In just a matter of weeks, we will be confronted with a critical decision. It is not mere hyperbole to assert that we are facing a make-or-break election as far as climate change is concerned.
My co-author Tom Toles (the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post) and I put it this way in the concluding chapter of our new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy:
In the current presidential contest, we could not have a more stark choice before us, between a candidate who rejects the overwhelming evidence that climate change is happening and a candidate who embraces the role of a price on carbon and incentives for renewable energy.
If you care about the planet, the choice would seem clear.
If the appropriate catch-phrase for the 1992 election was "It's The Economy Stupid!" then this time around it ought to be "It's the PLANET stupid!"
A Toles cartoon used in the Madhouse Effect conveys the point masterfully:
Preventing dangerous climate change remains a daunting challenge, but we've made some real progress in the past few years. Global carbon emissions are actually on the decline, renewable energy is dramatically on the rise, and we achieved a monumental international agreement in Paris last December that promises to help steer us onto a path that just may avert dangerous 2C planetary warming.
A pair of Toles cartoons from the Madhouse Effect conveys both the auspicious nature of these developments and their fragility in the current political environment:
In this next election, we need to decide whether we are going to build on the successes of the Obama administration -- which has used a combination of bold executive actions and international diplomacy to achieve action on climate change even in the presence of intransigence, denial, and outright hostility from congressional republicans -- or whether we are going to retreat back into the energy-equivalent of the stone age, continuing to degrade our planet through the profligate burning of increasingly dangerous fossil carbon even as the rest of the world moves forward, embracing the renewable energy revolution destined to be the hallmark of the 21st century.
Once again, the decision comes down to a single election that is now just weeks away. In the first presidential debate, though the moderator disappointingly failed to ask a question about was is arguably the single most critical issue facing human civilization today--human-caused climate change -- the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, forced the issue herself by calling out Donald Trump for his denial of climate change, noting that he, for example, in a past tweet dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese (indeed Trump has posted at least a half-dozen climate change-denying tweets over the past few years).
Seemingly recognizing how self-discrediting it is to deny a phenomenon that people are now witnessing in their everyday lives, Trump denied having made the claim. But realizing that the damning evidence was available for everyone to see (via a tweet that remains in Trump's twitter feed), his campaign sought to quickly clarify the next day that, despite what he might have stated in the past, he no longer believes climate change to be a hoax. Progress, right? Unfortunately not. Consider, for context, this Toles cartoon from the book:
The Trump campaign, it turns out, simply gave us a bait-and-switch, attempting to pivot from one patently absurd climate change denial talking point ("it's not happening!") to a seemingly more palatable, albeit equally indefensible one ("it's natural, not human-caused!").
To be clear, Donald Trump and his campaign still firmly rejects the scientific evidence that climate change is human-caused, opposing the only action (a reduction of fossil fuel burning) that can save us from ever-more dangerous climate change impacts. A cartoon drawn exclusively for the Madhouse Effect captures the Trump worldview:
History will judge us by what we chose to do at the crucial moment in time. A group of scientists, including myself, have consequently decided that we must speak out about the irreparable harm that would be done by a climate change-denying, antiscience-driven Trump presidency. We have encouraged other members of the scientific community to join us:
It would nevertheless be a mistake to consider the problem to be limited to the Republican standard-bearer. It penetrates far more deeply. Whether to even accept the overwhelming evidence that climate change is real and human-caused has become a partisan political issue, thanks in large parts to the efforts of bad actors like the Koch Brothers to poison both our atmosphere and our public discourse. In the toxic environment that exists in today's Republican party, even the most conservative Republican incumbents are subjected to well-funded primary challenges if they choose to admit that climate change is real and an issue we must contend with.
The one thing that every American voter can do to try to change that is to (a) vote in the upcoming election, and (b) vote CLIMATE, not just at the top of the ticket, but all the way down.
The future of this planet could quite literally lie in the balance.
Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change, and just out in September, The Madhouse Effect, with Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles.