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This Boring Midterm Is Actually the Most Terrifying Election in Recent History

Some scientists say we only have five years to stop the worst climate change. America is about to vote a political party into power that denies it's happening altogether.

by Brian Merchant
Nov 4 2014, 3:19pm

Image: Kim /Flickr

This is the most terrifying election to take place in years. It is terrifying by design—a huge number of campaign ads are explicitly tailored to scare Americans about the virtual non-threats of Ebola and ISIS. It is terrifying for its banality—it is otherwise boring and presumably low-stakes and few Americans seem to care about its outcome. It is terrifying on a fiscal level—record-high Super PAC spending means the election is engineered by a flood of dark money.

But mostly, it's terrifying for the devastating consequences the likely outcome could render upon our future. The very political party that is on the verge of consolidating power also largely denies or ignores the science explaining the most pressing environmental crisis of our time.

This is terrifyingly unfortunate, seeing as how the window that we have to act before a catastrophic level of warming becomes 'locked-in' or largely irreversible is closing, fast.

The largest and most respected international body of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has just released its latest synthesis report, and the findings are, of course, extremely dire. The typically conservative body has registered an urgent call for action, outlining a host of grim outcomes if the climate threat is ignored.

And make no mistake, just about every Republican poised to take office in the House of Representatives or the US Senate intends to ignore that threat. Thom Thillis, who may be the next Republican Senator from North Carolina, for example, does not believe in climate change. Joni Ernst, a GOP frontrunner in Iowa, feels similarly, and calls for the end of the Environmental Protection Agency. The party's views on the issue are beholden to a vocal and scientifically discredited segment of its base that believes climate change is a hoax, that 97 percent of the planet's climatologists are wrong, that the globe is not warming.

This view is becoming increasingly untenable, as public opinion is squarely on the side of science, and favors action: When confronted with questions about climate change on the campaign trail, Republican candidates were increasingly forced to stammer 'I'm not a scientist' as a means of deflecting the question, as opposed to turning to outright denial. And while this tonal shift is a welcome development, we simply do not have time to wait until it is unambiguously toxic for one of the two major political parties in the most powerful democracy on the planet to stop denying science.

Some scientists say we have about five years to stop burning carbon altogether, if we hope to avert catastrophic warming. Others are more forgiving, but not by a lot. The bottom line is that the next two years—2015-2017 are incredibly crucial ones for deciding the fate of human civilization in general. Will we begin a rapid transition to low-carbon fuels and clean energy technologies, ushering a new sort of economic boom in the process?

Not if Republicans hold power. If Republicans take the Senate, for instance, one of the most outspoken climate change deniers in the world will take over the Senate Environment Committee: Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has literally written the book on global warming denialism.

That's how perverse our political situation will be. The entire legislative branch will be run by politicians whose campaigns are overwhelmingly aligned with the fossil fuel companies, and who are perfectly content to resign the world to burn if it keeps them in office. Granted, Democrats have been ineffectual, toothless, and often eager to join the denier ranks to keep the oil cash flowing in—but at least they are not united in a will to deny the basic tenets of science.

All of this is to say: There's still time. Vote today, and if you don't have time to look into whether your candidates are climate-change deniers, you can safely assume—I'm not kidding, the effective science denial is close to unanimous—that a vote for the Republican Party is a vote to consign the future to swelter. There are a few tiny exceptions, but that's the abiding rule. If the Republican party takes the Senate, the next two years that we'd previously feared would be filled with inaction on climate change will instead be absolutely guaranteed to be.

Considering what our future might look like the longer we dally, that's terrifying.