. says

    More on this soon, but I honestly don’t think Trump will make much of a difference on the climate issue. It was already going to keep warming for the next few hundred years, and economics will force the transition to renewable energy sooner or later, both in the U.S. and around the world.

    It’s hypothetically possible that we’ll come up with a plan or technology to drastically reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but whether that happens is not likely to be affected by this election.

    My main concern is for the direct human cost of the election.

  4. says

    I guess when people say it’s “game over for the climate”, they’re saying it from a set of assumptions that is overly optimistic about the current state of the climate.

    Everything I’ve seen indicates that the permafrost warming feedback is already getting going, and we’ve got two decades of warming to go even if we stop increasing CO2 levels right now. That would almost certainly be enough to have non-human systems kick in to keep the temperature rising.

    And even under Clinton, we weren’t going to stop running up the GHG levels.

    I guess I think that in terms of the whole “stop at 2 degrees” thing, it has been game over for a while now.

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