What Brexit And Trump’s Rise Mean For The Global Community’s Fight Against Climate Change

E pluribus unum — out of many, one — has been an official motto of the United States since June 20, 1782. Writ large, it could be the motto for climate action.

There have always been two poles representing how the world might respond to the increasingly painful reality of climate change (or indeed any global scale problem). At one pole is unity driven by our moral sensibility — a concerted national and global effort to address the gravest preventable existential threat to Americans and indeed all humanity. It is embodied in the Pope’s Encyclical from a year ago, a clarion call on the moral necessity of climate action.

At the other pole is disunity driven by self-interest: “Après nous le déluge,” everyone for themselves, the very source of the “tragedy of the commons” that thwarts collective action. It is embodied in Trumpism and Brexit — the vote Britain just made to split from the European Union, driven in large part by scaremongering around the Syrian refugee crisis.

Humanity is now in a race to see whether the forces of unity can beat the forces of disunity. It’s now clear we have at hand the core enabling clean energy technologies to keep total planetary warming below catastrophic levels. What isn’t clear is whether we have the will and the cohesion to deploy those technologies rapidly enough to do so.

The problem from a climate perspective is that while hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have led to the “world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II,” as the European Commission has described it, the numbers of refugees pale in comparison with what the world faces if we don’t avoid catastrophic climate change.

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