We are living in a profoundly disorienting and disquieting historical moment. Populist authoritarianism is on the rise around the globe. We have seen leaders of supposedly liberal states attack the press and flout norms that have been mainstays of politics for generations—actively attempting to undermine trust in the very institutions it is their duty to preserve. We have seen children put into cages. We have seen white supremacists terrorize communities. All the while, these leaders cajole their xenophobic, misogynistic, and racist followers to intimidate and murder vulnerable populations. A surge in nationalism has seen leaders refuse aid to immigrants, use their armies to invade and occupy neighboring regions, and dissolve longstanding agreements. The gulf between the wealthiest and the poorest is growing ever wider, sustained by the political assault on unions, the expansion of corporate power, and the disintegration of regulatory frameworks. The veil of liberalism is disintegrating, exposing the deep structural inequities and latent hatreds that define late capitalism.
All this is set against the background of a rapidly changing climate, which promises to further destabilize societies across the globe. The most optimistic forecasts—those that assume massive, global cooperation to rapidly decrease carbon emissions—promise widespread disruptions of the planet’s ecosystems. We have already begun to experience the first effects of these changes: unpredictable weather patterns, drought, high-intensity storms, sea level rise, and the acidification of oceans.
In the best case scenario—one that assumes governments across the globe will enact the Paris Agreement developed at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21)—humans across the globe will be forced to live through unprecedented environmental upheavals and their unpredictable societal consequences. Unfortunately, though, key signatories (most notably the United States), have abandoned their obligations, in part, at the hands of populist leaders who deny the realities of anthropogenic climate change. The best case scenario is unlikely to be the one we live through…
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