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Commentary & Opinion

No votes without dealing with global warming

Some don’t want to hear bad news about global warming and climate change, but the good news is that we can make government take care of it by making clear that our votes depend on strong environmental action. “Sí, se puede,” yes, we can, Obama’s rallying cry, applies to protecting the environment that sustains us and our families.

Let’s start with some good news. There’s a new malaria vaccine. And vaccine makers have become so adept that several anti-Covid vaccines competed in record time. But the bad news is that more healthy people on this planet will aggravate global warming, killing many more in horrible deaths from starvation, de-hydration and fire, on a scale beyond any Biblical plagues. No vaccines will protect us from fire, drought and lack of food. If more people survive, grow up and have children of their own, we’ll have to act much faster to protect a livable environment. Improvement of medicine and public health are wonderful only if we pay the price to take care of our earthly home before it finds still more painful ways of paying us back for abusing our planet.

Insurance – Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare – won’t save you. We have to wise up. Freedom to make your own private choices won’t save you. Either we insist that government do its job or we all burn, starve, dehydrate and thirst together. Whoopee. Our medical accomplishments are useless unless we solve the bigger problem.

Meanwhile we argue about how much we can get away with without acting to stop the world from continuing to warm.

The good news is that we can deal with this by putting global warming at the top of our requirements when we vote, both in the primaries and the general elections – and make sure our elected representatives know what we’re going to do. But the bad news is that without strong action by us, the earth will get its revenge, and annihilate us all. Formerly habitable places are already uninhabitable. Even if we uproot ourselves and move to temporarily habitable areas, the changing climate will keep us moving until there’s nowhere left to go. That’s already happened to some people and several other species.

The good news is that we could overcome the nay-sayers, and stop global warming here and abroad. But the bad news is that people aren’t paying attention – fights over racial or religious superiority push environmental catastrophe out of focus. Issues of respect could be satisfied cheaply by praising each other, but the world wants blood. Too many focus on reinstalling an ousted president who scorns at environmental threats. And the Senate logjam has blocked, delayed and shrunk productive policy. The European Union and United Nations seem scarcely better. If the politics is bleak, can our future be bright?

Perhaps another country, like China, could solve the problem. China seems aware of the threat but keeps building new coal plants. And there seems little reason to expect China to treat Americans kindly in the process.

A ghoulish possibility is that environmental issues could lead to World War III – it could start as war over forests and rain forests which many rely on to manage CO2 in the atmosphere, or war over refugee migration – a source of war almost since the beginning of time. By flattening factories, oil rigs and killing millions, World War could reduce production of greenhouse gasses and global warming – but might well make the earth uninhabitable anyway.

Life won’t be pretty unless we learn to respect our earthly environment, and make strong environmental action determine our votes. The good news is that we can. “Sí, se puede,” yes, we can. We just have to let our politicians know that we demand action.

Happy New Year to all.

— If you think I’m on target, please pass it on.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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