Climate change is one of those problems that is both everywhere and nowhere — nearly as invisible as the greenhouse gases that cause it. With the 2018 midterms being one of the most politically — if not emotionally — charged in recent memory, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking that we’ve already got climate on lock with the lack of discussion around it.
With the exception of a few midterm ballots that could have an outsize impact on national climate policy, climate change largely has been absent from the conversation — having been, well, trumped, by more salient issues like immigration, healthcare and the economy. President Trump, in an effort to electrify his base in support of Republican candidates working to hold on to their seats in the Senate and House, has stoked fears of ‘migrant caravans’ invading the United States, Medicare’s Democratic destruction and economic Armageddon should the GOP lose control over Congress.
What all three of these issues have in common is that they are irrevocably connected to climate change.
President Trump’s hyperbolic claims about hordes of migrants storming the U.S. border might, to some, seem to be backed by images of large groups of people pressing north from beleaguered Central American nations — but undocumented immigration actually has decreased significantly over the past decade, according to Brookings. Regardless, the president has painted a grotesque picture of these immigrants being the stuff of some reverse Games-of-Thronian nightmare — demonizing desperation to secure votes from a paranoid populace.
However, many of those currently fleeing to the U.S. from Central America are doing so because climate change has destroyed their lives. Violence and poverty have been cited as the reasons for the exodus, but experts say the big picture is that changing climate is forcing farmers off their land – and it’s likely to get worse.
That climate change already is making life much more difficult — if not impossible — for those who make their living off the land is well-documented. Climate change is expected to disproportionately affect smallholder farmers and make their livelihoods even more precarious, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health which examined smallholder farmers in Madagascar. These farmers “are particularly vulnerable to any shocks to their agricultural system owing to their high dependence on agriculture for their livelihoods, chronic food insecurity, physical isolation and lack of access to formal safety nets,” the study says.
Likewise, the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has killed half a million people and displaced several million more, is thought to have been exacerbated by climate-related drought and water shortages that ravaged the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
Anecdotally, during a 2014 trip to the Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya, I witnessed firsthand what happens when climate change destroys smallholder agriculture. Tens of thousands of farmers had fled climate-related mega droughts in the countryside to seek a better life in the big city. If what they found there was better, it truly showed their degree of desperation. Walking through the slums, I saw garbage heaps the size of semis and people living permanently in conditions most Americans wouldn’t accept even temporarily.
Climate change is going to cause more people to flee their homes for better opportunities to shear survival elsewhere. If you want to reduce pressures at the border, you should start by cutting carbon dioxide.
Next to immigration, healthcare has been another major issue for 2018 midterm voters. Many ballots include measures for Medicaid expansion, provider pay and other healthcare issues to which many candidates are adhering their bids for office. Let’s also not forget federal policy on the future of the Affordable Care Act and drug prices.
But again, we can’t talk about these issues unless we also discuss the climate – as the planet warms, more people are going to get hurt, sick and worse.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services:
“Changes in the greenhouse gas concentrations and other drivers alter the global climate and bring about myriad human health consequences. Environmental consequences of climate change, such as extreme heat waves, rising sea-levels, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and droughts, intense hurricanes, and degraded air quality, affect directly and indirectly the physical, social, and psychological health of humans.”
Climate change may seem like a distant problem for many Americans, but it feels a heck of a lot closer when it lands you or your loved ones in the hospital.
With income inequality in the United States reaching extremes that would make even Charles Dickens shudder, many midterm voters are right to feel concerned about the future of the economy – even as AI, globalization and other forces make more jobs irrelevant. It was this economic insecurity that President Trump capitalized on in 2016 to win over many working class voters. People vote with their pocketbook, and that’s not likely to change.
But supporting candidates and policies at odds with climate action will hurt the economy in the long run. As the planet warms, global economies will suffer — World Economic Forum has called climate change the biggest threat to the global economy. Cataclysmic climate disasters aren’t good for business. But investing in pro-climate technologies and processes are.
According to The New Climate Economy:
“The evidence today of the potential economic benefits are even greater than before, and the downside risks of inaction on climate change are even more stark.”
By investing in clean energy, sustainable cities and climate-friendly technologies and processes, we will create jobs that will help avert the climate crisis and allow for a new age of economic prosperity. We need more 'John McCain Republicans' with a sensible position on addressing climate change as an economic opportunity. We don’t have a lot of time left — just a little more than a decade to avert the worst impacts of climate change, according to the recent IPCC report.
If you care about a healthy economy, you must care about the climate.
Don’t forget to cast your vote by Tuesday, November 6! The planet is counting on you.