Good news for the planet
New Zealand democracy and US democracy have run in parallel this year. Elections held just days apart led to results that revealed public trust, or the lack of it, in the system.
Trust in democracy is at high levels in New Zealand. But in the US, the public view of the electoral system has been more contested, thanks in part to deliberate misinformation.
The revealing parallels continue. On the same day that the New Zealand Parliament was formally opened, and MPs were sworn in, US president-elect Joe Biden was finally able to move forward with his own transition to power, after a concession of sorts by President Donald Trump.
We might look back at 2020 as a year in which the worst could have happened but didn’t. Dire predictions that Trump would attempt a coup if he lost, or encourage right-wing militias to cause civil unrest, failed to materialise. Legal attempts to reverse the election result will not change the outcome, despite pre-election fears about the make-up of the Supreme Court.
Along with the failure of his sometimes bizarre legal team, there is a view that Trump’swould-be concession was forced by a chorus of chief executiveswho looked ahead to the Biden administration and urged him to move on. Trump’s backers in the media, such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, also advised viewers to start ‘‘living in reality’’.
There is an enormous sense of relief that the Trump era is now all but over. Another four years of Trumpism would have been unsustainable, and not just for the mores of US democracy but for the planet. Columbia University in New York launched a Climate Deregulation Tracker in early 2017 to record ‘‘steps taken by the Trump administration and Congress to scale back or wholly eliminate federal climate mitigation and adaptation measures’’. By this month, it had listed
165 rollbacks of environmental regulations and standards.
Four of them directly concerned Trump’s intention to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, which finally came to fruition on November 4, a day after the election. Biden has signalled that he will put the US back into the Paris agreement as soon as possible.
Biden’s appointment of former presidential candidate John Kerry in the new role of special presidential envoy on climate change, which will give a climate official a seat on the National Security Council for the first time, is another sign of how much more seriously he takes the climate crisis. Kerry’s international role will be matched by another official at the domestic level.
The Paris agreement, which took effect in 2016, is seen as a historic achievement agreed upon by
196 countries. The intention is to keep average global temperatures from increasing by more than
2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The agreement was held up as amajor achievement of the presidency of Barack Obama, who called it ‘‘the best possible shot to save the one planetwe’ve got’’ in 2016. By then, of course, Trump had already indicated his willingness to remove the US from it.
But despite Trump’s petty and destructive opposition to the agreement, cities, states and the private sector continued to pursue a low-carbon future. This is one reason why emissions plateaued under Trump rather than increased.
The other reason is steeped in delicious irony. The Covid-19 pandemic kept emissions down, just as it contributed to the end of Trumpism itself.
Another four years of Trumpism would have been unsustainable ... for the planet.