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The ripple effect of climate change and U.S. policy

Peter Goodman


If I were a Pakistani villager or a Central American refugee I might hate us.

Pakistanis inundated by floods that have unhoused more than 33 million people and may not fully recede for three to six months. Experts say climate weirdness was a factor in Pakistan’s worst flooding ever.

Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, both Dakotas, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and a third of Iowa = 33,000,000 human beings. But, hell, it’s just Pakistanis.

The U.S. is a major contributor to global weirdness: we drive around in automobiles, even when we don’t need to, and complain about the least inconvenience; our gas and oil companies make obscene profits; and we elect congress folk, and even presidents, who play to the economically powerful by denying that our conduct could affect something as big as Earth’s climate. Scientists think otherwise. Events are teaching us those scientists are onto something.

Pakistanis a large carbon emitter, with 2.51 tons of greenhouse gasses per person. We contribute 19.27, about double China’s 9.71 tons per person. (2018 figures) Russia’s at 16.07.

Central America has long been a target experienced the U.S.’s “Whack-a-Mole” effort to stamp out other nations’ democracies we find inconvenient. One reason some countries are dysfunctional is that we’ve caused or winked at military or rightist coups against democratically-elected leaders in what one U.S. President called “shithole countries.” Free trade agreements, such as NAFTA, have helped multinational corporations at the expense of farmers and small business people. Our sanctions have helped make Venezuela unlivable, yet we’re shocked that by a surge in Venezuelan immigrants. (Fortunately, migrants seek opportunity here, not revenge.) We can and should protect our borders without denying our role in people’s need to migrate.

What we’ve done to Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries that don’t kowtow to us undermines our righteous anger at Putin’s Ukrainian invasion. Russia argues that the USSR contained Ukraine and expresses concern about NATO’s extension into countries bordering Russia. If we thought independent and Soviet-friendly Cuba so dangerous we tried to attack it (before any Soviet missile-launchers arrived on the island), why shouldn’t Russia feel that way about countries it shares borders with? (Let’s not forget, in my youth the U.S. waged a lengthy, unjustifiable war in Viet Nam that most other countries saw was as wrong and foolish as Putin’s present war.)

But I’m glad for Ukraine’s recent war successes, particularly accounts of Ukrainian hackers posing as young women and getting Russian soldiers to send them photographs from the front, then passing those to the Ukrainian Army to wipe out the Russian base where they were taken.

I like democracy, and Ukraine has one. As Putin kills or jails political enemies, closes newspapers and TV stations, punishes and stifles every form of personal freedom, I watch Ukrainian resistance and remember why I’m shouting so loudly against the threats to democratic aspects of our own country. We don’t quite have a democracy; but our republic’s Constitution was written to protect us from tyranny. As the Trumpists weaken our democratic tradition, I contemplate how valuable it is, even though we’ve allowed many international crimes to be committed in our names.

I’m not optimistic about the U.S., given the dangerously wacky supreme court and several states suppressing democracy, endangering women’s health, and even attacking companies for acknowledging global warming. But we weren’t real optimistic about Ukraine, either.