According to our best understanding of the science, the Permian hothouse extinction event which wiped out more than 90 percent of life in the oceans and more than 70 percent of vertebrate life on land lasted between 48,000 and 60,000 years. Continued fossil-fuel burning through the end of this century could set off an event as bad or worse, proceeding with a speed far faster than the Permian and possibly having more harmful and longer-lasting impacts.
Keeping these sobering thoughts in mind, it has been rightly said that though we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, we are likely the last generation with the opportunity to do anything about it. And in this election we will choose the path of our nation not only for the next four years, but over the course of at least the next 40,000. For when we vote, we will be choosing between leaders who have called for a global mobilization to attempt to prevent catastrophic changes to the Earth’s climate that will last for untold millennia and those who have promised to ignore these worsening harms until they have wholly swallowed us up.
Stark Climate Policy Contrasts
Never before has climate change been such an important issue in a national election. And never before have the two dominant party goals on the issue of climate change shown such stark contrast. On the one hand, you have a Republican party that downplays and denies the threats posed by rising seas, worsening droughts, oceans suffering expanding dead zones and acidification, stronger and more damaging storms, and deteriorating food and water security. On the other, you have a Democratic party committed to a response that does not ‘leave our children a planet that is profoundly damaged.’
In pursuit of these goals, Democrats are seeking to put policies in place to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent through 2050. Republicans pledge to stymie any progress in carbon emissions cuts by fighting the Kyoto and Paris climate summit provisions, in effect locking in more and more harmful warming over the short through long term.
(When it comes to climate change, ever-strengthening Democratic policy measures come into conflict with increasingly intransigent Republican climate change denial, support for continued fossil-fuel burning, and attacks on agencies like the EPA. Image source: InsideClimateNews.)
Democrats have pledged to implement President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which would, among other things, allow the EPA to regulate carbon emissions), continue to increase fuel economy standards for light and heavy-duty vehicles, and continue to increase environmental and efficiency standards for building codes and appliances. Laughably calling coal — the dirtiest, most heavily polluting energy source — clean, Republicans pledge to do away with the Clean Power Plan altogether.
Democrats are planning to empower the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing to protect water supplies. Such plans would necessarily result in limits placed on the destructive practice. The Republicans pledge to scrap the EPA, turning it into a bipartisan commission neutered of any real power to prevent bad-actor businesses from expanding fracking, ruining the environment or dumping toxins into the air, water and land.
(We are beginning to feel the first slings and arrows of climate change, but compared to what we could see if we continue fossil fuel burning, if we support the devastating climate and energy policies that Republicans are pushing, the current difficulties are minor and easy. Even though climate impacts will continue to worsen for some time, Republican policies will ensure that the absolute worst case climate impacts will be made real for our generation and for hundreds and perhaps thousands of generations to follow. Video source: Not Reality TV by James Cameron.)
Democrats support Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline (along with an associated expansion of tar sands extraction and burning) and state that no such pipeline will be constructed under Democratic governance. Democrats further pledge to support federal land, infrastructure and resource management decisions that do not further contribute to worsening climate change. Republicans pledge to complete the Keystone Pipeline, expand tar sands extraction, and to build numerous other such fossil fuel facilities.
Democrats support placing a price of some kind on carbon emissions in order to reflect their larger damage to the environment. Republicans pledge not to tax or price carbon and promise to push for expensive carbon capture and storage which has, thus far, primarily been used to further increase oil extraction resulting in yet more carbon emissions long term.
Moreover, the Democratic party has issued this global call to action on the issue of climate change:
We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.
Such a statement elevates the threat of climate change to an appropriate level of national and international awareness and response. Wars are terrible, but the threat of climate change promises to multiply the root causes of war, destabilize entire regions, and — by risking the destruction of thousands of cities and communities, water and food supplies, and lands habitable by human beings — singly inflict more damage than any war or accumulation of wars throughout the history of humankind.
Strong Democratic Supports for Climate Action Apparently Open to Improvement
As such, the difference between the two major parties on this critical issue could not be more clear. The Democratic party pledges to act strongly to prevent catastrophic climate change by setting out policies that would rapidly reduce carbon emissions, rapidly adopt renewable energy systems, respond and adapt to climate threats as they emerge, and mobilize the international community to do the same. Republicans pledge to defend coal, expand fracking, increase drilling, dismantle the EPA, ignore the coming harmful global events that climate change will certainly produce, and to build more pipelines.
The Democratic policies would greatly reduce the long-term harm posed by human-forced climate change, whereas the Republican policies would basically work to lock in catastrophic levels of CO2 near 900 parts per million and around 4-5 degrees Celsius total global warming (since 1880) by the end of this century.
(Once the Earth heats up, it can take thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of years for it to cool off again. Republican-supported climate policies would push toward worst-case global warming along an RCP 8.5 pathway resulting in 4-5 C warming by 2100, 6 C warming by 2150 and 9 C warming by 2300. Temperatures in this range would set off a dangerous hothouse environment likely lasting for tens to hundreds of thousands of years. Democratic policies would take us off the RCP 8.5 path and instead push for a still-harmful but more easy to manage RCP 4.5-range scenario. Note that permafrost and hydrate carbon feedbacks are not included in this analysis and that long-term warming in the 500 to 1,000 year range for RCP 4.5 under Earth System Sensitivity is likely to hit near 4 C. Image source: Nature.)
Although it’s true that Democrats could still do more to improve their climate policies, could act even more swiftly than they now pledge to, this is the strongest Democratic party platform on the issue of climate change yet, one that is clearly setting out the goal that Democrats are committed to leading a comprehensive fight against the harms posed by human-forced warming. Moreover, the Democrats have shown an appropriate escalation of responses to climate change that leaves open the door to further, more ardent action on the issue.
Republicans, on the other hand, fight for more fossil-fuel burning, more heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere. They commit to a rapidly worsening climate situation becoming so terrible by the middle to end of this century, that it’s questionable whether much of modern civilization could endure it without experiencing an ever-worsening series of collapses, losses and retractions.
The choice, therefore, is probably one of the most important voting choices you will ever make in any election. Voting for Republicans will help to lock in thousands upon thousands of years of catastrophic climate harm. Voting for Democrats is a vote for a party that is actively aware of the problem and promotes a national and global mobilization aimed at confronting it and lessening the damage.
Hat tip to Greg
Hat tip to DT Lange
Hat tip to Colorado Bob