The fourth estate, climate change, and elections

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author: victor oriola | contributor


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The Fourth Estate, climate change, and elections: these three things may not seem connected but hopefully, by the end of this article, you’d see how they interact with each other and why we should care about them. 

The rise of right-wing extremists, riding on the wave of populist movements, appears to be a trend that is being replicated the world over. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro is on the verge of being elected president. The right-wing movement in Eastern Europe is alive and well, particularly in Hungary and Poland. And then, of course, there is Donald Trump; the less said about him, the better. Right-wing government is not inherently evil, but the distrust for the press that it fosters is concerning. Nowhere is this more alarming than in the United States where the president called the press “the enemy of the people.” When the president of the United States – the supposed leader of the free world who should be a figure of inspiration – says something like this, people pay attention.  

Trump’s rhetoric has been echoed around the world. Dictators and despots from Maduro in Venezuela to Assad in Syria have co-opted it to delegitimize any criticism of their government or human rights abuses. This vilification of the press is dangerous. A high profile example is the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who appears to have been killed by his own government in a consulate in Turkey. In Myanmar, two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison. As the number of authoritarian figures in positions of power continues to grow worldwide, now more than ever we need to protect the Fourth Estate (the press), because it is the mechanism by which the people are able to hold those in power accountable. The relationship between those in positions of power and the press should be adversarial, but should never become antagonistic. Even when we do not agree, we must acknowledge that the ability to hold and broadcast an opinion is vital to the individual freedom that we enjoy today.  

As scary as the threat of authoritarianism might be, there is an even scarier threat to our civilization. This threat is able to change the landscape of our planet and bring apocalyptic ruin to us as a species. The UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change released a report last week that indicates that we have a little over a decade to implement drastic changes in order to avoid a full-blown climate disaster that could arrive as early as 2040. If the governments of the world do not take immediate action, the consequences will be dire. Severe climate change will lead to a food crisis that will leave millions underfed; there will be many more destructive wildfires that will raze through our forests with greater severity and frequency. Deadly hurricanes, like the ones that have pounded the United States coastline in recent times, will do so with greater regularity. Many coastal cities will become uninhabitable due to flooding, leaving millions of people homeless. Our response to this threat has been, and may continue to be, hampered by those who are unwilling to confront the fact that this threat exists irrespective of the facts and science that says it does. The planet has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius. This might seem trivial, but every single fraction of a degree rise in temperature brings along with it untold levels of death, disease and suffering.  

The IPCC report says we have twelve years to reduce our global emissions by 45 per cent. Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. This includes the usual suspects: ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron. As the clock ticks and the crisis looms, we are left to wait and hope that the people who may hold our fate as a species in their hands are moved to put our continued survival over their profit margins. The looming climate crisis will not be discriminatory in its brutal effects. It would be as hard felt in Saskatchewan as it would be in Sydney, Australia, regardless of what our contribution to the disaster was. This is why it requires an immediate global effort. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless, and it is true that there is little that we, individually, can do to avert the danger. Switching to vegan diets or banning the use of straws is much too insignificant to make any perceivable difference; the action must be industrial. 

There is a problem with the messaging around this crisis. Too often, people portray the need for action so that we can ‘Save The Earth.’ The Earth has existed for billions of years and more than 90 per cent of all the life forms that existed have since become extinct. Humans, being just 0.01 per cent of the living species, have contributed to the demise of 83 per cent of wild animals and a significant percentage of plant existence. If we continue on our destructive path, we are destined to meet the same fate; and after our departure, the Earth would be fine and our existence would simply be a brief but destructive moment in time in the grand scheme of things. 

This should all make you feel outraged. And, if you are outraged, allow me to suggest a productive investment for that anger. Vote! This is the most drastic action you, as an individual, can take to combat this crisis. Many of our current leaders treat this issue with indifference. Perhaps it is because they anticipate that they would be long gone before the chickens come home to roost. Vote out people who are beholden to the interests of fossil-fuel and energy companies, and fill positions of power with people who will treat this issue like the disaster that it is. The line between a disaster and a tragedy is thin. They both cause unimaginable pain, except disasters are sudden, unavoidable catastrophes, whereas tragedies involve sufferings that may have been avoidable. It will be truly tragic if we do nothing. We cannot, and should not, condone inaction any longer. Our future is on the line.  

The federal election is a year away, but you can start the voting culture this Wednesday. The stakes are not as high in the URSU elections, but people who vote in elections of seemingly little consequence are more likely to vote for the more consequential elections. So, on Wednesday and moving forward, vote like your life depends on it, because one day, it just might.  

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