Congratulations America, We’ve Cleared (Almost) the Lowest Bar Possible for Avoiding Civilizational Collapse!
But before patting ourselves on the back too hard, let’s extend the metaphor. If staving off and mitigating against an on-going cavalcade of human rights issues, ecocide, climate catastrophe, biosphere degradation and eventual collapse of civilization is our goal (which is highly dubious for far too many), then the pending ejection of Donald J. Trump from the White House is the equivalent of a high-jumper clearing a 1 foot pole. It is the most basic necessity for further progress….almost a foregone conclusion, except we still nearly didn’t manage it and the repercussions of that are not only clearly evident right now, but will continue to exact a toll well into the future.
And metaphorically speaking, how do you end up setting the bar so low that — forget Olympic caliber athletes — even a mid-size toddler could somersault over it? By spending years assiduously sowing division and mistrust, undermining both facts and the democratic process and divorcing yourself completely from scientific reality, that’s how. And bless Biden for wanting to bring the country back together (and I say this as a non-religious person), but doesn’t it seem clearer than ever that maybe the country does NOT want to come back together? Isn’t there a solid argument to be made at this point for creating a sort of EU out of the US, with our own Schengen zone, trade agreements and joint military protection? But that’s a topic for another article, as I’m currently more interested in how we are going to keep the planet from reaching critical climate tipping points that once reached, can’t be undone on human time scales.
What do I mean by human time scales? I mean decades, centuries and millennia. Modern humans that gave up being hunter-gatherers and opted for agrarian communities evolving into cities are only around 10,000 years old. Renaissance Age explorers first discovered the Americas just over 500 years ago and fortunate Global North city dwellers have lived with electricity in their homes for less than 150 years. But the changes we have been making to our world of late with our constant consumption — of minerals, animals, forests, wetlands, fresh water sources, arable land and topsoil, energy and mass-produced material gadgets, stuff and things — coupled with our burning of fossil fuels that results in massive carbon emissions and exponential warming; these human activities have ushered in the Anthropocene era of human dominance and man-made change to the biosphere, changes that will significantly affect the planet for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years. I’m talking the extinction of half of all current species, massive forest diebacks, and polar/alpine ice melt-off leading to the type of interglacial sea level rise not seen in 125,000 years. Congrats to us, we are the first species to radically alter the composition of the biosphere and thereby usher in the end of a geologic era!
So while our new President will have his plate more than full just trying to get half the country to wear a mask and keep the current Pandemic from running amok (again, what should be clearing a 1 foot hurdle for an Olympic high-jumper), while also tackling systemic inequality, misogyny, racism and general disenfranchisement, there is the continuously loud ticking of calamitous climate change growing unchecked in the background. And the most catastrophic consequences are going to be playing out in the years and decades to come, even as the more benign effects are hitting us right now: unprecedented wildfires, hurricanes, hailstorms, flooding, drought, heat and crop failures. That’s right, let me repeat that. This year’s unprecedented extreme weather and climate related disasters are going to be among the BEST days that we will see in the months and years to come.
The Green New Deal and putting the country on track to meet the Paris Agreement targets of 2030 are a 3-foot pole for our collective high-jumping ability. And to truly mitigate against the tipping points and worst effects of climate change, we need to get to well over 8 feet, the current record. So, congratulations again America on the participation award (you showed up!), but we’ve got some serious work to do.