Trumplandia

So, we now, to the shock of many, we live in President Trump’s world. The environment will suffer. Animals will suffer. Kindness and empathy will suffer. But the trajectory of our culture on these issues under President Trump, in my view, won’t be an order of magnitude different than what they would have been under President Clinton. And orders of magnitude is what is needed.

I have long thought the status quo was unsustainable and unacceptable. On that I agree with many Trump voters. But I certainly didn’t think Trump was the answer. Quite the opposite. Still, I also didn’t think Hillary Clinton, while she would point in a better direction, would even have the ambition to deliver the scale of change I think we really need, much less the ability. Yes, she believes climate change is real and would have kept pushing us toward incremental progress on environmental and other issues I care about. So in that sense President Trump will be a painful setback, because he will push in the opposite direction and we don’t have time to be pushing the wrong way.

But deep down I never felt either Trump or Clinton was the answer I have been looking for. They both live too much within the existing status quo. Their thinking and policy frame is too much within the status quo. Deep down I have long felt that the only real answer is a growing grassroots revolution in how we live, how we value other species, and how we value the planet. That’s the work I want to do, and it’s work any of us can pursue because no matter who is president we can make our own choices about how we live and what we choose to value. And we can try to lead by example, and make our case person by person. That’s the solution I seek. And nothing in last night’s election changes that.

Bill McKibben Calls Out The Democrats On Climate Change

And breaks down clearly the challenge of arresting climate change before it hits a catastrophic tipping point. He knows the Republicans are hopeless, but he hopes that the Democrats can “evolve” on climate change faster than they did on gay rights and marriage:

Unlike gay rights or similar issues of basic human justice and fairness, climate change comes with a time limit. Go past a certain point, and we may no longer be able to affect the outcome in ways that will prevent long-term global catastrophe. We’re clearly nearing that limit and so the essential cowardice of too many Democrats is becoming an ever more fundamental problem that needs to be faced. We lack the decades needed for their positions to “evolve” along with the polling numbers. What we need, desperately, is for them to pitch in and help lead the transition in public opinion and public policy.

He doesn’t have much hope that they will, though, which is why his thinking leads him back to the necessity for a powerful citizens movement to change the culture and change politics:

And so, as I turn this problem over and over in my head, I keep coming to the same conclusion: we probably need to think, most of the time, about how to change the country, not the Democrats. If we build a movement strong enough to transform the national mood, then perhaps the trembling leaders of the Democrats will eventually follow. I mean, “evolve”. At which point we’ll get an end to things like the Keystone pipeline, and maybe even a price on carbon. That seems to be the lesson of Stonewall and of Selma. The movement is what matters; the Democrats are, at best, the eventual vehicle for closing the deal.

The closest thing I’ve got to a guru on American politics is my senator, Bernie Sanders. He deals with the Democrat problem all the time. He’s an independent, but he caucuses with them, which means he’s locked in the same weird dance as the rest of us working for real change.

A few weeks ago, I gave the keynote address at a global warming summit he convened in Vermont’s state capital, and afterwards I confessed to him my perplexity. “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement,” I said. “A movement vast enough to scare or hearten the weak-kneed.”

“There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it,” he replied.

McKibben makes a key point. The challenge of climate warming (along with the ongoing destruction of the environment) is not a challenge that allows for decades of slow and incremental change. These are not ordinary times. These are times that call for revolutions in the way we think and act.

I am constantly struck by the fact that previous generations were in the streets to protest and decry injustice and immorality. Yet out streets are quiet. Hopefully, that will change because the times demand bold thinking and bold action. Nothing less will pass moral muster when the history of this epoch is judged (and hopefully not lamented).