In This Election, the Climate Should Trump Everything Else

By Alison Rose Levy
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Alison Rose Levy

Mark Freeth / CC-BY-2.0

Remember the good old days when climate change was something that would occur a century or more in the future? Something we could avoid if we played our cards right?

As the years rolled by, the time between us and that faraway future bedeviling our great-grandchildren first shortened and then disappeared. In an April 2015 study published in Nature, climate scientists wrote that:

The large shift over the coming decades … indicates that the world is now entering a regime where … impacts related to rates of change will intensify over the coming decades. … [and be] … sustained for some decades even under substantial emission mitigation efforts …

The scientists call this shift “unprecedented.” Unprecedented like rising highs in temperatures for the last several years. Unprecedented like the recent flooding in Louisiana.

Given this new climate reality, the 2016 election should be a national and momentous referendum on the future of the earth as a viable habitat for humans and other species.

But this horrifying climatological imperative has been eclipsed, as tabloid-like coverage of each step and statement by a buffoon running for president has sidelined what is probably the most urgent question in human history: When and how will our government make getting a handle on climate change its No. 1 priority?

Over the next decade, as climate impacts become more disruptive and inescapable, the hijacking of this election through media corruption, public consent and the ultimate consummation of the Democratic Party’s secret love affair with Wall Street will more than likely be seen as catastrophic. Whoever gets elected, if we fail by one iota to make climate the overriding issue in 2016, scientists warn, we will drive humanity over the climate precipice.

Staving Off Climate Catastrophe

Of the greenhouse gases carbon and methane, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified methane as the most potent short-term inducer of climate change. The 2015 Paris climate accord determined that humanity would only be able to contain global temperature rise if methane emissions are lowered. However, according to Robert Warren Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, methane gas emissions have been rising “from the development of shale gas and shale oil.” Despite the widespread belief that coal is dirtier, the destructive power of methane was shown clearly in a 2011 study by Howarth. DeSmogBlog summarizes:

With total methane emissions factored in, shale gas turns out to have the greatest climate impact of all the fossil fuels.

Contrary to popular belief, gas is just as polluting as coal in the long term – and far worse in the near term due to the higher warming impact from methane when it is first released to the atmosphere. …

When Better Is Not Enough

Nevertheless, domestic shale gas development is key to Hillary Clinton’s clean energy plan, and global shale gas development would be expanded if Congress ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in a lame-duck presidential session this fall.

When it comes to doing something about climate change rather than simply mouthing concern, the devil is in the details. Prematurely reassured and fearful of Donald Trump, reporters don’t ask Clinton if her plan will go far enough. Admittedly, even a too-little, too-late energy policy is better than a ridiculous non-approach to climate.

But what if better is not enough? Will Clinton’s plan stop us from nose-diving over the precipice? Or will it deliver the same old incrementalism?

Her plan contains a few laudable changes, like setting major new goals for expanding the use of solar panels and reinstating certain EPA regulations that were eliminated by the “Halliburton Loophole,” former Vice President Dick Cheney’s giveaway to the then-nascent fracking industry in the Energy Act of 2005. Nevertheless, the essentials of Clinton’s plan are so close to Obama’s Clean Power Plan that it’s pretty much the same brew in new bottles.

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