Voting for the environment: Why should we care about the American election?

A Non-American guide to the American Election. 

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked my opinion on Donald Trump. In my head, I thought ‘a bigoted idiot’, but my response was; ‘it doesn’t really affect me,’ for fear of becoming embroiled in a debate which – in the grand scheme of things – didn’t really concern me. But, as someone who is concerned about nurturing the world we live in, it does concern me. Our earth doesn’t take note of politics, and climate change doesn’t recognise borders.

America is one of the biggest polluters in the world. Americans make up an estimated 5% of the world’s population. However, the US uses 25% of the world’s resources – burning up nearly 25% of the coal, 26% of the oil, and 27% of the world’s natural gas. When compared to the 1.3 billion people of China, the 290 million people in the U.S. emit over seven times as much per person.

Put another way; Americans contribute the equivalent of 54,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per person per year—or about five times the emissions of the average global citizen. Scientists today refer to this measure of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during daily activities as a “carbon footprint.”

So when it comes to this election, Americans will have to choose between Trump and Cruz, Republican candidates who deny the existence of climate change; or on the Democratic side they can choose a candidate heavily endorsed by fossil fuel companies like Hillary Clinton. Or, they can choose Bernie Sanders, who has been outspoken on the issue of climate change. Let’s focus on Clinton and Sanders for simplicity.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including her Super PAC, has received money from the employees and registered lobbyists of fossil-fuel companies. There’s the much-cited $4.5 million that Greenpeace calculated, which includes bundling by lobbyists. There is also a lot more money from sources not included in those calculations. For instance, one of Clinton’s most prominent and active financial backers is Warren Buffett. While he owns a large mix of assets, Buffett is up to his eyeballs in coal, including coal transportation and some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. Sanders has been campaigning against big corporations raking profits from the exploitation of natural resources. He has proposed an aggressive plan to combat climate change that would impose a tax on carbon, end federal subsidies for fossil fuels and prohibit extraction on federal lands which could cut carbon emissions by more than 80% by 2050.

 

 

The ice is melting faster. The oceans are rising faster. A new paper from Oxford University, published in the journal Applied Energy, concludes that for humanity to have a 50-50 chance of meeting the temperature targets set in Paris, every new power plant has to be Carbon-free starting next year. In order to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 450 ppm stabilisation target, the world needs an absolute reduction in global carbon emission by 70 to 80 per cent. This enormous task requires a willingness to stand against the two most powerful industries on the planet—fossil-fuel companies and the banks that finance them. Hillary Clinton is entirely unsuited and unqualified for this epic task.

Hillary Clinton is soaked in corporate cash; she takes money from fossil-fuel lobbyists and is paid hundreds of thousands for speeches to Goldman Sachs. Her pro-corporate “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” ideology is not only a conflict of interest but a mutually beneficial partnership which will not reduce the country’s carbon emissions.

 

Bernie Sanders at Iowa State University

Bernie Sanders at Iowa State University

Bernie refuses to take money from any corporate donors or fossil fuel companies. This means his ability to fight for the people is uncompromised. Sanders understands that safe air, water, and healthy environments are human rights, not privileges for those who can afford them. Sanders is not beholden to industries that profit from extraction and pollution. No other candidate is better positioned to put people before profits and provide a clean and safe environment for all.

Sanders and his supporters understand something critical: the revolution is not going to be easy, and achievements will be hard fought. For any of this to happen, fossil-fuel companies, which have enjoyed obscene profits for many decades, will have to start losing. And losing more than just the tax breaks and subsidies that Clinton is promising to cut. They will also have to lose the new drilling and mining leases they want; they’ll have to be denied permits for the pipelines and export terminals they’re hounding to build. They will have to leave trillions of dollars’ worth of proven fossil-fuel reserves in the ground.

Meanwhile, if solar panels growth surges, big power utilities will lose a significant portion of their profits, since their former customers will be in the energy-generation business. This could create opportunities for a more equitable economy by lowering the utility bills – but once again, some powerful interests will have to lose (which is why Warren Buffett’s coal-fired utility in Nevada has gone to war against solar).

On a global scale, if we meet the carbon emissions target, poorer countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia might see a smaller rise in sea levels, but if we fail, these countries will be unable to cope with it, compared to rich countries such as the USA.

It is crucial that there is global leadership from the United States on this matter. Looking at the Democratic primary, there can be no doubt as to who is best suited to rise to this historic moment.

So start taking an interest because you are affected by the result of the elections no matter who you are, where you are. Whether you are a cocoa farmer in Africa whose crop failed due to excessive heat or drought or the people in the small town of Bihar, India whose house flooded due to the melting of glaciers, or simply a tiger in Sunderbans forests in Bangladesh, whose source of fresh water is contaminated by the rising sea level. Next time when Paul Krugman, a waste of a Nobel Prize for economics, gives you a lecture about the behaviour of Bernie Sanders, tell him to sod off. And I suggest you better start educating your American friends who claim not to care. If Clinton is elected, it’s not America who will pay the price but the whole world.

Cover Photo by AK Rockefeller.