A Spock-like extraterrestrial visitor observing America's political theater of the absurd would conclude that our looming climate crisis is less important to the human sub-species Americana than the immature sexual misbehavior, real or alleged, of their psychopathological political candidates (Hillary's husband probably remains the record-holder). Democrats ignore the realities of planetary overheating while Republicans simply deny it altogether. Thus does our duopoly - which represents only half the US electorate - functionally collaborate to gravely imperil life on earth.
Five years ago, Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown urged recognition of the imminent threat to civilization posed by our rapidly overheating planet, requiring wholesale transformation of our economy at wartime speed comparable to our 6-month shift from civilian to wartime during WWII. Bill McKibben, 350.org founder, makes the same appeal.
In 2008 Brown warned that "unless civilization changes its ways, its end is truly near... we're in a race between natural tipping points and political tipping points." Were we a rationally directed species in a rational system, there would be no race, no disparity between ominous facts and urgent adaptive action. But instead, we are a species responding with suicidal passivity.
Global temperature is increasing more rapidly and unpredictably than computer models can predict. The wild cards in this game are a growing number of "positive feedback loops" - consequences of warming temperatures that in turn accelerate the warming - with dozens identified to date. For example, as polar ice caps melt there is less reflective surface with more solar radiation absorbed into newly-exposed dark ocean. As arctic permafrost melts, methane 86-times more heat-trapping than CO2 is released. As drought desiccates land, carbon-sequestering vegetation and humus disappear.
Serious drought has already struck the central valley of California, the Horn of Africa and the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East (which precipitated the Syria upheaval). Desertification of arable land is reducing agricultural capacity to feed the increasing global population. Marine food chains are endangered by higher water temperatures and increased CO2 absorption forming carbonic acid that reduces pH in ocean ecosystems.
Michael Mann, Penn State University distinguished professor of atmospheric science and author of The Madhouse Effect examining climate change denial, doesn't equivocate. Hurricane Matthew, he explains, is historically "unique and unprecedented." It intensified much more quickly than any other storm in modern history, progressing from less than a tropical depression to near hurricane strength in half a day, then quickly increased to a category 5 hurricane due to very deep layers of warm water. Ocean temperatures, the energy source that intensifies storms, were the warmest ever recorded last year, which also recorded the strongest-ever hurricanes in both hemispheres. Rising sea levels exacerbate impacts of the coastal flooding.
Climate scientists define the stark reality we face, but collective psychology is the obstacle. Driven by narrowly-focused narcissism and blinded by anxiety-reducing defense mechanisms, we are failing to correct the environment destined to become our collective tomb unless we act radically and quickly. A new Oxford University paper, published in the journal Applied Energy, projects that even if every new power plant emits zero carbon starting next year, the world has only a 50-50 chance of meeting temperature targets set in Paris.
Realistic fear motivates urgent action, not reassuring lies and evasions from politicians effectively serving as agents of fossil fuel industries, following the tobacco industry's playbook to create artificial confusion. It's a simple psychological mechanism. Visions of drought, hunger, disappearing fisheries, food scarcity and societal collapse evoke anxiety; skepticism and denial provide welcome relief. Like smokers before us, we are manipulated into trading ultimate survival for transient emotional comfort.
So in this political season, where can we turn? Donald Trump dismisses climate change as normal weather variations. Libertarian Gary Johnson ignores it and admittedly has "no plan." With too-cozy ties to the world's most powerful industries that require confrontation -- fossil-fuel companies and the banks that finance them -- Hillary Clinton is judged by Naomi Klein "uniquely unsuited to this epic task." In addition, Clinton is a notorious warhawk with stated intentions to expand US military engagement in Syria, "destroy Hezbollah" in support of Israel, and further challenge Russia. The US military is the world's the largest institutional oil consumer.
Only Green Party candidate Jill Stein squarely faces the problem and proposes revolutionary policy changes commensurate with the challenge. She would impose an arms embargo on the entire Middle East, end worldwide US military intrusions, and redirect half the Pentagon budget into a Green Economy. In addition to climate crisis abatement, renewable energy and mass transit generate approximately four times the employment of fossil fuel industries.
People say, of course, that Stein is entirely inexperienced in matters of governance. But to inspire and guide revolutionary change, that is what we need. When the dysfunctional Soviet system collapsed and Czechoslovakia's "Velvet Revolution" ushered in a revolutionary change of government, political creativity was needed. The Czechs chose no politician but dissident poet and playwright Va'clav Havel as their new president. He was subsequently elected president of the newly emerged Czech Republic and served 10 years.
US voter enthusiasm limited to outsiders in both primaries suggests a widespread awareness of need for radical changes. Career politicians extending our current misdirected, dishonest and hopelessly corrupted system are exactly what we don't need. Dare we imagine the Hippocratic Oath applied to national policies?
And Stein's vice presidential choice, Ajamu Baraka, also comes from outside the political establishment and brings critical insights and perspective that America desperately needs to shed its delusional self-satisfaction and launch transformative adaptations to the perilous realities confronting us.
We must unite to dump the duopoly and heed Professor Mann's advice: "Vote Climate from the top of the ticket all the way down." Climate catastrophe enablers represent those who fund their campaigns, not the citizens who pay their salaries.
Otherwise we will replicate a familiar script. First an angry Mother Nature came for the polar bears and we didn't save them. Next she came for us and by then it was too late.
(Article changed on October 24, 2016 at 13:08)