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Richard H. Schwartz
Vegan, climate change,and social justice activist

Climate Change: A Potentially Decisive Issue for Democrats in the Midterm Elections

Most analyses predict a significant gain for Republicans in this year’s US midterm elections, largely because of the very high US inflation rate, President Biden’s low approval rating, and the history of  gains for the party out of power in midterm elections. For Democrats to keep their slim majorities in the House and Senate, and possibly even expand them, they will need to demonstrate that they have a better vision for the future than their Republican opponents. There is no issue where the two parties differ more starkly than whether climate change is a major threat and whether the government should pass climate change legislation. 

In the summer of 2022, it became increasingly apparent how harmful climate change can be, as the whole world seemed to be burning. There have been severe, sometimes record-breaking heat waves in Israel, much of the US and Europe, and China; The UK for example had temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time, and only about five percent of the population have air conditioning because the temperatures are generally much lower. Wildfires have been raging out of control in many areas, including California, Spain, Portugal, France, and Greece, largely because of severe droughts in these areas that have resulted in very dry conditions. 

Recent warnings from climate organizations have been so dire that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called the situation “a Code Red for humanity,” and stated “delay means death.”

This article will consider further the seriousness of climate threats and why they are likely to soon become far worse, the Republican denial about the threats, and how Democrats can exploit the discrepancy between Republicans’ views and the climate realities.

First, it is important to recognize how strong the scientific consensus about climate change is. Science academies worldwide, 97 percent of climate scientists, and virtually all the peer-reviewed papers on this issue in respected scientific journals agree that climate change is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization composed of climate experts from many countries, warned that “unprecedented changes” are necessary by 2030 to have a chance at averting a climate catastrophe. Yet, four years later, in May 2022, atmospheric CO2 reached a record level.

The world is already seeing very negative effects from climate change.

Every decade since the 1970s has been hotter than the previous decade and all of the 23 hottest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2020 tied 2016 as the hottest year worldwide. June 2021 was the hottest June on record and July 2021 was the hottest month on record. The hottest seven years in recorded history all occurred in the past seven years.

There have been many negative effects of this increased temperature. Glaciers worldwide are rapidly melting, threatening future food production which depends on glacial water each spring for irrigation. Greenland and polar ice caps are also melting rapidly, rising sea levels and increasing the potential for future flooding. Already coastal cities, including Miami, Florida, have experienced “sunny day flooding” during high tides. Permafrost is also starting to melt, releasing massive amounts of trapped greenhouse gases, which would accelerate climate change.

There has also been an increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. Many such events happened over a short period in the summers of 2021 and 2022. California has been subjected to so many severe climate events recently that its former governor, Jerry Brown, stated that, “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why prospects for the future are even more frightening, including:

  • Due to self-reinforcing positive feedback loops (vicious cycles), many climate experts believe that we are close to an irreversible tipping point when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur. 
  • While many climate scientists think that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, it just reached 420 ppm in May, and the amount has been increasing by 2 – 3 ppm per year.
  • While all the severe climate events mentioned above are due to a temperature increase of about 1.2 degrees Celsius (slightly above two degrees Fahrenheit), the world is now on track for an average increase of three or more degrees Celsius, which would result in even greater human suffering and significant threats to human civilization. 
  • The Pentagon and other military groups think that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism, and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refuges to flee from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change.

Israel is especially threatened by climate change. The Middle East is becoming hotter and drier than most areas, increasing the potential for future violence. Also, the coastal plain where most of Israel’s population and infrastructure are located could be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.

Because of the above factors, averting a climate catastrophe must become a central focus for civilization today. Every aspect of life should be considered in terms of reducing “carbon footprints.” Among the many positive steps are shifting away from fossil fuels to solar, wind, and other renewable forms of energy, reducing the consumption of meat and other animal products, designing more efficient cars, lightbulbs, and other items, improving public transportation, recycling, and composting.

Despite these very alarming facts, the Republican Party largely denies climate change. Many Republicans still support former president Donald Trump, who is not only in denial, but appointed other climate deniers to key environmental positions and did everything possible to repeal or weaken legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump has called climate change “mystical,” “nonexistent,” and “an expensive hoax.” He stated that it was “created by the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” He pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement that was signed by the leaders of the 195 nations attending, most of whom pledged to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saying “the badly flawed Paris Climate Agreement protects polluters, hurts Americans, and costs a fortune.”

Republican members of Congress have been united in efforts to block Democrats’ proposed legislation to combat climate threats. The Supreme Court, with its 6 – 3 conservative majority has made a ruling that makes it more difficult for the US to reduce climate threats.

Democrats are well positioned to benefit politically by acknowledging and responding to the dangers of climate change. They should take every opportunity to stress the urgency of climate threats and the general Republican denial. 

At debates and other occasions, they should ask their Republican opponent if they agree with Trump’s climate change views or those of the overwhelming majority of climate experts, forcing them to make a difficult choice.

Since young voters will be most affected by climate change and are generally the most concerned, special efforts should be made to raise the issues with them. This should increase the historically low turnout rate for young voters.

If climate events in the coming months are anything like they have been in recent months and recent years there will likely be many severe climate events before election day, giving Democratic candidates many opportunities to raise the climate issue.

Special efforts should be made to raise the issue in western states that have been hit very hard in recent years by long-term drought and by widespread wildfires, and also in Gulf states that have suffered significantly from very high temperatures and from severe hurricanes. As I am writing this, deadly floods have killed 25 people in Kentucky, and that number is expected to increase greatly since many people are missing.

Since climate scientists have become frustrated that not enough is being done to address the climate crisis, they should be encouraged  to speak out and to urge voters to support candidates who are working to reduce the threats, while not endorsing specific candidates.

Whenever a severe climate event occurs, Democrats should express sympathy and support relief efforts but also respectfully point out that such events are increasingly likely if Republicans again gain power.

In all these efforts, the messages should be stressed that, if we want a decent, habitable, environmentally sustainable world for future generations, it is urgent that climate change be effectively addressed, and if we don’t avert a climate catastrophe, other issues will become insignificant.

Success is essential because there is no Planet B.

About the Author
Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 200 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President Emeritus of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and President of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.” He is also a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the City University of New York.
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