Averting climate chaos would have been difficult no matter who was elected President of the United States on November 8, 2016. The Paris Climate Agreement was a hopeful sign that global awareness and commitment are growing to do something to avoid the worst case scenarios of climate change. Unfortunately, we have waited too long to take the necessary action to avoid bad case scenarios. The best we can hope for now is to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the out of control climate change that would create an unlivable climate for anything remotely like our current human civilization. As hopeful as the Paris Climate Agreement was, most climate scientists did not see the agreement as being enough to keep us from surpassing a 2 degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial average temperatures, which could be the point of no return when it comes to any hope for a livable climate.
To say that the election of Donald Trump threatens the progress that was made in the past couple of years to build global consensus on policies and actions to mitigate climate change is an understatement. Trump’s election and the climate policies and practices it will bring represent an existential threat to all people and the planet. Trump has said he will not adhere to the Paris agreement, he promises to scrap the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, he appointed a well known climate science denier to lead his transition efforts in relation to the EPA, his short list for Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Energy are clearly supportive of going all in for fossil fuels, and Trump announced that he will close NASA’s climate science program on the grounds that it represents politicized science.
The merchants of doubt hired by the fossil fuel industry to create public uncertainty about climate science and to work against policies and programs to address climate change are openly celebrating Trump’s victory. They could not have dreamed of a better election outcome than to have Trump as president, a Republican Congress, and a soon to be right leaning Supreme Court. The entire federal government is aligned for the creation of a fossil fuel hegemony in relation to energy policy.
Persons who care about the future well being of human and ecological communities are rightly in mourning at what has occurred. November 8. 2016 was a crushing defeat for current and future generations of all life. The chances of preserving a livable climate were already extremely slim, but now they seem impossible as Trump will attempt to commit our society and its infrastructure to another generation of dependence on fossil fuels.
If human civilization were the Titanic and an unlivable climate were an iceberg, the past decade represented a very slow turning of our societal ship away from the iceberg. The turning has been too slow and the fog of uncertainty about our global commitment to the turning has most likely kept us on course to hit the iceberg of climate chaos, but at least we had some collective sense that making some effort to turn away was a good thing even if the fog kept us from seeing if our efforts would allow us to safely pass. With Trump’s rise to power, the fossil fuel industry in the United States is grabbing the ship’s wheel and turning us back straight towards the iceberg at full steam ahead. There is no fog of uncertainty about where this course will take us. There is no doubt where the ship of human civilization will end up if we stay on this new course. Our self shortened existence on this planet will be forgotten as a sliver in the depths of the geological record, and unless evolution once again leads to the development of rational life forms, there will likely be no explorers to ever know that we even existed as a species.
Without in any way downplaying the tragedy that Trump’s election was for people and the planet, perhaps there is some opportunity that presents itself to us in this most dire moment. The slow turn we have been making to avoid the iceberg of climate chaos was likely not sharp enough to avoid an unlivable climate. The incremental actions might have been giving us the false hope that we were doing enough to avoid a catastrophic collision. Perhaps this false hope was acting as another kind of fog as well, a fog that kept us from seeing that we were still on course for the sixth great extinction and ecological collapse, a course towards unspeakable suffering and death. With the election of Trump, there is no doubt where he and the powers he represents are steering us.
The fog has lifted. Our imminent collision with our self made demise can be seen clearly on the quickly approaching horizon with no false hope to hamper our view. If we cannot see clearly now – we never will, at least not until it is much too late. We have to take the ship’s wheel into our hands and make the sharp turn for all people and the planet. We have to turn that wheel with our whole lives and our whole being, with a commitment and intensity that will challenge us to our core. Everything we care about depends on it. The fog has lifted.