Yes, it’s January 6, but rapid climate change is the real threat to democracy.
It’s January 6 and the center of political discussion is, of course, the Capitol Hill riots that occurred one year ago. But as much as I hear it said that those events posed a major threat to political democracy in the US, I notice that the Biden Justice Department has not indicted any of the high level organizers and ringleaders. Congressional investigations are all well and good, but no one really believes that Donald Trump will be indicted for his efforts to interfere with and overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. No matter the rhetoric from the Democratic Party leadership, Trump is still one of their own: a member of the US ruling class. He will not go to jail — or, if he does, it will more likely be because of the exposure of his past shady business deals and phony tax returns than because he had fever dreams of carrying out a coup d’etat against the US government.
Simply stated, the January 6 anniversary is a sideshow and distraction. If we want to examine the greatest threat to democracy in the US — and one of the greatest threats to peace, democracy, and human rights in the world — all eyes should be focused on the relentless march of rapid climate change and the complete failure of either corporate-owned political party to take the kind of decisive action needed to slow, much less reverse, that march.
Climate scientists have gone from forecasting rapid climate change to documenting the effects of that change as the Earth passes through it. Even if we were oblivious to global changes — shrinking ice sheets, melting glaciers, sea level warming and rise, and extreme heat conditions affecting more than thirty percent of the surface of the planet — here in the US it is impossible to ignore increasingly dangerous and pervasive wildfires, coastal flooding, and extreme weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes. Many scientists believe that even the rapid spread of the covid-19 virus that has so far killed more than 850,000 people in the US and more than 5.5 million people worldwide is linked to the rise in global temperatures
Even so, there has been virtually no public discussion of the social and political impact of rapid climate change. The covid pandemic has already demonstrated the fragility of our healthcare system and the inadequacy of our social safety net no matter which party is in power. As we near a million US deaths from the corona virus, how can we expect politicians to protect the public health when densely inhabited shoreline cities flood more frequently and more seriously, turning urban neighborhoods in these cities into breeding grounds for cholera, typhus, and dysentery? How will they house tens of thousands of people displaced each year by Katrina-level catastrophic weather events? What relief will they provide to working people as rising temperatures interfere with food production, increase demands for water and electricity, and effect the price of basic necessities?
The overt brutality of the Trump administration and the empty rhetoric and fundamental indifference of the Biden administration give us the answer to these questions. Just as with the pandemic, Republicans and Democrats will compete to give money away to the corporations on the demonstrably false premise that big business will be incentivized to protect the environment, yet ignore the critical need for large scale changes that can prevent further degradation of the environment. And as human suffering spreads and deepens, they will ignore the need for real relief and instead pit communities against each other, relying on shallow Us versus Them narratives that foster anger, distrust, and division.
It is a serious understatement to say that the alternative is not easy, but as the environmental crisis has deepened the steps that we must take in response have gone from desirable to critically necessary. People of good will must step outside of the failing framework of the corporate-funded parties and business-as-usual bureaucracies. We must take up the difficult task of creating new organizations that are rooted in working class communities and led by working class activists — and especially that are led by and responsive to those most marginalized and most oppressed.
Mutual aid networks can help to share resources and serve the people. Traditional unions, ad hoc worker organizations, and strike support committees can press demands for humane and dignified treatment on the job. Mass political organizations can give us a voice and when needed literally besiege those in power. And new, independent electoral parties committed to real democracy can begin the process of taking the instruments of power out of the hands of big business.
In the last two years we have seen an upsurge of young, determined activists who see the necessity of these new ways of engaging people. What they see that so many members of traditional liberal, progressive, and left circles do not is simply this: our current system, presided over by two political parties run by the wealthy and in their interests, has made it amply clear that in a crisis it will leave us to die. We no longer have time and we no longer have a choice but to break with that system so that we — and our planet — can live.