Climate Disaster Demands an Ecological Left

The future catastrophes looming as a consequence of climate change are multiple and nearly unimaginable in their horror: Prolonged temperature spikes, scorching heat, frequent raging wildfires, and drought disaster areas. Desertification in already dry areas and elsewhere torrid downpours, severe storm surges, and extreme flash floods. Snow pack and ice sheets shedding mass. Permafrost thawing. Oceans acidifying. Sea levels rising, possibly three feet by century’s end, inundating low-lying coastal areas, including those with major cities. Flora and fauna unable to cope with the changes. Species extinctions. A natural world in chaos.

Polluted childhood

If the U.S. Left doesn’t take rapid action to force ecological concerns onto the national agenda, we may soon find ourselves in the nightmare that mainland China is already experiencing: a toxic new age that forces children to wear gas masks and schools to shut for smog days. Credit: Pawel Kuczynski. {link url=""}({/link}

We are in urgent need of a Left that recognizes the primacy of this environmental threat—and then organizes to bring about swift and radical change in response to it.

The catastrophes brought about by climate change will be not only biological and physical but also social. Rural people, displaced by extreme weather, will flee the baked countryside, perhaps for urban centers, while dwellers in flooding coastal cities will seek refuge in the interior. Climate change will exacerbate the existing social ills of our world, especially social inequalities. As always, the poor, already vulnerable, will be hurt the worst.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change will “exacerbate poverty in low- and lower-middle-income countries and create new poverty pockets in upper-middle- to high-income countries with increasing inequality.” Most ominously, it warns, starvation is a real prospect for many. Frequent heat waves will reduce the yields of staple crops by up to 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century. Rising food prices will hit “wage-labor-dependent poor households that are net buyers of food” the hardest of all.

Changing the Way We Live

Back in 2007, climate expert John Holdren gave us a useful framework for thinking about global climate change: “We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering,” The New York Times quoted him as saying. “We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be.”
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