Where climate change creates extreme politics, the opposite is also true.
Reactionary politics and climate change are linked. At the dawn of 2023, that link may seem murky, but ongoing droughts, massive storms, and displacement will exacerbate America’s existing political tensions.
When the news tells us that Lake Mead is dropping, we see a mob in the Capitol. The Salt Lake Tribune reports on the climate crisis in North America on the same day as the January 6 hearings. I read about water shortages and storm surges. I read about the kidnapping of the Michigan Governor and about the right-wing Proud Boys. Climate change did not cause his January 6 uprising. But the destabilizing social conditions that sparked January 6th will intensify as the climate crisis unfolds.
My scientific colleagues tell me about climate change through parts per million carbon, glacier melting rates, and centimeters of sea level rise. These are ominous numbers, but the climate threat facing the average American is the political impact of an impending economic recession and associated social upheaval.
The US National Climate Assessment Project is adding to the economic turmoil.
The political extremism that has already rocked America will be intensified by climate change. It would be healthy to start thinking about the two together.
With these climate pressures coming, now is the time to prepare our democratic infrastructure for the shock. What I am talking about is the peaceful relocation of elected officials and building a more efficient power grid It is about a bipartisan effort to ensure What I’m talking about is investing in energy self-sufficiency while holding the media accountable for the truth of their claims. Alongside the policy of giving, is to regulate violent paramilitaries. Engineering triumphs become irrelevant if we ignore the human impacts of climate change.
The January 6th anniversary reminds us that the time to deal with America’s extremist tendencies is before it shifts under the pressures of climate change. Plato said that democracy is eroded by tyranny, but future climate stresses may encourage Americans to defend their democratic institutions.
The IPCC predicts rising temperatures, oceans and poverty, but an early erosion of democracy is underway. Across Europe, democracies are shifting to authoritarian regimes. Hungary is now a fake party of a parliamentary republic formed by censorship and fake elections. Turkey has transitioned from a constitutional republic to a presidential system in which Erdogan does not approve of opposition. Poland’s ruling party, the Party of Law and Justice, threatens press freedom and downplays liberal democracy.
Authoritarian tendencies are real, Europe revives American author Sinclair Lewis’ haunting novel “That can’t happen here,’ about a president who becomes an authoritarian dictator.
Meanwhile, the task force investigating the Jan. 6 attacks has accused Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump and others of colluding to upend voter turnouts and transitional processes all the way back to George Washington. Nonetheless, millions of Americans believe the 2020 election was stolen in the states where their man lost.
Closer to home, Republican Kari Lake, who has just lost the gubernatorial race in Arizona, is one of several fanning the flames of a dangerous rebellion as a campaign strategy. The point here is that America’s grand experiment is in a vulnerable spot. Climate change will create an ecological disaster that will lead to a state of emergency, and for the next decade promise demagogues an excuse to undermine the constitution, much like the Nazis used the Reichstag fire to suspend democratic norms. Add the fact that
Given this political backdrop, Utah has a huge opportunity. Parallel news tracks about the collapse of the Great Salt Lake, record summer heat, and water shortages should alert climate-conscious citizens to invest in democracy. Finally, of course, get a solar panel. But for now, cross the political aisles and work with us on bills like the Election Administration Reform Act.
If climate change creates extreme politics, the opposite is also true. In short, political polarization hinders concerted efforts towards sustainability. When the Utah Legislature begins his January 17th, I am ready to applaud the cross-party effort.
James Madison warned that “tyranny” would escalate “in the event of a favorable emergency.” The ongoing climate crisis has created one emergency after another, and America needs a resilient political infrastructure to weather the storm.
Jeffrey McCarthy, Ph.D. is the Director of the Environmental Humanities Program and an Associate Faculty of the Center for Global Change and Sustainability at the University of Utah.