Sunday, 21 October 2012

American Democracy

I try to avoid writing about politics. I don't support any political party nor do I have a lot of respect for or trust of many politicians. To my mind, neither parties nor politicians, have a track record of delivering what they promise at election time, especially on the environment. There are, of course exceptions: individuals with true conviction and determination but they rarely obtain a position that has a significant impact.

I especially try to avoid writing about politics in other countries as we are fed only snippets in the news and, as I am not there, I do not know the full circumstances around the issues. I'll make an exception this once because of the influence that the outcome of the forthcoming American presidential elections could have on the rest of the world.

The United States of America is the greatest and most powerful nation on earth. Not just now, but of all time. It's strength and influence permeates every corner of the world, affects all seven billion people in some way or another.

Yet many of those with responsibility for governing the country ignore the evidence before them and argue that the climate is not changing. As evidence supporting climate change mounts, some now accept this but argue that it is a natural occurrence, nothing to do with the massive deforestation and fossil fuel burning that we have been doing over the last century or so. Then there are those that do acknowledge man made climate change but argue that we can't afford to do anything about it, or it would be pointless to try if other countries don't do it first, or simply that it is too late to try. Many of these politicians have vested interests and the "do nothing" option will allow them to see out their retirement very nicely.

Well the news is that the world is warming, the climate is changing, local weather patterns are becoming less predictable and our incessant burning of fossil fuels is playing a big part in driving those changes. It isn't just fossil fuels, it is also deforestation and a host of other activities that are breaking natural carbon and water cycles but they are driven by a desire for limitless economic growth and aspirational lifestyles. When it comes to changing our ways, reigning in our demand for energy, we have to consider not whether we can afford to change but whether we can afford not to change. The changes required are big and challenging: they will involve all of us re-evaluating our values, our goals and aspirations.

The future holds many uncertainties and this is another excuse for inaction. There is talk of tipping points, beyond which the impacts of climate change become unmanageable but we do not know with certainty where they are, nor do we fully comprehend what will happen if we pass them. We can be sure though, that when we find them it will be too late and the consequences for humanity will be horrendous. And we may find the tipping points soon.

The world needs America to be part of the change, part of the solution. Europe is taking strides in the right direction (with the UK grudgingly dragging its heels) but without America, the largest per head carbon dioxide emitter in the world, participating on the world stage the benefits will be limited and may not delay the worst from happening for long. While America consumes ever increasing quantities of energy to drive economic growth, 2,500,000,000 people in India and China will aspire to consume energy at that same level and live the same lavish lifestyles. That would be a disaster.

I know that there are very many people across the United States who are active in bringing about the necessary changes, through personal lifestyle choices, through campaigning, through blogging and building awareness. This is fantastic but when large corporations have as much power and influence as they evidently have over government, it is like running to stand still. The government, led by the President, needs to break this stranglehold and support the grassroots movements that aim to deliver a greener, fairer society that can be held up as a worthy aspiration for others around the world.

I am not particularly convinced by the green credentials of either candidate in the Presidential election: Democrat Obama appears to have done nothing to prevent exploitation of the Arctic and he has supported the American motor industry, which continues to produce some of the least efficient cars in the world although he does support renewable energy. On the other side, Republican Romney would support coal fired power stations and more oil exploration in high risk deep water locations, while refusing to accept that climate change is a problem.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post. The rest of the world does not want the US to come in and solve the climate change problem for us, only to participate and be part of the solution and that needs a President who is willing to allow this to happen. Probably of greater importance than the Presidential election are the election to the House and the Senate at the same time but we don’t hear much about these contests.

I only request that you ask your candidates the hard questions and judge them accordingly on the 6th of November. We live in a global economy:the national economy and national security can not be isolated from global concerns.

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