Americans must be reminded that their choice has major implications for climate justice in a territory that is much larger than the United States.
The idea that governments possess full control over affairs within their own territorial borders has been accepted for decades. It’s a basic precept of international law. The notion of sovereignty explicitly prevents foreign intervention in another country’s domestic affairs unless the case can be made that atrocities are being committed that constitute an international crime. The ways in which one government manages its own country’s resources is normally not an international concern.
But we are not living in normal times.
What if a government’s actions have serious global implications? Is it not then the moral responsibility of all concerned countries to intervene?
We are living in a grave moment in history. Climate change poses one of the greatest threats to our existence we have ever faced, and the potentially fatal consequences will know no borders or class distinctions. To avoid calamity, we must cut human-caused carbon dioxide emissions in half by 2030 and commit to net-zero emissions by the mid-century. This cannot be done overnight and it will require “far-reaching and unprecedented changes” in how we run our societies and economies.
Most critically, the United States must change course. And if the U.S. government and the American people don’t recognize the impending climate emergency, the rest of the world has no choice but to “meddle” — for want of a better term — to raise the profile of this key issue.
Our lives depend on it.
The 2020 U.S. presidential election is far more than an entertaining battle between Republicans and Democrats who put their parties above national interests. Who the American voters send to the White House will play a vital role in history. The next president of the United States can function as one of the saviors of our planet or kill the hopes of millions of people for climate justice.
The global implications of economic, energy, and environmental decisions made in Washington can no longer be ignored or viewed in a vacuum. As it stands, unless Donald Trump drastically changes his position on climate, his re-election will block any effective global effort to addressing climate change.
As the world’s biggest cumulative greenhouse gas emitter and number one contributor to climate warming in history, the United States bears the most responsibility for this global catastrophe. Yet, President Trump continues to dismiss global warming as a “hoax” and has stymied efforts to address climate change.
Convincing China, India, Russia, as well as the oil-based and growing economies of the world to take immediate action will be politically impossible if the U.S. president persists in his claims that the Paris agreement is “terrible”, will “undermine” the U.S. economy, and puts it “at a permanent disadvantage.” Such rhetoric may bolster his support with his base, but it also enables the worst instincts of other climate change offenders worldwide.
When Brazil’s Amazon rainforest was on fire earlier this year, international intervention seemed justified. Leonardo DiCaprio pledged $5 million and the G7 leaders offered $20 million as emergency funds to help fight the Amazon fire. Paris and Dublin threatened to ditch a huge EU-South America trade deal unless Brazil does a better job in protecting the Amazon forests. It was even argued that as a matter of global concern, the Amazon rainforest fire issue constituted an international crime, requiring international intervention based on the Nuremberg principles of international law.
Under similar logic, one can conclude that international intervention in the U.S. election can be viewed as a legitimate act of humanitarianism — and even an obligation. The greenhouse emissions of the United States have had and continue to have grave harmful impacts that go beyond its geographic borders. Indeed, its cumulative emissions since the first industrial revolution have been far more damaging to the world than the tragic Amazon fire in Brazil in summer of 2019.
International meddling in an election process does not always have to involve secrecy, cyber-hacking, and disinformation. The responsible, democratic, and peaceful elevation of environmental issues in the U.S. election can promote transparency, participation, and accountability regarding global warming.
What would this look like? One example is the selfless work by Greta Thunberg and other climate activists to create a sense of climate urgency. But climate strikes in liberal cities by the school children who have no voting rights will not have a major influence on the Trump’s base and climate deniers. We need major outreach, education and information dissemination campaigns that spread targeted and informative messages about the implication of US election for climate change and the historic opportunity of the Americans to combat an existential threat to humanity.
The 2016 election proved the incredible power of social media in shaping public opinion and beliefs. Russians are believed to have used this power to sow political division through disinformation and fake news. But this power can be also used constructively by the international community to increase sensitivity toward the climate change in the election without threatening U.S. sovereignty.
Explaining the climate tragedy and what it takes to address it to the American public is not an act against democracy and U.S. national security. A global climate cyber force, involving scientists, NGOs, activists, responsible celebrities and the concerned citizens of the globe, can effectively use social media platforms to promote climate sensitivity and responsibility in the US election. Certified groups and organizations can also use fact-based climate ads on digital media, TV, and radio to educate those unaware of the impact of their votes on the future of the planet. These interventions and raising climate awareness are not only morally justified but also essential.
Americans deserve to know where the candidates, both Democrat and Republican, stand on climate and how practical their solutions are. They must be reminded that their final choice has major implications for climate justice in a territory that is much larger than the United States. Unless the American society fully accepts the need for radical and urgent reforms, climate victory will be little more than a dream.
The world will not be able to act for climate justice without involving the most politically and economically powerful country, which also bears the most guilt in causing the climate breakdown. Americans need to select a leader with the understanding and determination to resume the pre-Paris leadership role for the U.S. in tackling climate change.
We cannot afford four more years of no climate action. The irreversible damages caused by shortsighted, environmentally irresponsible leaders must be stopped for the future of America and the rest of this planet.
About the author
Kaveh Madani (Twitter: @KavehMadani) is a former Vice President of the UN Environment Assembly Bureau. He is currently a Henry Hart Rice Senior Fellow at Yale University and a Visiting Professor of Imperial College London.