This article is a call-to-arms on global warming. But before I turn to my main concern, I need to express some thoughts about the 2020 presidential campaign and the way we understand it. After I lay that out, I’ll connect those campaign-related thoughts with the issue of climate change.
Now that the presidential election has become a tired rerun of the 2016 fiasco, with “Sleepy Joe” (Trump’s gibe) versus “Dangerous Donald” (a possible Biden rejoinder), what’s a progressive to do? For many of us, the first response to Bernie’s withdrawal was to perform postmortems on his campaign. Then we (re-)analyzed the Democratic Party. Most of us saw those reactions as appropriate. But were they helpful? Let’s construct an exercise in prognostication and see where it leads us. Here are two scenarios: 1) Biden wins and becomes president, 2) Trump retains the presidency.
Sometimes the future is truly unpredictable. Covid-related concerns, such as its extent in the Fall or our economic condition in that same season, can’t be addressed with certainty. Covid itself is unprecedented, so its consequences are also unknowable. But Biden and Trump are well-known; their behavior has been consistent (despite Trump’s supposed “erraticness”). While it’s unlikely that the scenarios’ every detail will unfold as forecast, their overall shapes are quite predictable.
Scenario 1. Most “independents” detest Trump; along with traditional Democrats and nose-holding Bernie-supporters, they vote Biden in. In office, he tries to maintain his affability in a tribalized environment, while paying his political debts to his corporate backers. His Supreme Court nominees usually side with its liberal minority, but he rejects all plans to annul the Senatorial shenanigans that led to the Court’s reactionary majority. He gestures at restoring the environment and commits to rejoining the Paris Agreement, but initiates few actions on global warming. He supports improvements in Obamacare, but ignores Medicare for All. Nor does he institute a Green New Deal. But he does endorse repealing Trump’s tax—to replace its favoritism for the rich with a more equitable law. He says nice words about “the evils of racism and sexism” but few changes ensue. In foreign affairs, Biden is less bellicose toward Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, but his major thrust is to seek a multinational alliance to oppose China’s threat to US dominance.
Scenario 2. Trump creams Biden in the Debates; Biden’s ineptitude is obvious. Trump loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College. He begins his triumphant second term by alienating other world leaders; they form mutual alliances against him and the US. Many nations quietly evade his sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Iran. Trump’s saving grace is the UN: the Security Council veto remains a potent weapon and his threat to withdraw US funds stifles most resistance. US control over Latin America is more pervasive: the military is always “at the ready” to intervene. Other Global South countries also fear US military, Special Forces, and/or drone attack. At home it’s worse than ever: Social Security and Medicare suffer cutbacks and Medicaid is eliminated. There are fewer corporate restrictions and more environmental degradation, also a ban on “shithole” immigration and inactivity or worse on racism, sexism and the climate. “New blood” in the lower courts leads to fewer defeats there and less need for Supreme Court intervention.
Conclusion: These scenarios postulated the two alternate presidencies’ qualities, based on their respective histories. A further assumption was a quiescent populace, allowing each president to make policy-decisions based solely on his own leanings, without “interference” by activists. This led to a typical “lesser versus greater evil” result (though many of us see Trump not as just an evil, but as Evil Incarnate). Would our activism change the equation? With Trump it wouldn’t matter. He doesn’t talk with enemies: he attacks them. At best, he’d ignore us. With Biden would it be different? Few of us are Biden fans. Our main reasons are: 1) his abysmal record—support for big banks, sexist and racist attitudes and actions, and hawkish stances on war and peace; 2) his many lies about his past. I don’t deny his record, but I do have a take on his lies to offer. To me, Biden’s lies reveal a half-unwilling recognition that the times and his Party (or at least many of its voters) have changed—the mainstream has moved. His lies are a crude admission of this—an attempt to squirm away from his past and to come to terms with the new, altered present. This suggests to me that it’s possible he’d be susceptible to our pressure, especially if some Congressional allies support us. Each of us will have to decide whether this possibility is enough to persuade us to vote for him.
Putting aside the election, what should our activism focus on? The most dire aspect of the scenarios is that neither envisions an effort to deal with the ever-nearing specter of irreversible climate change. Without immediate, powerful action on this, humanity may well be doomed. Many of us supported Bernie precisely because his concerns about global warming were so apparent and genuine. (If you believe I’m overstating the dangers of global warming, please withhold judgment. I’ve gathered some reading material for you; it appears at the end of the essay.)
Climate science isn’t guesswork. It’s arrived at certainty; only details remain uncertain. It tells us that the major issue of the decade must be global warming. Therefore debates about trying to win control of the Democratic Party versus forming a third party are short-sighted distractions. The climate crisis is so pressing that we don’t have time for extraneous talk; we need to debate a very different set of questions: * How can we persuade people to forgo convenience and comfort to save future generations? * If anti-Covid restrictions lead to hard times, how can we ask those struggling to “pay the bills” to fight against a faraway concern such as climate change? * Can we create sufficient change within this system to save humanity or must we jettison the system entirely? Or is there a plausible compromise? * Once the movement decides what system to aim for, we should consider how we are now organized: What structure will best achieve that goal?
Though the climate crisis movement is already active and gaining strength, it would surely benefit from our full attention, energy and insight. Our contributions could help it make a breakthrough: it could become a decisive force. Our particular goal should be movement growth leading to mass mobilization. Beyond joining the dedicated group that’s already fighting climate change, we should support pro-working class positions and oppose environmental racism—righteous positions that could help broaden our base. We should organize as many different strata as we can: Those in the arts should do what they do best—play production, song-writing, graphics, poetry; journalists should think about the many and varied aspects of climate change to report on; workers should talk with their fellow-workers and union members should work on influencing, or, if necessary, changing, the leadership; people with political inclinations or contacts should get busy in that sphere, those with free time should devote as much of it as possible to street agitation, etc., etc., etc. (Convert these etceteras into other creative approaches.)
In our current situation of “viral lockdown,” we should use our free time fruitfully. (That thought led me to write this article.) And when the Covid crisis abates, we can benefit from the lessons learned during it—cooperation, solidarity, giving and receiving accurate information, ferreting out and putting the lie to misinformation and calling out its sources, deciding when boldness is good and when it’s foolhardy, being strong and disciplined, and so on. People who have worked well together can use that fellow-feeling to apply to climate change work, and those who can now see through dubious “authorities” can certainly use that skill on the climate-crisis front.
The Covid pandemic can be viewed as a foreshadowing of the climate crisis in miniature. Covid-19 is a worldwide phenomenon but of only relatively short duration—yet how devastating it has been! With global warming’s increase we can foresee a much more total phenomenon—a long, perhaps permanent, universal horror show of almost infinitely larger scope and a multiplicity of manifestations. Once we ourselves fully grasp these enormities, we should speak and write about this comparison between the pandemic and the climate crisis.
On a deeper level, Covid-19 casts a spotlight on the many inadequacies of capitalism and, more generally, on uncritically-accepted, habitual ways of thinking. (A case in point: Why do we accept plowing under good food when so many are going hungry?) These previously unnoted capitalist flaws and unexamined beliefs now sit, nakedly open to scrutiny. Likewise, people’s former reluctance to face up to global warming may now be less of an obstacle for us to deal with. We should think about new ways to take advantage of these new opportunities. Just one example: A non-activist, who is newly enjoying clearer, bluer skies and easier breathing, due to the Covid-induced reduction in fossil fuel usage, is a potential ally. Let’s cultivate such people!
Three other points on movement building: 1) Bernie’s final statement stressed that, though his campaign was ending, “Our Revolution” should continue. We need to connect with those in that movement; they’re our natural allies. We could also hone our arguments for joining the climate-crisis movement when talking with them. 2) The struggle against global warming is ultimately a fight against global capitalism, which cannot exist without growth and profit—climate change, profit and growth are inextricably linked: they’re veritable conjoined triplets. 3) Global warming affects all peoples—it’s a global problem. We have many allies abroad. Let’s solidify our mutual links further and further until we jointly create a single, gigantic, worldwide climate-crisis army!
One last election-related thought, and a warning: Past Democratic victories often led to Left paralysis. This occurred during the Carter, Clinton and Obama eras. If Biden wins, we absolutely must not relax. On the contrary, we should up the ante. Global warming will be weighing on us; we should make strong efforts to pass much of that weight onto the shoulders of Biden and his fellow Democrats. But we also ought not be over-optimistic. Climate change is already an ugly reality. It is now doing significant and possibly permanent damage to the planet. The bleaching of the Australian Barrier Reef and the melting of the Greenland ice are just two examples of the effects of global warming. Despite our best efforts, we may actually lose this fight. But we must keep struggling anyway, come what may, in the hope of avoiding the worst. We have no other option.
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To the Doubter: Here are the climate-crisis materials mentioned earlier. I hope you find them persuasive. This is their organization: a) current evidence of the reality of human-induced global warming, b) recent estimates of when and how a tipping point could be reached, c) the long-term effects of irreversible climate change upon humanity and the natural world. Each sub-section includes three articles. Each article’s internet link is provided, as well as a short summary. As you read, please keep in mind that most scientists have a built-in antipathy to phrasing their theses categorically. (See b2, for instance: “…or it could be too late…[emphasis added]).”
a1) https://www.mfe.govt.nz/climate-change/why-climate-change-matters/evidence-climate-change (This is an official statement by the Government of New Zealand. It is addressed to non-scientists, but is based upon scientifically accurate data. It draws clear-cut, easy-to-grasp conclusions. Make sure to watch the video.)
a2) Wikipedia Article—“Global Warming”: Type in the title, and your search engine will lead you to the article. (The article is comprehensive, with some helpful graphs and several related links.)
b1) https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/12/climate-change-tipping-points-earth/ “9 Climate Tipping Points Pushing Earth to the Point of No Return” (These “Tipping Points” are located in: the Amazon rainforest, Arctic sea ice, Atlantic Ocean circulation, boreal forests, coral reefs, the Greenland ice sheet, permafrost, the West Antarctic ice sheet, and East Antarctica.)
b2) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/have-we-passed-the-point-of-no-return-on-climate-change/ (The article’s thesis is: “Greenhouse gas cuts must begin soon or it could be too late to halt global warming.”)
b3) https://e360.yale.edu/features/as-climate-changes-worsens-a-cascade-of-tipping-points-looms (This article addresses the same topics as does b1, but in much greater depth.)
c1) https://www.justenergy.com/blog/the-long-term-effects-of-global-warming/ (The article discusses the following: glacial melting, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, animal migration and extinction of species, rising costs in coastal cities, increase of health issues and costs, impacts on agriculture and food supply, impacts on energy, water availability, and effect on energy use.)
c2) https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-are-long-term-effects-climate-change-1?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products (The source of this brief article is a federal agency, the US Geological Survey. No date is given; so we can’t tell whether or not it is pre-Trump. The article is arranged by continent: North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. It also offers many “Related Questions,” on which the reader can click for further information.)
c3) https://www.nrdc.org/stories/are-effects-global-warming-really-bad (The Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] is an advocacy group, but the issues raised here—higher death rates, dirtier air, higher wildlife extinction rates, and more acidic oceans—are well worth considering.)