Climate and democracy at the mercy of plutocracy
Epically ironically, salvaging a survivable climate and a free society possibly now depends upon a one plutocrat deposing another plutocrat, turned dictator.
Far preferably, Republican Party senators would suspend self-interest for the survival and dignity of their once almost-noble democracy. But with only three Republican senators refusing to condemn the impeachment inquiry, current indications are that Donald Trump will not be stripped of the presidency. If the House of Representatives impeaches their president sufficiently ahead of the 2020 election, and the Senate subsequently refuses to remove Trump from office, he and his enablers will claim vindication and the malignant narcissist will likely be voted to remain in office for a second term.
The Democrats could, conceivably, time the Senate trial to begin ahead of the 24–27 August Republican National Convention, but conclude after it, to prevent its predicted failure favouring Trump. The risk of such a strategy is that without a young, uncompromising and charismatic candidate, such as side-lined Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Trump, again, could all too plausibly prove to be the less unsuccessful of two deeply unpopular options. Alternatively, media magnate Michael Bloomberg will prevail in the 3 March Super Tuesday primaries and go on to make it philanthropist-plutocrat versus malign-narcissist-plutocrat. Given that big money utterly owns the United States congress, and most democracies worldwide, even the stela efforts of seriously savvy grassroots organisers have failed to humble the bought-and-paid-for party machines—and will continue to fail, unless distributed organising is coupled with youth and charisma.
It was always only going to be a matter of time, not that climate tipping points would be reached—that has been all-too obvious for two decades—but that climate scientists would become desperate enough to publicly admit that the climate may already have crossed tipping points. The biosphere, of which the climate is part, is gigantean. Its greater part is the 14 005 000 000 billion~14 quintillion, or billion, billion-tonne hydrosphere, of which its greater part is ocean and once-permanent ice sheets. Unsurprisingly, then, civilisation’s inadvertent 200-year efforts to heat the biosphere in its entirety have been slow—what once could have been termed glacially slow—to manifest. By far the greater part of the heat has been absorbed by the oceans, leaving the almost impossibly skimpy atmosphere—a mere 5 000 000 billion5 quadrillion, or million, billion tonnes in comparison—only about one degree warmer. But like adding still-warm campylobacter-exposed chicken to the Christmas chilly bin while relying on day-old ice pads, a world of agony awaits. Currently, the warmth added annually is from the emissions emanating from the combustion of 13 billion oil-equivalent tonnes of fossil fuels. Far from riding to the rescue, the darling of renewables, solar, is providing a pitiful 0.054 billion tonnes-oil-equivalent energy.
What is fiendishly misleading is that, with all the focus on the continued rise in greenhouse-gas emissions, there’s scant acknowledgement of the inconvenient fact that even if fossil fuel combustion ceased overnight, the carbon-dioxide thermostat would remain cranked up to close its current 415 parts-per-million setting. Like an ac remote with a dodgy down button that responds only one part-per-million increment once a year, the heating will stay turned up for centuries. The intuitive assumption that what goes up will come right on down couldn’t be more mistaken:
Although up 148% from pre-industrial levels, that creating an atmosphere containing a mere 0.04% carbon dioxide could place humanity the road to a ruinously unsurvivable climate is, again, less than intuitive. It possibly helps to explain why so many have moved up into monstrous sport utility vehicles exactly when civilisation must radically move beyond the automobile age. Electricity is essential to survival. Everything—from airports through busways and ports to shipping—must rapidly be electrified. But electrical energy has to be generated, and what is termed renewable energy is not remotely capable of powering an electrified world. The only scenarios that claim to achieve 100% renewable require much less energy to be consumed, not more. And the twin imperatives of lifting populations out of energy-poverty misery and powering a burgeoning global population are incompatible with the renewable energy scenarios proffered. Renewable energy ideology is being persistently and heartlessly prioritised over the survival of billions.
In 2016, 75% of voting-age Americans resiled from supporting Donald Trump. Dismally, for the Democrats, and for decency, their practically equally unpopular candidate gained only 2.1 percentage points more of the popular vote, allowing the risibly obsolete electoral college to award the presidency to the greater popular-vote loser. Incidentally, the polling margin in favour of impeachment is even less than Clinton had over Trump: 1.8 percentage points. If it transpires that tipping points have been seriously exceeded in 2019, that the world’s most powerful democracy is demonically stoking the fires of global heating rather than mobilising climate action like it is post-Pearl Harbour 1941, the blame can justifiably be sheeted home its terminally dysfunctional democracy. Lawmakers are famously averse to reforming the system that elects them, resisting the 27-year effort by FairVote to have preference voting adopted. The United States’ term, ranked choice voting, is considerably less arcane than that used in Aotearoa—single transferable vote. But whereas FairVote’s US$3.1 millionin 2017 revenue would go a long way to bring about electoral reform in a country of 4.9 million, in a country of 330.1 million, not so much. But at least the United States has an electoral reform organisation, New Zealand has none, which is disgraceful, given it is the world’s first full democracy.
The lack of proportional representation, as indispensable as it is to a fair democracy, could not be claimed to be more critical than campaign finance reform—to end the most obvious, brazenly and conspicuously corrupt aspect of the electoral system. But even without the existential climate-action incentive to save democracy, the electoral edifice has become so rotten that piecemeal reforms would take as long as the more than three decades global voter turnout has been in sharp decline. Tuesday, being the bicentennial of stvsingle-transferable-vote provides indubitable justification for focussing fiercely on a reform that has seen a world-first for Aotearoa, when a brilliant but unassuming New Zealander cracked the challenge of implementing Meek’s meticulous method of transferring voters’ preferences. If Aotearoa had an ounce self-respect, 17 December would be a New Zealand national holiday, at least once a century.
Until 2119 then, the stv bicentennial breakfast at 8 am Tuesday 17 December must suffice—doors of the Warkworth Town Hall will open at 7.30 am for coffee.
Ideological perversity Just as photovoltaic proselytizers would see billions of souls sacrificed for the false god of nuclear-free energy, so might millions forsake son-of-a-bookkeeper and, until a month ago today, United Nations special envoy on climate change Michael Bloomberg, because of his billions. Despite ideological population denial, it is not the billions of dollars but rather the billions of people who will determine whether a survivable climate can be salvaged.
Put 17 December STV Centennial Breakfast in your calendar…