Only You Can Prevent Climate Change

Hundreds of thousands of refugees are flooding into Europe, creating a crisis that will eventually change the face of the countries trying to meet it in profound ways. Almost all of these refugees have nothing to go back to. Their homes are gone. They have no livelihood. Their countries have been torn apart by war.

Many of these refugees are from Syria, and the story of how that country came to its current impasse is a cautionary tale for anyone in America who dismisses climate change as nothing more than a hoax perpetrated by climate scientists for their own gain or an invention of China.

Between 2006 and 2009 Syria experienced the worst drought in that country in modern times. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has published a study claiming that this drought was exacerbated by climate change and the result of gradual warming and drying in the area over the last 100 years. [1]

Syrian desert


As a direct result of the drought, millions of farmers left the arid countryside and fled to the cities where they could find no work and no way to feed their families. Even in the cities, water was in short supply. As unrest grew, the Assad regime did little to help. Eventually protests began in Daraa and then spread across the country. By 2011 the country was in civil war. Today it has been devastated by fighting between any number of factions including The Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, Hezbollah, and ISIL. More than 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced. Now Russia is getting involved to back up the Assad regime and American military sources are calling this a real threat to US/Russian relations.

In September of 2014 Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel released a report in which the Pentagon admitted that climate change required immediate action on the part of the US military. That report predicted the situation now facing Europe. “The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability,” the report said. The US military had to be prepared to handle the impact of such eventualities according to the report.

And yet climate change is now the most divisive issue in America – more divisive than abortion, more divisive than gun control. Fully 72% of the Senate Republican caucus rejects the science on climate change. On the Environment and Public Works committee, 10 out of 11 Republicans deny climate change is happening or claim humans do not cause it.

Across the country, 65% of Americans believe that climate change is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem, and that figure is down from 2007. Republican presidential candidates stand on the debate stage and publically proclaim that there is nothing we can do about it and trying to do anything about it will just cost jobs and destroy our economy.

There is a seeming disconnect here, and understanding that disconnect is at the heart of what is at stake in the 2016 election.

In a recent study by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page they point out that the United States is no longer a democracy and must be redefined as an oligarchy.

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” the study found.

 “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Even a cursory look at the “economic elites” involved in the climate change debate shows that we are talking about the oil and coal industries. They stand to lose profits because they have refused to diversify fast enough, and it is clear that they do not care about the environment.

Recent documents from Exxon show that as early as 1977 their scientists were raising the possibility of global warming as a real threat to the environment. In a 1982 document marked “not to be distributed externally,” the company’s environmental affairs office wrote that preventing global warming would require sharp cuts in fossil fuel use. Failure to do so, the document said, could result in “some potentially catastrophic events” that “might not be reversible.” [2] They knew three decades ago that greenhouse gas emissions were warming the atmosphere that this warming could have irreversible effects, and they not only hid that research, but went on a publicity campaign to deny it.

These same “economic elite,” the Kochs and others, are the ones bankrolling many of the presidential candidates in this election. They are the ones controlling, through a maze of non-profit organizations and lobbyists, the legislation that does and does not get through congress. They are the ones undermining the efforts of the president and others to reach agreement with other countries to address the climate change crisis.

So long as America remains an oligarchy, so long as America is controlled by 1% of the population and that 1% puts profits ahead of the planet we live on, we can make no progress toward solving the problem. And this climate change problem which is currently at the root of the migration crises in Europe right now and will be at the heart of many more in the near future may be the biggest problem the world has ever faced.

If there is one man who seems to see both the problem and the impediment to solving it clearly, it’s Bernie Sanders. “Climate change is real, caused by human activity and already devastating our nation and planet. The United States must lead the world in combating climate change and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainability.”

But we can never do that if the people have no say in what government does and does not do.

“Subsidies for the oil, gas and coal industries are projected to cost taxpayers more than $135 billion in the coming decade. At a time when scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, it is absurd to provide massive subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies’ already enormous profits,” Bernie Sanders has said.

But whether the majority of citizens agree with that not, it is exactly what we will do so long as the billionaire class controls the government as the Princeton/Northwestern study concludes it does.

Senator Sanders has called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics and government.

The political revolution which Senator Sanders has called for may be the only way to move forward toward lessening the impact of climate change. We must act, and we must act in concert with the other countries in the world to change our energy policies, and in order to do that we need to get big oil and big coal out of government policy-making. We need to end the oligarchy that has, after nearly 240 years, displaced our republican democracy.   We need to end the science denial at the heart of the global warming. As Sanders has said, “It’s no longer acceptable” for anyone to deny science.

You will never see a bigger issue in your lifetime than climate change.

Educate yourself.

Educate your friends.

Enough is Enough.

Roger A. Shipley - The Willowbrook Curmudgeon

Roger Shipley, AKA The Willowbrook Curmudgeon, spent forty years teaching in the American educational system and emerged a grumpy old man. Ensconced in the Pacific Northwest, he writes, carves, and chides people for bad grammar. You can also find his grumblings at The Curmudgeon's Lair or follow his nonsense on Twitter or Face Book

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