What Difference Does it Make?

16 Nov, 2020

Newspaper with headline about the US election.
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Why do US elections matter to the rest of the world?

Will the U.S. election results affect me personally? Many have told me it will make no difference to my life. So, why did I drink and watch the news for three days straight? Here in Australia, I am one of the few obsessed with American politics, while most seem largely indifferent.

Apart from the excitement of the first Black president, and the novelty factor of the first orange one, Australians generally have little interest in who’s in charge over there.

Fair enough, I suppose. It’s probably a positive trend in modern Australia that we’re far more concerned about our own politicians than either the British royal family or U.S. presidents. Maybe it shows we’ve finally become a sovereign state in control of our own destiny.

Except that we haven’t, really. Like life in all ecosystems, nations are interconnected. Even countries which attempt to isolate themselves economically and culturally are existentially dependent on the choices of others in at least one very important area.

Every decision about our environment, and particularly about climate change, affects the entire world. Even more so when it comes from the world’s two biggest greenhouse gas polluters.

A few weeks ago, the biggest emitter — China — committed to become carbon neutral by 2060. The United States currently emits 15% of the world’s greenhouse gases, meaning their climate policy has major implications for the future of everyone.

Of course, some have said that these election results mean little even in their own country. Democrats and Republicans are part of the same militarist, capitalist system that is ultimately designed to exploit and destroy all the world’s resources for the short-term gain of a very few.

Any hope for sustaining life on Earth relies on building entirely new economies based on cooperation instead of competition, and valuing living systems above all else.

This hope seems extremely slim right now.

It’s certainly true, but until we overthrow the current system, we can at least opt for leaders who might slow down the journey to oblivion.

At this point it seems almost trivial, but the Paris Agreement is still our best chance at preventing uncontrolled climate breakdown. It’s the only indication we have that it may be possible for nations to work together in the interests of protecting life on our planet.

Joe Biden promises to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. He also wants to make U.S. energy production carbon-free by 2035 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This may not be enough to preserve a livable future, but consider the alternative.

Trump would have ensured four more years of rampant fossil fuel expansion. This would have vastly decreased humanity’s odds of surviving through this century.

And whether we like it or not, American policy influences world leaders. Even Australia’s gas-loving, weasel Prime Minister was forced to state publicly that he looked forward to working with Biden to:

“develop new technologies to reduce global emissions as we practically confront the challenge of climate change.”

Hmm. Not exactly what we need, but I’m sure the climate emergency wouldn’t have even rated a mention if Trump were the recipient of this congratulatory message.

Biden’s election will certainly affect those outside the U.S. in various ways. Some of these will be bigger than others, but none as important as changing the composition of the actual atmosphere.

In the best case scenario, he will lead the United States to make rapid, sweeping changes to all industries and infrastructure, inspire other countries to follow suit, slash greenhouse emissions to prevent us reaching tipping points, and stabilise the Earth’s climate.

At worst, we may get a couple more years before our descent into utter chaos.

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