Climate change should be number one issue in elections

By Benjamin Clabault

(Kevin Gill/Flickr)
(Kevin Gill/Flickr)

The run-up to the 2016 presidential election has been anything but inconspicuous, with cable news and social media buzzing around the clock. The campaign seems to have had it all: the concurrent rise of a democratic socialist and a neo-fascist, surreal episodes of absurd behavior that seem transplanted from the Jerry Springer show and, at times, genuinely intriguing debates on important policy issues.

But in all the madness, the most important issue that the United States faces has been largely ignored or forgotten. We have heard all about immigration, terrorism, campaign finance reform and the strengthening of the economy, which are completely worthy of discussion. But somehow we have failed to pay ample attention to the one actual existential threat we face, a problem that we share with all the rest of Earth’s inhabitants. That issue, of course, is climate change.

On the Republican side, frontrunners have been peddling the same anti-science and anti-intellectual rhetoric that their party has adopted as its stance. Donald Trump has declared himself a climate change “non-believer,” and, in a typically bizarre fashion, even blamed the Chinese for the creating the concept. Sen. Ted Cruz has argued, “Climate change is not science. It is a religion.” Cruz bases this claim on the term “climate change denier,” which he sees as the “language of religion” and not “the language of science.” Never mind then, that the only reason words like “denier” get thrown about is because such a shockingly large segment of the U.S. population insists on maintaining a stance against what professional scientists have overwhelmingly determined to be true.

The Democrats, at least, steadfastly insist that human-caused climate change is a genuine threat that must be addressed. Secretary Hillary Clinton has said, “The reality of climate change is unforgiving” and promised to “‘stop the giveaways to big oil companies and extend, instead, tax incentives for clean energy.’”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, goes so far on his website to write that “climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet” and calls for defeating pro-oil business interests in Washington to enact aggressive policy measures.

Still, despite these promising attitudes from the Democratic candidates, climate change policy has been far from a defining part of this year’s presidential race. According to a New York Times study, Clinton and Sanders have given it a fair amount of attention at their debates, while the Republicans largely ignore it at theirs.

This lack of urgency in addressing the issue stems not from the candidates themselves, but from the potential voters and their expressions of what issues they consider most important.  As a Gallup Poll from this month shows, the voters are simply not concerned with climate change. Gallup asked the simple open-ended question, “What do you think the most important issue facing this country today?” Only two percent of respondents answered with “pollution/environment,” with 16 other issues deemed most important by a higher percentage of people.

So the United States, along with the rest of the world, is facing an existential threat that we know we are causing and are capable of combatting, yet people simply do not seem to care.

That is because they are failing to think in the long term. They are worried about immediate, easily observed problems with obvious, tangible impacts on their lives, hence a focus on unemployment, healthcare and immigration policy.

These issues are of course hugely important, but we cannot let them bury a discussion on the one monumental threat that should be uniting us all. We have to stop degrading our planet’s environment and work towards establishing a sustainable way of life. Otherwise, in the future, our planet will not be inhabitable.

We need to recognize just how high the stakes are. Millennials are perhaps the first generation raised with the understanding that the very existence of human life on Earth is in jeopardy. This represents a huge responsibility, one that necessitates a strong, determined response.

We must accept the enormity of the threat, recognize that we are capable of overcoming it and immediately commit to doing so. Any failure to act would represent abject stupidity. But, as Algerian born French writer Albert Camus warns in his novel “The Plague,” “Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.”

Benjamin Clabault is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]