In less than four months, Americans will head to the polls to vote for their next president. And, whilst each election gets billed as ‘the most important in a generation’, this one is much bigger than that. In fact, it is the most important election in the history of mankind, with the fate of our species hanging in the balance.
After all, when it comes to the climate, it is not just about what will happen over the next four years, but about what will happen over the next 10,000 years: the actions that we take now will be baked in for centuries to come as carbon emissions remain trapped in the atmosphere for hundreds of year.
Imagine a world plagued by raging wildfires, blistering heatwaves, biblical floods and then ravaged by war as a dying population fight over dwindling supplies of food and water. Although this sounds like some dystopian apocalyptic scene out of Mad Max, this is the terrifying world that awaits us in the not too distant future. And by near future, I mean a few decades from now.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, unless we radically rein in our global carbon emissions, our planet will warm up by five degrees celsius by the turn of this century. And whilst five degrees Celsius may not sound like much, when temperatures warmed to that extent over 200 million years ago, it melted the world’s permafrost, igniting a carbon time bomb which ended up killing 97% of all life on Earth.
How? Underneath the world’s permafrost lie vast stores of methane gas which if released, are far more potent that carbon dioxide in terms of cooking the planet. This week, scientists discovered that this planetary warming gas is seeping out from under the Antarctic. The news comes one year after they discovered that the Arctic’s permafrost is melting much faster than expected, meaning that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 years.
“Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it’s happening before our very eyes,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. “This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonise our economies, and immediately.”
Time is of the essence.
And, let us make no mistake: Donald Trump can not be re-elected if our species is to have any hope of surviving this crisis. Shortly after arriving in office, he tore up the hard-won Paris climate agreement. It is hard to underestimate the cravenness of this move.
The product of decades of work, the Paris accord was hailed as a historic victory for mankind when it was signed in 2015. After all, after 20 years of squabbling, rich and poor nations alike were able to band together for the sake of posterity: they agreed to limit global warming to 2°C with more ambitious aims for 1.5°C.
For the first time in years, there was an element of hope for even though the sum total of every nations’ targets was not enough to stave off the worst effects of climate chaos, it marked the opening act to the end of our self-annihilation: ambition could be ratcheted up over time.
But, with the mere stroke of his pen, Trump may have single-handedly altered the fate of our species. After all, if the world’s largest polluter historically is going to shirk its responsibilities, then why shouldn’t everyone else.
Sadly, we don’t have time for this madness: we have already breached the 1°C threshold, and if we miss the 2°C target, it will be a long and fiery road down to Hell. After all, a mere 1°C rise has managed to melt half of the summer sea ice in the Arctic, decimate the coral reefs and set large swathes of Australia on fire, killing over one billion animals.
One can but dread to imagine what a further 1°C rise will bring. According to the UK’s ex-science chief, it will usher in an era of war as we fight it out for the last remaining supplies of food and water.
And, whilst Donald Trump certainly plays a starring role in this story, he only plays second fiddle to the greater villain in the backdrop: enter Exxon Mobil. The oil giant was fully aware of the dangers its fossil fuels were unleashing as early as 1981. But, instead of warning the world about its self-destructive path, it set up an intricate web of pseudo think-tanks in order to discredit the science and protect its bottom line.
The result: Exxon became one of the wealthiest companies on Earth to the detriment of all life on it. As a result, although global warming started over 200 years ago with the dawn of the Industrial Age, more than half of that CO2 has been released in the past 3 decades, meaning that climate change has brought us to the brink of extinction within the span of a single generation.
It’s a staggering thought that greed can drive a group of people to sacrifice everything for money. Nevertheless, this story still has some hope so please don’t despair. It seems that one of the greatest silver linings that has emerged out of the pandemic is the collective realisation that we don’t need more material things in order to be happy. It seems that all this time for introspection has brought about a keener appreciation for what is truly important in life.
And, as much as people want the pandemic to go away, they don’t want to return back to the mindless consumerist culture that we were locked into before. On the contrary, 58% of the British public want a green economic recovery out of this crisis. In fact, only 9% of respondents wanted a return to the old “normal”, and one can but hope that this mindset will bring about some much needed political change.
According to the UN, we must slash our global carbon emissions in half, and radically transform our energy systems by 2030. Let us be clear: we only have 10 years on the clock. And, whilst this does sound daunting, we can do this. One need only look to the human ingenuity of the past year alone to see what is possible.
A mere six months into the coronavirus crisis and we already have several promising vaccines in the pipeline. Imagine what we can achieve if the world’s brightest minds focus on greening our planet? Plus, we already have all the tools in place to achieve this change. Green energy is now cheaper than dirty fossil fuels. And, that’s what makes the election this November so important.
The Democratic contender Joe Biden has already earmarked plans to spend $2 trillion on clean energy, jobs and infrastructure during his first term.
As Martin Luther King once said: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” And, no where is this more poignant than when it comes to the beautiful planet that provides us all home. Moreover, although “the arc of the universe is long, it bends towards justice.” So, this November, America, make your vote count: all future generations on earth are counting on you. You must not fail.