Yesterday, I stated that I believe we are at a tipping point in history, that 2012 is going to be a pivotal year. After yesterday’s look back, it’s time to look forward and talk about what is at stake in the next year. As I said, I don’t think this is tied to any Mayan Calendar or doomsday prophecy. I just look at the state of the world, and I think something has got to give. Moreover, I think the biggest if not only indicator of whether we are tipping in the right direction will be the results of the U.S. Presidential election in November?
If you’re about to tune out and dismiss me as being overly Americentric, please just stay with me.
What’s at stake? The planet is warming, and the feedback loops generated by things like melting permafrost and the increasing open water in the arctic during the summer months are accelerating the process. This global change impacts local weather all over the world in different ways, some cold, some warm, some wet, some dry. We’ve been seeing weather extremes all over the world in recent years, and climate scientists say that as long as the planet continues unchecked warming, we can expect to see more and more extreme weather.
Extreme weather impacts potable water and crop yields. It destroys communities and infrastructure. Have you seen food prices going up in your neck of the woods? I sure have.
Then there’s the issue of energy prices. When I started driving gas was a dollar per gallon. Now, I’m overjoyed if I pay $3.21 after my Safeway or Fred Meyer Club discount. With the combination of dwindling reserves and pressure from rapidly expanding foreign markets, I don’t think we can expect them to ever drop back to a dollar because we are at the end of the era of cheap fossil fuels. We need to stop powering our world with what Thom Hartmann calls “ancient sunlight”, that is the organic matter of eras past, and look to clean renewable energy.
Here in the United States, we have high unemployment, unsustainable deficits, a housing market in shambles, a dangerously widening wealth gap and crumbling infrastructure. What’s worse is we have been unable to muster the political will to address these and other pressing issues.
And that’s the biggest problem. That’s what has many of us wondering what kind of a future we can look forward to and whether our current political and economic systems will be up to the task.
That’s why I believe that the 2012 presidential election is so critical. We are standing on the edge of multiple precipices: environmental, energy, economic, social. The solutions are out there, in some cases as tantalizingly close as a policy shift, but thus far we have been prevented from seeking them by those who are so rooted in their ideological trenches that science is declared a hoax and even modest proposals for dealing with an issue are met by accusations of being in league with the most evil enemies our nation has ever faced.
2012 is going to determine whether we get serious about solving our problems, or whether we try to get out of our difficulties by using the same methods that spawned them. The political debate is shaping up to be not about how to reverse global warming, but whether it is happening at all. It’s not about how Wall Street should be regulated, but whether it should be regulated at all. It’s not how much should the wealthy be taxed, but whether they should be taxed at all.
So what’s at stake? Nothing less than the decision to seek solutions to our problems or to pretend that they don’t exist at all.
If Obama wins, that will represent a decision by the American people to move forward and deal with our problems in a serious way. The degree to which this occurs will be dependent on the makeup of Congress, but it would create a great deal of pressure to move in the correct direction.
If Obama loses, it would be accompanied by significant down-ballot losses for the Democrats, and you would see an empowered Republican party pushing the far right agenda that has brought people into the streets in Wisconsin and Ohio at every level of government. It would represent a decision to stand still in the face of the nation’s difficulties or, worse, turn away from them and go back to the plutocratic policies that got us into this mess in the first place.
We are still the biggest power in the world. We’re still the biggest economy. Whether we like it or not, these are facts. We still provide a great deal of global leadership, for good or for ill. The results of the 2012 election will dictate American policy and the nature of that global leadership for the next four years, four years that we desperately need to right the economy and address climate change.