How This Do-Nothing Election Did Not (and Will Not) Change the World
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The extremity of Sandy and its 14-foot storm surge was stunning enough that global warming was suddenly forced out of the closet. It made magazine covers and gubernatorial press conferences. There was even a last-minute Romney vs. Sandy web ad (“Tell Mitt Romney: Climate Change Isn’t a Joke”), and in his victory statement on election night, President Obama did manage to briefly acknowledge the changed post-Sandy moment, saying, “We want our children to live in an America that isn't... threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”
Still, in just about every sense that matters in Washington, real planning for climate change is likely to remain off that table on which all “options” always sit. Expect the president to offer Shell further support for drilling in Arctic waters, expect a new push for the Keystone XL pipeline which will transport some of the “dirtiest” energy from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and so on.
Don’t count on anyone doing the obvious: launching the sort of Apollo-style R&D program that once got us to the moon and might speed the U.S. and the planet toward an alternative energy economy, or investing real money in the sort of mitigation projects for the new weather paradigm that might prevent a coastal city like New York -- or even Washington -- from turning into an uninhabitable disaster zone in some not so distant future.
Climate science is certainly complex and filled with unknowns. As it happens, many of those unknowns increasingly seem focused on two questions: How extreme and how quickly? It’s suggested that sea levels are already rising faster than predicted and some recent scientific studies indicate that, by century's end, the planet’s average temperature could rise by up to eight degrees Fahrenheit, an almost unimaginable disaster for humanity.
Whatever the unknowns, certain things are obvious enough. Here, for instance, is a simple reality: any set of attempts, already ongoing, to make North America the “Saudi Arabia” of the twenty-first century in energy production are guaranteed to be a climate-change disaster. Unfortunately, this election ensures once again that, no matter what the planetary realities or the actual needs of this country, no significant money will flow into alteration or mitigation projects.
Among the truly bizarre aspects of this situation, one stands out: thanks in part to a long-term climate-change-denial campaign, well-funded by the giant energy companies, the subject has become “political.” The idea that it is a liberal or left-wing “issue,” rather than a global reality that must be dealt with, is now deeply embedded. And yet there may never have been a more basic conservative issue (at least in the older sense of the term): the preserving, above all else, of what is already most valuable in our lives. And what qualifies more for that than the health of the planet on which humanity “grew up”?
The phrase “fiddling while Rome burns” seems to catch something of the essence of this post-election moment -- and it has special meaning when the fiddlers turn out to be slipping matches to the arsonists.
Just a week after the election, the Republican Party is already gearing up to produce a new, better-looking, more “diverse,” better-marketed version of itself for the 2014 and 2016 Hispanic and Asian American “markets.” The Democratic Party is no doubt following suit. In American politics these days, presidential elections last at least four years. The first poll for Iowa 2016 is already out. (Hillary’s way ahead). Elections are the big business, sometimes just about the only significant political business Washington focuses on with any success, aided and abetted by the media. So look forward to the $7 billion or $8 billion or $9 billion elections to come and the ever-greater hoopla surrounding them.