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Can Climate Change Be a Decisive Issue for Democrats in the US Midterms?

    The many very severe climate events this summer and the increasingly dire warnings of climate experts have made people more aware of the seriousness of climate threats. Yet, polls have shown that the climate issue is way down on the list of people’s concerns when deciding how to vote in the midterm elections.

     The Democrats can gain greatly in these very consequential  elections by emphasizing the seriousness of climate threats and why they are likely to soon become far worse and the potential harm if Republicans regain power due to their resistance to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

     First, it is important to recognize how strong the scientific consensus about climate change is. Science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and virtually all the peer-reviewed papers on this issue in respected scientific journals agree that climate change is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity.  In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization composed of climate experts from many countries, warned that “unprecedented changes” are necessary by 2030 to have a chance at averting a climate catastrophe. Yet, four years later, in May 2022, atmospheric CO2 reached a record level. Clearly, a change in direction is essential.

     The world is already seeing very negative effects from climate change.

     Every decade since the 1970s has been hotter than the previous decade and all of the 23 hottest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year worldwide. June 2021 was the hottest June on record and July 2021 was the hottest month on record. The hottest seven years in recorded history all occurred in the past seven years.

     There have been many negative effects of this increased temperature. Glaciers worldwide are rapidly melting, threatening future food production which depends on glacial water each spring for irrigation. Greenland and polar ice caps are also melting rapidly, rising sea levels and increasing the potential for future flooding. Already coastal cities, including Miami, Florida, have experienced “sunny day flooding” during high tides. Permafrost is also starting to melt, releasing trapped greenhouse gases, which would accelerate climate change.

     There has also been an increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. This was especially true in the summer of 2022 when there seemed to be severe, sometimes record-breaking climate events almost daily. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events over the years that its former governor, Jerry Brown, stated that, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”

     Unfortunately, there are many reasons why prospects for the future are even more frightening, including:

  • While all the severe climate events mentioned above are due to a temperature increase of about 1.2 degrees Celsius (about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit), the world is now on track for an average increase of three or more degrees Celsius by the end of this century, which would result in even greater human suffering and significant threats to human civilization. 
  • Due to self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles), many climate experts believe that we are close to an irreversible tipping point when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur. 
  • While many climate scientists think that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, it just reached 420 ppm in May, and the amount has been increasing by 2 – 3 ppm per year.
  • The Pentagon and other military groups think that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism, and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refuges to flee from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change. 

     Israel is especially threatened by climate change. The Middle East is becoming hotter and drier than most areas, increasing the potential for future violence. Also, the coastal plain where most of Israel’s population and infrastructure are located could be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.

     Because of the above factors, averting a climate catastrophe must become a central focus for civilization today. Every aspect of life should be considered in terms of reducing “carbon footprints.” Among the many positive steps are shifting away from fossil fuels to solar, wind, and other renewable forms of energy, reducing the consumption of meat and other animal products, designing more efficient cars, lightbulbs, and other items, improving public transportation, recycling, and composting.

     Despite these very alarming facts, the Republican Party largely denies climate change. Most Republicans still support former president Donald Trump, who is not only in denial, but appointed other climate deniers to key environmental positions and did everything possible to repeal or weaken legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

     Trump has called climate change “mystical,” “nonexistent,” and “an expensive hoax.” He stated that it was “created by the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” He pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement that was signed by the leaders of the 195 nations attending, most of whom pledged to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saying “the badly flawed Paris Climate Agreement protects polluters, hurts Americans, and costs a fortune.”

     Republican members of Congress have been united in efforts to block Democrats’ proposed legislation to combat climate threats. Every Republican member voted against the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which provided the largest U.S. investment in history in climate and energy initiatives to fight climate change, potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030.

     Democrats are well positioned to benefit politically by stressing the urgency of climate threats and the general Republican denial. 

     At debates and other occasions, they should ask their Republican opponent if they agree with Trump’s climate change denial or the views of the overwhelming majority of climate experts, forcing them to make a difficult choice.

     Since young voters will be most affected by climate change and are generally the most concerned, special efforts should be made to raise the issues with them. This should increase the historically low turnout rate of young voters.

     Special efforts should be made to raise the issue in western states that have been hit very hard in recent years by long-term drought and by heat waves and widespread wildfires, and in Gulf states that have suffered significantly from very high temperatures and from severe hurricanes.

     Since climate scientists have become frustrated that not enough is being done to address the climate crisis, they should be encouraged  to speak out and to urge voters to support candidates who are working to reduce the threats, while not endorsing specific candidates.

     In all these efforts, democrats should stress that, to have a chance to obtain a decent, habitable, environmentally sustainable world for future generations, it is urgent that climate change be effectively addressed.

     Success is essential because there is no Planet B.

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