Millions of Americans are concerned about the government's unwillingness to seriously address the consequences of global warming. Many thousands are actively resisting Keystone XL, fracking, Big Coal and Big Oil and LNG exports that would only add fuel to the fire, but most people who accept the reality of global climate change have no idea just how horrific its effects will be. Even if we were to meet the most optimistic goals for emissions reduction tomorrow, some scientists believe we have already passed the extinction point. While no one can know that for sure, it is probably a conservative estimate that at least a billion people are fated to die from decisions we have already allowed our leaders to make, no matter what choices we make now.
The global population is already unsustainable. The World Watch Institute determined that if resource consumption rates relative to income were constant, the world could only achieve a steady-state economy (one capable of sustaining the planet's population indefinitely) by drastic population reduction or even more drastic economic deprivation. It estimated that even if we eliminate inequality, the planet could only sustain a population of 2.1 billion people with an average income of $35,690. If instead we continue to allow individuals to amass unlimited wealth, global poverty can only continue to worsen. Currently wealthy nations would not be spared. We cannot grow out of the problem by increasing world GDP due to the finite nature of many critical resources. We have to make difficult choices soon, because every year we delay will result in millions of unnecessary deaths. Global climate change sets an upper limit on how long we have to act before human civilization itself collapses.
There is no doubt that the power of denial is strong. Even when the survival of human civilization is at stake, a substantial number of people will grasp at any argument that allows them to believe they needn't worry. The fact that the chances against doing anything to change the trajectory of global climate change seem astronomical is another reason to deny the reality of what is happening to the world we are going to leave our children. While a growing number of former skeptics are accepting the reality of global climate change, most stubbornly refuse to consider the likelihood that it is caused by human activity. They are unwilling to consider the likely consequences if they are wrong. Perhaps if they could picture what will happen if we do not act now, some of them would be shaken from their complacency. Just as importantly, people who merely fret about the problem now might get active.
I have yet to read a detailed description of what happens when the water level rises to the point where it swamps populated islands and seacoast cities. The refugee problem in the US would dwarf the Katrina disaster, but the consequences would be much worse for poorer nations around the world. Who would feed these refugees, and how would they be protected from exposure? The world food supply would be devastated by drought, desertification, storms and disruptions of the food-distribution chain. Prices would increase, especially given the role of speculators whose manipulation of commodities markets have already contributed to mass starvation. This is a problem that will only get worse as population pressures rise, agriculture suffers, and the inevitable consequences of supply and demand kick in.
The availability of clean water is already a serious problem in much of the world. Increasing droughts in many areas would make this problem a crisis, especially in third-world nations. Even under current conditions, water consumption is estimated to increase by 40% by 2025. Africa would no doubt suffer the worst, even though African produces only a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gases generated by wealthy nations. Making matters still worse, water privatization is becoming the norm around the world, even in the US. It is the poor who will suffer the most as water becomes an inaccessible commodity that is not even made available in rural areas, since rural infrastructure is so much less profitable than only supplying water to cities.
With overcrowding, malnutrition, and lack of clean water, disease will become pandemic. With tens of millions of Americans lacking access to timely medical care, how much worse will it be for the world's poor? Already, 1.5 million children under the age of five die every year of cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever. Seven to eight million people die each year from a combination of starvation and lack of clean water, another two to three million from preventable disease, and a half-million from the direct effects of war.
We cannot prevent the loss of untold millions of lives from decisions already made, but we can assure the survival of civilization if we start to work now on the difficult task of establishing democratic rule in the US and the world. That work has already begun, but millions of people whose children's lives will be affected by the outcome have not yet become engaged. The only way to create a government of, by and for the People in the US or anywhere is to succeed in the nation that has the most military, economic and political power in the world. We must rid Washington of the tools of the corporate elite to create a government that will put human need over the greed of the corporate Puppetmasters of the Current Occupants of Congress and the White House.