Climate Change and the Election: What is at Stake?

I started writing this blog on Wednesday, April 13. On that day, 71 years ago, I was liberated by American Army soldiers while on my way from Bergen-Belsen to Theresienstadt (Terezin). This blog will be posted on Tuesday, April 19 – primary election day in my state, New York, where for the first time that I can remember, the results will be crucial in determining the nature of our US government for the next four years.

In my mind the two dates are connected through one word – survivor.

My liberation on April 13, 1945 has unquestionably marked me as Holocaust survivor. In all the meetings in which I participate to thank the soldiers from the American unit that liberated me, I am tagged as a survivor. In the high schools I visit to talk about the Holocaust, I am tagged as a survivor. On April 13, I got an avalanche of emails “congratulating” me and in turn, I sent my own emails to thank the soldiers that had a hand in my becoming a survivor.

My youngest grandson sent me an email asking for the names of my family members that were murdered during the Holocaust for a class activity that they are having to commemorate “Yom Hashoa” (translation – disaster day). When I told him that I needed a day or so to put together the list, relations and circumstances – I was told not to bother. He needed only two names. I gave him my father’s and my uncle’s.

As a result of my background, I have family all over the world, and I try to keep in close contact with them. When we meet, like any other family, political discussions are on the table. Within my family and circle of close friends, people’s views span almost the entire political spectrum – from the far left to the not-so-extreme right. The main reason that the spectrum of opinions is not fully symmetrical is that the far right has moved further to the right and many of the voices that we hear sound – to those of us who have experienced the Holocaust – similar to the ones that were voiced during that awful period. However, even the not-so extreme right does not like immigrants, does not like to pay taxes, often likes a larger role for religion in government and likes small government that only gives them what they want.

The far left of my family also doesn’t like the status quo. They consider it to be unfair and would like to shred it without giving a second thought to what might replace it.

Such a wide spectrum of political thought can be found in the present choices that we have as we embark on selecting our government for the next four years. On the federal level, we will vote for a new President, Vice President and legislative members, to lead us toward the future. Yet, as pointed out in previous blogs, close to half of the eligible voters in the US do not participate in the decision making. More than 60% of the non-voters come from the half of the population below the median income. It shouldn’t be very surprising that their interests are underrepresented.

The future, per definition, is unknown. However, the ramifications of past and present activities can, should, and are being analyzed to determine their probable impact on our future. Climate change is just one of the important examples of such analysis. The issue is complicated and cannot be analyzed in a binary way. It does involve most of the activities that characterize global human civilization. The direct implications of past and present human activities on global climate is followed by analysis of the impact of the global climate change on all of us.

As I discussed in a blog that I wrote a year ago (April 7, 2015), there is a collection of 41 indicators that the World Bank associates with climate change in the following areas:

Energy (access to electricity, Investment in energy CO2 emission, CO2 emission per capita, methane emission, nitrous oxide emission, other greenhouse gases, electric power consumption, energy use, energy use per capita).

Water (agriculture irrigated land, agricultural land, agriculture value added, forest area, investment in water and sanitation, annual fresh water withdrawals, low land area elevations, cereal yield, improved sanitation, improved rural water sources)

Population (population, population growth, population in large urban area, population living in low elevations, urban population, mortality rate)

Governance (CPIA (Country Policy and Institutional Assessments), ease of doing business)

Economy (GDP, GNI per capita, GDP growth, investment in telecom, investment in transport, foreign direct investment)

Income Distribution and Poverty (malnutrition, poverty ratio)

Infrastructure (roads paved)

Education (primary completion rate, ratio of girls and boys in primary and secondary).

As part of that same blog, my students were asked to write comments that justify the inclusion of these indicators in the Climate Change category. Reviewing their very good comments/arguments can be useful before any election, including this one, and they can be found here; be sure to scroll to the end of the blog entry.

Climate Change is an early indicator of a planet that is reaching the Anthropocene age (February 3, 2015 blog), so it is worthwhile to list the publicly stated opinions of the five remaining presidential candidates on this important issue in order to get at least some idea about how each one intends to confront a challenging future. (I’m also including Marco Rubio, even though he has already dropped out of the Presidential race.)

Marco Rubio:

“We’re not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate,” Rubio said.

“America is a lot of things, the greatest country in the world, absolutely. But America is not a planet.” Well, at least he got that last part right.

Ted Cruz:

Sen. Ted Cruz, candidate for the highest office in the land, thinks that climate change — a phenomenon widely accepted by the scientists who study it — is a religious belief. “Climate change is not science. It’s religion,” Cruz told Glenn Beck on Thursday. To back up his claim, Cruz pointed to the way we talk about climate change. “Look at the language, where they call you a denier,” he said. “Denier is not the language of science … Any good scientist is a skeptic; if he’s not, he or she should not be a scientist. But yet the language of the global warming alarmists, ‘denier’ is the language of religion, it’s heretic, you are a blasphemer.”

Donald Trump:

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

John Kasich:

Kasich distanced himself from the Pontiff on economic issues and environmental ones. “I think that man absolutely affects the environment, but as to whether, what the impact is… the overall impact — I think that’s a legitimate debate.” He then added: “We don’t want to destroy people’s jobs, based on some theory that is not proven.”

Bernie Sanders:

Right now, we have an energy policy that is rigged to boost the profits of big oil companies like Exxon, BP, and Shell at the expense of average Americans. CEO’s are raking in record profits while climate change ravages our planet and our people — all because the wealthiest industry in the history of our planet has bribed politicians into complacency in the face of climate change. Enough is enough. It’s time for a political revolution that takes on the fossil fuel billionaires, accelerates our transition to clean energy, and finally puts people before the profits of polluters.

— Senator Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton:

In continuation of the Obama Administration policy and approach, Hillary Clinton has called for an “all of the above” energy policy, utilizing the US’s large natural gas reserves to reduce its dependence on coal and imported oil. She has called for the US to become a “clean energy superpower” with the installation of 500 million solar panels by the end of her first term. She has not rejected the use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of natural gas from deposits underground using high-pressure injection of chemicals.

To the contrary, she has a long track record while Secretary of State of helping roll back a fracking ban in Bulgaria, and promoting American fracking technology around the world. Importantly, her focus is on shifting off coal, and her website proposes a $30 billion plan to help coal-dependent workers and communities transition to renewable energy. However Clinton’s “clean power” and “clean energy” phrases leave huge wiggle room, since these terms often do not exclude natural gas extraction and combustion, nuclear power, potentially problematic “big hydro” dams, and even high-temperature coal combustion with carbon capture and storage (CCS). In fact, Clinton’s coal plan includes research funding for CCS, widely seen in the coal industry as their last best hope in the face of climate activism. The campaigning organization 350.org created a scorecard that reviewed how Democratic candidates will “keep it in the ground?” (with the “it” being fossil fuels). They judged that the two campaigns shared positions on four issues. These include opposing the Keystone XL pipeline (which Clinton avoided taking a position on for years until a disputed reversal in September), opposing Arctic and offshore Atlantic drilling, and calling for the Department of Justice to investigate Exxon for its suppression of science on climate change.

Not surprisingly, Clinton’s entry is the longest here because she goes into fine details, something that tends to be missing in the other candidates’ entries.

As I read all these entries, it is apparent that all three Republican candidates who are still in the race do not want to deal with this issue because they claim that trying to do something about it will cost jobs. (By the way, there is no evidence that I am aware of which supports this claim and the unemployment level currently is at “full employment” level). Bernie Sanders has put it all on the shoulders of big corporations as he hopes to get rid of the status quo through revolution. Revolutions do not have great historical track record for improving anybody’s wellbeing, and the details are a bit obscure about how this revolution will take place. Looking at all of the various candidate’s positions, there do not seem to be many credible ones from which to choose.

A week after the New York primaries, there will be primaries in 5 Northeastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) with 462 Democratic and 172 Republican delegates at stake. New York State’s voting results will carry a considerable amount of weight and momentum in those elections.

Vote and stay tuned!

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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