The paroxysm of anger that has erupted across the US in the wake of the murder of George Floyd has been called by some observers “a tipping point”. A multicultural younger generation is showing that it is genuinely concerned about social injustice, racial inequality, and the climate crisis.
The astonishing scenes on the streets of America have echoed around the world including in the UK, Canada, and Australia. But is it a tipping point? We have been through this before, at least since the violent riots that wracked Los Angeles almost 30 years ago in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating—captured on video. If there’s a single technology that has to some degree protected the Black community in America and Canada against racial injustice at the hands of the police, one could argue it’s the video camera and the smart phone. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a million.
The widespread protests against police violence have almost overshadowed the sombre news about the Covid-19 pandemic. Around the world, over 400,000 people have died—more than a quarter of them in the US. The death toll in America is certain to rise—ironically because the protest marches bring thousands of people into close proximity at a time when the contagion in the US has barely abated.
But behind the nightly news programmes showing protesters on the streets in cities around the world, and warnings from public health professionals about the continuing pandemic, there is another simmering crisis. This one is slow-burning, but much more dangerous.
The world is facing a climate crisis. The heatwaves, wildfires, and intense hurricanes and cyclones are only the most obvious signs that the crisis is worsening. But for the scientists in the field, carefully monitoring the changing landscapes and the deteriorating ecosystems, the most disquieting signs are slowly strengthening far from the urban centres in the grip of angry protesters.
The most alarming change is invisible. It is silent and almost undetectable. Only the most sophisticated instrumentation can chart its inexorable rise. Yet its impact is hugely destructive on a global scale. The oceans absorb most of the energy radiated by the sun–now bolstered by thermal energy radiated back to Earth by the thickening mantle of greenhouse gases that blanket the Earth.
The data clearly show a continuing increase in the heat content of the oceans, where absolutely massive amounts of thermal energy are now being absorbed. Higher sea surface temperatures fuel larger and fiercer hurricanes and cyclones; they will blanch and kill huge areas of coral reefs—one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. The warming oceans and the melting icecaps and glaciers continue to raise sea levels and push the oceans farther inland, gradually swamping coastal cities.
The scientific response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been impressive. Epidemiologists and public health professionals have carefully explained what is happening, and what measures are necessary to protect the public from the contagion. Politicians for the most part (Trump is the obvious exception) have listened, paid attention, and acted according to scientific advice. Epidemiologists and health care professionals like Dr. Anthony Fauci in the US and Dr. Theresa Tam in Canada have become familiar faces on television.
Contrast this situation with the confused and mostly contradictory response of politicians to the climate crisis: where many elected officials have downplayed the severity of the crisis, contradicted the evidence, and blocked the policies advocated by climate scientists and economists aimed at keeping global temperature increases within bounds.
It’s not hard to spot the difference. It all depends where you are located on the platform of the status quo. In the US and Canada, the fossil fuel industries have made thousands of industrialists fabulously rich. Although coal is in decline, it has had a great run—making millions for the companies that have exploited the filthiest of the fossil fuels with the most desttructive environmental and human health impacts. The petrochemical industrialists are not about to follow suit. They are doing everything in their power to maintain the hydrocarbon economy– an economy that has made them hugely wealthy.
It is not possible to maintain the status quo when the scientific evidence clearly shows that the use of fossil fuels are driving climate change, polluting the environment, devastating biodiversity, and disproportionately impacting people of colour–unless you have a firm grip on the structures of national and regional governance. The fossil fuel conglomerates have been extraordinarily successful in capturing the levers of regulatory authority and governance—particularly in the US, where huge amounts of money from the petrochemical industries has warped democracy and politicians to the point where the Republican party is now morally bankrupt. It is not only power that corrupts. Money does it much faster.
Protesters are demanding change. But how is that change going to happen? Which people or what organisations are going to formulate progressive policies, force legislation through the political process, and finance and sustain its implementation?
Politicians and governors are not a ruling class. Voters elect them. It’s clear that in both Canada and the US, in many jurisdictions voters have often made choices that have rapidly resulted in chronic harm to the environment and public health, and exacerbated social injustice. Environmental groups in Canada generally insist that they should be ‘non-partisan’. But this view should be challenged. It is only by electing progressive politicians genuinely committed to reform that change will ever happen. It is not necessary to advocate for a particular political party—just for a firm set of principles.
Any politician or political party that does not accept the prioritisation of environmental protection, decarbonisation, social justice, and the end of the shocking inequalities that we see across North America should be shunned. Moreover, these principles should apply to politicians at all levels of government: municipalities, states and provinces, prime ministers, and presidents. All politicians and policy-makers, together with the political parties with which they are affiliated, need to be interrogated and rejected if they do not publicly commit to a progressive agenda and the need for systemic change.
What links these crises: systemic racism, a global pandemic, and the climate crisis? It is governance controlled and manipulated by industrialists who care only for themselves, and whose over-riding ambition is to simply to become as wealthy as possible in the shortest space of time. For them, ‘the devil can take the hindmost’—the people who are the poorest, the most marginalised, and the most discriminated against. That is why the three crises disproportionately affect these sectors of society. Pushed to the side, often out of sight, denied full access to social services, living in blighted, polluted areas where heavy industry chooses to build because it’s less well regulated, they are hugely exposed and vulnerable. It’s not surprising they are the first to suffer and the last to receive help.
For a broader picture of the climate crisis, its environmental impacts, and what you can do about it, look at these excellent websites: Revitalisation, and this site focused on sustainable development goals
There is a lot more information about the climate crisis and how to solve it in this new book: Climate Change and Renewable Energy: How to End the Climate Crisis. It is the first book that explains in detail how solar energy, wind power, and the other renewable sources of energy are the key to ending the climate crisis. You can check it out here: //www.palgrave.com/us/book/9783030154233