As 2015 becomes 2016, the world is safer now than it has ever been. Except for this one scary threat.
It’s been a year full of scary stuff: terrorism, mass shootings,
Trump still leading the polls, the new season of American Horror Story.
But despite the nightmares every time you turn on the news or read on
your Facebook feed, the world is actually safer than it’s been for most
of human history.
It’s hard to believe, but if you look at data
you can see that death rates from both violence and disease are lower
than they’ve ever been. At the same time, rates of literacy are higher,
education is more accessible, and more people live in democratic
societies than ever before. Yes, there have been 355 mass shootings
in the U.S. this year alone – and that’s abhorrent – but in general,
“violence has been in decline over long stretches of time, and we may be
living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence,” according to some historians.
Of course, you’d never know this from the news. When something
terrible happens in San Bernardino or Beirut or Mali or Baghdad, we hear
about it. The reality is, however, for the vast majority of us –
especially of those of us living in the relatively peaceful western
world – life is pretty damn safe compared to how it used to be.
Except, that is, for this one thing: climate change.
If you’re in the U.S., that’s what should be keeping you up at night,
should have you stockpiling goods and moving to high ground – or at
least calling your state representatives. It’s not ISIL. It’s not fear
of Syrian refugees. It’s not even Dumbass Trump’s lead in the polls. It’s
our ecosystems dying, and taking us down too.
The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah agrees. On his show Trevor played a clip
of Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera blathering about how even though we know
climate change is happening and will eventually wash away many of our
cities, what we really need to be worried about is ISIL – an organization that has yet to make landfall in the United States.
“We’re talking about the existential threat to mankind from
global warming,” Rivera said in the exasperated tone you use with
annoying children. “What about what’s happening right now? What about
when you saw those Amazon drones, the prototypes, delivering goods to
people’s homes? What happens when ISIL gets a drone and puts a bomb on
It turns out ISIL drones should not be on your list of worries, at
least not yet. While it is theoretically possible that eventually ISIL –
or some other terror group, foreign or domestic – could drone us to
death, there is literally no evidence that it’s happening.
The only scary thing about drones is the climate change they’re mapping.
And that’s scary enough. It’s not merely theoretical that climate
change will destroy lives: It’s happening right now, from California to
the Marshall Islands. Unless our leaders in Paris push for aggressive
limits to carbon emissions, it’s only going to get worse. The World Health Organization projects that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year. Per year.
So as the new year begins, don’t dwell on the overstated threats from
over-hyped foreign enemies. Instead, open your eyes, and worry about
the real and present danger that’s coming for us all.
2015 may well go down in history as the year when the people of the
world finally recognized the threat of global warming and climate change
and began doing something about it. In Paris this year 195 nations agreed on a global response.
2016 is an election year. Elections matter. The clear and present
danger that the United States faces in the new year is that of a new
president and a new Senate and House. Republicans have already threatened
to scuttle the Paris agreement if they are victorious in November. The
U.S. president who follows Barack Obama may literally hold the fate of the Earth in his, or her, hands.
So as safe as we may be at this present moment, the threat of climate
change and the conservative denial of it loom large. It turns out the
one way any of us may be able to ease the threat is simply to vote
wisely in November.