Let’s start big. It’s official. Climate change is no longer a topic of the presidential election banter. Since pretty much no one has mentioned climate change for the past three months, we must be free and clear. As I watch the east coast get hammered with Hurricane Sandy, and 7.4 million people out of power, I note that politicians may be wrong.
I just spent an evening with my Harvard classmate Bill McKibben, president of 350.org, who sobered me up a bit on where we are. As of May, we had broken world temperature records for the 327th month in a row. Worldwide, we broke maybe 100,000 temperature records this year. This year we saw the sea ice melt in the Arctic, making it possible to move through the region, and to exploit more oil, deeper than ever. Nice, except if you are a polar bear, or happen to live on Christmas Island, Tuvalu or other Pacific countries, which are now going underwater. Then, there is our food, coming from the ocean to a Red Lobster near you. The north Pacific itself is already about 30 percent more acidic than it was 25 years ago. That is climate change.
In Copenhagen, in a post conference accord, l67 countries agreed to not hit the two degree temperature rise mark. We have already driven global temperatures up 0.8 degrees. And if we are interested in the tipping point: Swiss Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company predicts that climate-change-related disasters will be costing about 20 percent of world GDP by 2020—that’s a scant eight years away, or two presidential elections. That will be a costly problem for our economy, and for whomever is in the White House.
World leaders also agreed that we could only burn some 565 gigatons of carbon, and, as McKibben explains, “have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees—reasonable in this case means four chances in five…pretty good, except for this is like roulette.” Now, here we see the problem on the horizon speeding towards us, you and your kids. The fossil fuel industry has about 2,795 gigatons of carbon already in their “ reserves.” That is about five times more than we can safely burn without combusting ourselves to oblivion. But it sure looks good on paper and in corporate portfolios.
The Alberta tar sands (or what is at the other end of the Keystone XL pipeline) represent a big chunk of that carbon—about 240 gigatons, give or take a few. Exxon itself, with some 7 percent of the remaining carbon reserves, calls climate change an “engineering problem with an engineering solution. “ Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson says, “If we need to move our crop production areas, we will.” This is a bit optimistic. Crop production areas are family farms, and they exist on land. You cannot just move a cornfield to the sub arctic. And, unless you are divine, it is unlikely you can make it rain when the farmers need it, without dire consequences elsewhere in the world.
Then there is the pro-life thing. Now, I am pro life. It just turns out that my definition of pro life is a bit broader than that of the Tea Party. New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman reminded me about politicians, who use some kind of “voodoo science” to claim moral terrain. Friedman’s Sunday opinion piece notes, “Hard line conservatives have gone to new extremes lately in opposing abortions. In late October, Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed Republican Senate candidate in Indiana declared during a debate that he was against abortion, even in the event of rape. And Missouri Representative Todd Akin told the press that pregnancy as a result of “legitimate rape” is rare because the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” Wow, that is a really interesting factoid that I, who has a uterus, did not know.
Freidman continues, “In my world you don’t get to call yourself pro-life and be against common sense gun control, like banning public access to the assault rifle which was used…in a Colorado Theater. You don’t get to call yourself pro-life and…shut down the Environmental Protection Agency which ensures clean air and water, prevents childhood asthma and preserves biodiversity….And you don’t get to call yourself pro-life and oppose programs like Headstart.”
I would add that you don’t get to call yourself pro-life if you advocate—by default—for extinction of species; or war, which will result in four out of five casualties being non-combatants, because that is what wars generally cause.
So, where am I going with this column?
I know President Obama does not share my enlightened views on all issues, but, I am dead sure that the terrain should be contested.
I am a person of faith, who does not happen to be Christian.
And I am pro-life, in a much larger sense.
I believe that life should include the Earth.
So there you have it, a two time Green Party Candidate for vice president and I am voting for Barack Obama, because I am pro-life and want to see our descendants have a beautiful life on our Mother Earth.
Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) is an internationally acclaimed author, orator and activist. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities with advanced degrees in rural economic development, LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting the lands and life ways of Native communities.