Last year, US senator Jim Inhofe threw a snowball while delivering a speech on the floor of the United States Senate, supposedly to demonstrate that climate change was ‘a hoax’. This Christmas though, with abnormally high temperatures from Washington DC to the North Pole, the Republican senator from Oklahoma would have had a snowball’s chance in hell of finding another one to toss.
The main problem is that conservative legislators may be still confusing short-term weather patterns with long-term climate change. This makes any prospective political change troublesome.
The climate treaty agreed in Paris two months ago by 194 nations, was custom-designed by the world’s diplomats to steer clear of the need for a US Congress ratification, as it would have never survived a trip to Capitol Hill. The Paris Agreement, for example, doesn’t prescribe any binding greenhouse gas emission reductions, just voluntary cuts.
By this stage of the global game, 21 years of gruelling negotiations can’t be jeopardised if a signing country decides on being a defector. Unfortunately there is one country that can still single-handedly upset the apple cart. Whether it’s by rolling back Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, or simply by renouncing any voluntary reductions, a new resident in the White House could easily undermine this remarkable, world-encompassing achievement.
“The most relevant date in this year’s climate calendar is not COP22 – the follow-up to Paris. Instead it is an event just one day later: the 58th US presidential elections”
Needless to say, this is not about Democratic Party hopeful Hillary Clinton, who spoke out against Keystone XL (the pipeline for Canada’s dirty tar sands oil) well before Obama gave it the thumbs down. Instead it’s all about the Republicans.
The only GOP candidate supporting actions on climate change was Lindsey Graham, who happened to drop out of the presidential race after a dismal run in the polls. All the remaining contenders, beginning with front runner Donald Trump (who stayed surprisingly silent after the Paris treaty was signed), consider the international agreement designed to stave off the worst consequences of climate change as being anything from a ‘farce’ to a ‘threat’ to American sovereignty. ‘While some may claim the deal is a grand triumph,’ wrote Kentucky congressman Ed Whitfield in an opinion piece for The Washington Examiner, ‘the bottom line is that this was a non-binding political document that does not impose any new obligation on the United States.’
A recent Pew Research Center survey in America, found ‘global climate change is a very serious problem’ for 20 per cent of Republican and 68 per cent of Democratic voters. One ponders why such a tangible effect, measured and proven by scientific means, should be for left-wingers only – but this is the situation we have. Curiously, the same survey reveals that such a tendency is somewhat confirmed in every Western nation, from Australia to Germany, from Canada to the UK. But nowhere is it as radicalised as in the US (a 48-point margin is huge), maybe courtesy of a notoriously generous fossil-fuel lobby so inclined to spread its own views.
In other words, the most relevant date in this year’s climate calendar is not COP22 – the follow-up to Paris, being held this time in Marrakesh, Morocco, starting on 7 November. Instead it is an event scheduled just one day later: the 58th US presidential elections. The world is holding its breath and no one is entirely sure when it will breathe freely once more.
This article was published in the February 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.