Two weekends ago, here on the East Coast, I was experiencing life under a "heat dome" of striking intensity that stretched deep into the Midwest. As the New York Times put it at the time, "New York is hotter than New Delhi, Washington feels like Death Valley, and Cincinnati is warmer than Nairobi." Temperatures soared. In the nation's capital, the Potomac River hit a bathwater-like record of almost 94 degrees; in Brooklyn, New York, there was flooding in the streets from inundating rains; in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, two rare tornadoes touched down at once amid a fierce storm. And so it went.
Climate change is no longer simply being predicted. We are distinctly living it. Last week, for instance, Europe was (quite literally) embroiled in its second record heat wave of the summer. The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany all almost instantly broke historic temperature records. Paris had its hottest day in history as did other French cities, and so it went, so it will clearly continue to go.
It's oh-so-complicated, but also not complicated at all. We are already -- faster than just about anyone expected -- on a new planet. Yes, in past human history, parts of Planet Earth experienced warmer or colder periods, but on a planetary scale nothing like the present record warmth has occurred in at least the last 2,000 years, according to a new study in Nature magazine -- and probably in more than 125,000 years. ("Never once until the Industrial Revolution did temperatures surge in the same direction everywhere at the same time. They're doing so now, the study finds.")
And it's only going to worsen, possibly radically. As TomDispatch regular and Foreign Policy in Focus columnist John Feffer suggests today, we may only have a 12-year window of opportunity to get this global problem under control -- or is it actually only 18 months? In either case, the question, the very one Feffer explores, is: What exactly is to be done? Or rather, at some deep level, what humanity does when facing Hamlet's classic question: to be or not to be? Tom
Is China or the Green New Deal the Answer to Climate Change?
by John Feffer
At its best, the Earth was once likened to a spaceship that sails through the heavens with a crew working together for the common good. Thanks to climate change, this metaphor no longer works. Our planet is now more like a lifeboat that's sprung a major leak. People onboard are beginning to panic and the clock is ticking.- Advertisement -
It is, however, the perfect environment to test out the best way to deal with life-and-death situations.
For such a test, imagine not one but two lifeboats of survivors bobbing in an endless, empty sea. Both contain the same number of people and a limited amount of food. Based on some educated guesses by one knowledgeable crewmember, the boats are at least five days from land, if everyone rows together and they don't veer off course.
In the first boat, the survivors debate the problem: Should they stay in place and conserve their energy or strike off in search of land? They divide into three committees to address the different aspects of the problem and present their findings, making sure everyone has input. They debate for hours, growing weaker and weaker until they no longer have the energy to do anything and the issue decides itself.
In the second boat, one person takes control, believing he alone has the skill and knowledge to steer the lifeboat toward land. Not everyone agrees, but dissenters are silenced. The others agree that there's no time for more discussion. The new leader imposes rules on who rows and who eats. When someone falls deathly ill, he orders the incapacitated man thrown overboard.
The second lifeboat is moving at a good pace -- but is it going in the right direction?
On Lifeboat Earth, time and resources are similarly limited. According to most climate scientists, the window of opportunity to prevent irrevocable climate change is about a dozen years. Opinion is divided, however, on how to address this problem with the urgency it requires.- Advertisement -
The international community has tried, in a roughly democratic fashion, to avoid the apocalypse. In 2015, the countries of the world came together in Paris and negotiated a non-binding climate accord that was a victory for compromise but a failure for shrinking the planet's actual carbon footprint. In a number of countries around the world, democratic elections subsequently brought climate-change deniers like Donald Trump to power, further compromising that accord.
In this way, the planet risks following the first lifeboat scenario: talking ourselves to death.
The second lifeboat option -- think of it as eco-authoritarianism -- seems to better fit the temper of the times. The current climate emergency coincides with a profound disillusionment with the liberal world order. Authoritarianism has become significantly more popular these days, even in otherwise democratic societies like India, Brazil, and the United States.