Some of the circumstances President-elect Joe Biden will be inheriting from the Trump administration are not unprecedented.
We weathered an influenza pandemic a century ago.
We have dealt with collapsing economies.
Immigration has always been a political football.
Income inequality never seems to die.
Neither does systemic racism.
One unique crisis the Biden/Harris administration will have to deal with, though, pertains to the climate.
Never has a president had so little time to implement environmental policies intended to mitigate and hopefully reverse some of modern civilization’s centuries of degradation.
Biden said so himself when he declared climate change to be the “number-one issue facing humanity.”
Those by themselves are urgent enough.
Is Joe Biden ready?
According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, at least 100 million people—one in every 97 on the planet, roughly one percent of the total population–have had to flee their homes because of violence or persecution over the last decade.
“How can violence-displaced people already exceed World War II’s total by almost 20 million (without even counting the nearly five million more added in the first half of 2020)?
“The answer: these days, you can’t go home again.”
“In May 1945, the war in Europe came to an end. By the beginning of September, the war in the Pacific was over, too. A month later, most of Europe’s displaced — including more than two million refugees from the Soviet Union, 1.5 million French, 586,000 Italians, 274,000 Dutch, and hundreds of thousands of Belgians, Yugoslavs, Czechs, Poles, and others—had already returned home.”
According to the UNHCR, fewer war refugees are able to resume their lives in their countries of origin.
Desertification and environmental destruction are permanent.
The hardest hit are the poor.
“Since 2010, state-based conflict has increased by 60 percent and armed conflict within countries has increased by 125 percent. More than half of the food-insecure people identified in the UN report (489 million out of 815 million) live in countries with ongoing violence. More than three-quarters of the world’s chronically malnourished children (122 million of 155 million) live in conflict-affected regions. At the same time, these regions are experiencing increasingly powerful storms, more frequent and persistent drought and more variable rainfall associated with global climate change.”
Especially impacted are farmers.
Not only must they contend with dwindling resources they and their families relied on for generations; conflict can drive them off their land, destroy crops and livestock, prevent access to seed and fertilizer, make it harder to sell produce, restrict access to water, and interrupt planting and harvest cycles.
Ten years ago, Burkina Faso confederation of farmers president, Bassiaka Dao, informed the United Nations news agency IRIN his country’s farmers have noted climate change’s impacts for years, and they are worsening.
Since that time, rising temperatures and new rainfall patterns leading to flash floods following droughts have driven farmers from their villages.
Swelling deserts have exploded urban centers‘ populations.
This is what happened in 2010 and 2011 that helped produce the Arab Spring.
A report from the Center for American Progress, the Center for Climate and Security, and the Stimson Center states:
“The Arab Spring would likely have come one way or another, but the context in which it did is not inconsequential. Global warming may not have caused the Arab Spring, but it may have made it come earlier.”
William Chemaly of the Global Protection Cluster, a network of nongovernmental organizations (NGO), international aid groups, and United Nations agencies, warned:
“Climate change is crippling livelihoods, exacerbating food insecurity, and intensifying armed conflict and violent extremism.”
Between 1980 and 2000, 100 million tropical forest hectares disappeared, mainly due to cattle ranching in South America and palm oil plantation farming in Southeast Asia.
According to a 1,800-page United Nations global assessment Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) report more than 450 scientists and diplomats took over three years to compile from 15,000 academic studies and reports, the accelerating decline of Earth’s natural life-support systems has made everything endangered species–including human beings.
Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego reports:
“The chance of ‘catastrophic’ climate change completely wiping out humanity by 2100 is now 1-in-20.”
Humans’ damage to the planet is due to an explosion in population (doubled since 1970), staggering economic growth, and global trade that has led to destruction of forests, particularly in tropical areas.
Some hopeful signs for us lie in the fact that Joe Biden has vowed to re-admit the United States to the Paris Climate Accords from which we officially withdrew Nov. 4–the day after the presidential election.
Climate groups like the Sunrise Movement were successful in moving Biden–and even invited–to help hone his climate plan into, as former Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy, called, “by a long shot the most ambitious we have ever seen from any president in our nation’s history,” resulting in the most progressive climate and economic plan of any Democratic nominee in modern American history.
Yet he still refuses to ban fracking.
He has vociferously distanced himself from the Green New Deal, the non-binding bicameral resolution calling for 100 percent net zero-emission power by 2030, a federal jobs guarantee, solid union jobs retrofitting and re-building crumbling infrastructure, universal health care, and affordable housing.
He stated five months ago, if elected, “nothing would fundamentally change.”
Time is up.
Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an alarming report stating the world has 12 years–now ten–to halt coal consumption and slash carbon dioxide emissions to prevent the atmosphere from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.
According to Michael Mann, esteemed Pennsylvania State University professor and director of the Earth Science Systems Science Center, the IPCC’s assessment is actually conservative, underestimating the amount of warming that has already occurred.
We actually have less carbon left to burn if we wish to avoid the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold the IPCC report cites.
Even a half-degree increase puts us on track to experience more devastating weather and ecocide.
International borders, economies, food and water supplies, health, education, transportation, energy sources, are all predicted to change with the climate as the planet warms faster than scientists predicted.
We have already passed too many tipping points to avoid some of the climate’s most devastating effects, and many scientists theorize the world has begun a sixth mass extinction.
Yet there is still hope as long as we heed experts’ advice.
Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats this week called on the in-coming Biden administration to act boldly on the climate mandate by appointing progressive leaders to key leadership posts and creating a White House Office of Climate Mobilization.
Justice Democrats’ executive director Alexandra Rojas asserted:
“President-elect Biden must embrace this historic moment by keeping the party united and appointing progressive leaders who will help him usher in the most progressive Democratic administration in generations. Progressives make up close to half the party in Congress and deserve representation in the next administration. We will not allow Mitch McConnell and the GOP to rob Democrats of our ability to govern on behalf of the majority that elected Joe Biden.”
The question is, will he?
Or will we continue doubling down on a smash-and-grab strategy to extract every drop of fossil fuels the planet can yield for pure profit?
Good bye, planet Earth.
Image credit: climatechangerefugees.blogspot.com